In today’s society, gluten-free diets have gained popularity but confusion has sparked around gluten being an “evil” or “unhealthy” food. The fact is, some people who avoid gluten may not even understand what gluten is or why they are following a gluten-free diet in the first place. Today, we break down what gluten is and who should consider following a gluten-free diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that acts like glue in foods and helps certain foods maintain their shape. Gluten naturally occurs in some products but can also be added as a binding agent in processed foods to help give them shape.
What foods have gluten?
Three main food groups contain gluten- wheat, barley, and rye. To follow a gluten-free diet, it is important to avoid all foods that contain these ingredients.
Wheat is commonly found in bread, baked goods, soups, pasta, cereals, sauces, and some salad dressings. Barley is found in malt, food coloring, soups, beer, and brewer’s yeast. Rye is found in rye bread, rye beer, and cereals. Unless specified as gluten-free, most pasta, bread, crackers, and baked goods contain gluten.
What Carbohydrates Do Not Contain Gluten?
A gluten-free diet does not mean you have to be without carbohydrates. There are plenty of carbohydrates that do not contain gluten and are suitable for those who cannot tolerate gluten.
Naturally, gluten-free foods include:
- Most oats
- Nut flours
Additionally, there are gluten-free options available in restaurants and stores. If you are eating at a restaurant, ask about a gluten-free menu.
Why do people follow a gluten-free diet?
There are several reasons people follow a gluten-free diet. Some people have a medical diagnosis that requires a strict gluten-free diet, while others may just find that eating gluten causes discomfort. Additionally, some people follow a gluten-free diet because they consider it to be a “healthier” choice.
Those that are medically required to maintain a gluten-free diet are those with celiac disease. In the human body, there are digestive enzymes that break down food. The enzyme protease helps our body break down proteins, although protease cannot break down gluten completely and undigested gluten travels to the small intestine. Most people can handle undigested gluten, but celiacs cannot. In this case, gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction and unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms may include: abdominal pain, diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, constipation, bloating fatigue, skin rash, and weight loss.
Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disease that results in damage to the villi (small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption) when gluten passes through the intestines. When damage to the villi occurs, nutrients are absorbed incorrectly. Those with the celiac gene can develop the disease at any age. The only known treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet as there is no cure.
A gluten-free diet may also be right for you if you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten or wheat, or if you feel you have symptoms after consuming foods with gluten. These symptoms may include bloating, diarrhea, or gas, among other gastrointestinal issues.
Should I try a gluten-free diet?
The truth is, if your body can break down gluten without any symptoms, then following a gluten-free diet does not really serve a purpose. If you are part of the normal population that is able to digest and break down gluten without experiencing symptoms, then switching from regular pizza crust to gluten-free pizza crust is not necessarily “healthier”. Many whole-grain products that provide protein and fiber contain gluten and are actually beneficial to your health. If you eat foods with gluten and do not experience any gastrointestinal issues, you probably do not need to follow a gluten-free diet.
With that being said, if you feel you may have a gluten intolerance, allergy, or potentially celiac disease, it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor may recommend a blood test to detect elevated levels of certain antibodies present in celiacs that are consuming gluten. If it is determined that you do not have celiac disease, a gluten elimination diet should be able to help you determine your level of gluten sensitivity, or help you narrow down another culprit to any gastrointestinal problems.
Tips and Tricks When Following a Gluten-Free Diet
Following a gluten-free diet requires effort when shopping and preparing meals; however, you can still enjoy delicious meals and snacks. One of the most important aspects of following a gluten-free diet is checking food labels and ingredient lists for any mention of wheat, barley, and rye. There are plenty of gluten-free options available and most of the time the food label will specify that it is gluten-free. When looking at sauces and snacks, it is crucial to look for a gluten-free symbol and/or check the ingredient list carefully.
There are also several naturally gluten-free foods that you can still enjoy including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, and eggs. Another tip is to fill up on gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, corn, and rice. Explore in the kitchen by looking up gluten-free versions of your favorite sauces and dishes. When at a restaurant, ask your server if they have a gluten-free menu or if they have any gluten-free options. If you struggle with following this diet, consult a dietitian for specific recommendations.
Do CF Nutrition’s Products Contain Gluten?
CF Nutrition products do not contain gluten. All CF Nutrition products are gluten-free and suitable for patients with celiac disease. You can order CF (Preop)®, CF(Rehydrate)®, CF(Rehydrate)® Immunity+, and CF (Protein)® here. As always, don’t forget to browse the rest of the CF Nutrition blog for empowering health, wellness, and lifestyle tips.