Beginning around 2010, the gluten-free movement has brought us a plethora of gluten-free foods, snacks, diets and cookbooks. Restaurants have responded in kind by offering dedicated gluten-free options on their menus. In fact, gluten-free has become so well accepted that it’s almost impossible to avoid the term now.
If you’ve tried going gluten-free already, or are familiar at least with the concept, but still wonder, “what is gluten exactly?” and “do we all have to avoid it?”, we’re here to help clarify some basic facts and answer the most common questions. For those who choose to follow a gluten-free lifestyle, be it for medical reasons such as celiac disease, or for health reasons like weight loss, we’re here with a comprehensive list you can read up on before you begin!
OK, What Is Gluten?
We hear this word so frequently, but do we really know what it is?
Gluten is a combination of many different proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and triticale. It helps foods maintain their shape and consistency. Gluten is primarily made of two different types of proteins: glutenin and gliadin. When you knead bread, you are actually forming the glutenin -- that’s where that nice stretchy dough texture comes from! Gliadin is what gives baked goods the ability to rise when baking. However, gliadin is the main allergen in gluten and is typically one of the big problems for people (especially those with celiac disease). Deamidated gliadin antibodies (DMG) are produced by the body’s acid/enzyme treatment of gluten. More than 90% of those with untreated celiac disease have abnormally high levels of DMG.
Gluten is in a lot of foods, and many you may be unaware of (we will be going over these later). They can also be present in non-edible products such as lip balms, hand lotion, and the back of postage stamps. While you aren’t outright consuming these products, for those going gluten-free, these should be avoided because they can easily end up getting digested.
Those with celiac disease have a serious autoimmune disease, impacting around 1% of the total world’s population. For them, the consumption of gluten causes inflammation and severe damage to the lining of their small intestine. It can also interfere with nutrient absorption, and cause other problems such as infertility, seizures, and nerve damage. Because consuming any gluten can cause serious health problems, going 100% gluten-free can prevent serious illness. Individuals with celiac disease should only eat packaged products which bare the certified gluten-free label.
Tip: In order to be diagnosed with celiac disease, an intestinal biopsy is considered the “gold standard.”
Those with celiac disease experience an increase in intestinal permeability with the consumption of gluten. The enzyme, transglutaminase is normally found in the intestine. Those with celiac disease who consume gluten create antibodies for their body’s own transglutaminase. As a result, the immune system will attack its own intestinal lining.
Intestinal permeability refers to how easily substances pass through the gut to the blood and organs. When the immune system attacks the intestinal lining, the tight junctions between the cells of our intestinal wall loosen or expand. As a result, bacteria and toxins may pass into the bloodstream. This is referred to as “leaky gut syndrome” and causes inflammation throughout the body. Leaky gut is often an issue those with celiac disease face.
While 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, over 18 million suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, like celiac disease, is a form of gluten intolerance. This condition shares many symptoms with celiac disease, but many NCGS sufferers experience non-GI symptoms as well such as headaches, brain fog, depression and joint pain. Although 83% of NCGS sufferers report experiencing abdominal pain, consuming gluten does not cause permanent intestinal damage.
While it’s undisputed that those with celiac disease absolutely must avoid gluten, it’s more of a gray area when it comes to sensitivity because of a lack of scientific evidence and proper testing. In fact, currently there are no 100% recommended methods on the market for testing NCGS. Some doctors offer saliva, blood or stool tests, but these methods haven’t been validated yet. This is one reason many people go undiagnosed, leading to even more gluten consumption. The longer the condition continues to go untreated the more serious the resulting health issues can become.
If you don’t have celiac disease, the only way to tell if a gluten-free diet will help you is by cutting it out completely and seeing how you feel. If you feel better? Keep going! A gluten-free lifestyle is strongly recommended for this population group and at Keto-Snaps we advocate that these groups follow a gluten-free lifestyle.
Some also engage in a gluten-free diet for weight-loss and/or improved overall wellness. Because most gluten grains contain sugar, cutting out gluten from your diet can be paired with diets like LCHF (low carb/high fat) and keto. Rather than replacing gluten foods with gluten-free alternatives, abstaining from carbohydrates can help with a gluten-free, low sugar diet. Avoiding carbs and gluten can reduce blood-sugar and comes with a myriad of other benefits.
Why do People Feel Better on a Gluten-free Diet?
When you go gluten-free there are a lot of low nutrient foods that get immediately taken out of your diet, such as highly processed foods, fast foods and baked goods (bakery treats, donuts, etc). Now, do these people feel better because they cut out gluten or because they removed a lot of the calorically-dense, sugar-laden, trans-fat filled foods they were consuming before? We can’t say for sure, but feeling better is more important than being able to identify the exact product causing health issues.
Historically, diets high in refined carbs and sugars have been linked to a whole host of negative side effects like weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, bloating, headaches, leaky gut, and more that are all also associated with gluten sensitivity. It makes sense if you cut these out you may start to feel better.
Many people are choosing to go gluten-free, even those who don’t have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. This choice is being made because most individuals who experiment with eliminating gluten from their diet report improved symptoms, such as less bloating and less brain fog. There’s no harm in going gluten free, even without being celiac of have NCGS, but it’s also recommended not to replace natural gluten containing foods with loads of processed gluten-free foods. Instead choose naturally occurring gluten-free foods, which we’ll cover below.
Foods That May Contain Gluten
Wheat, rye, barley, spelt and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) are grains that naturally contain gluten proteins. What foods and condiments contain these grains and other sources of gluten? Here is our list of foods to look out for.
- Baked goods (bread, bagels, etc)
- Pastries (cupcakes, muffins, etc)
- Cereals (usually contains wheat, however, there are gluten-free cereals available)
- Beer (tends to have barley -- there are some gluten-free beers on the market)
- Processed meats (tend to have added flavorings and/or marinades)
- Fried foods (they are often coated with batter that contains gluten)
- Pasta and noodles (wheat, semolina, egg noodles)
- Sauces (be aware)
- Some soups (many canned soups have gluten)
- Some soy sauces (soy sauce tends to be made of: soy, wheat, water, and salt)
- Seasoned, pre-packaged foods
What Can You Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet?
There are quite a few restrictions but no worries. Let’s go into what you can eat on a gluten-free diet. Here is a basic list of foods that you should be safe eating when going gluten-free (If it is processed, always check the labels):
- Fresh fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, mangos, berries, the list goes on!)
- Vegetables (green leafy vegetables, carrots, potatoes, beets -- this is a long list too)
- Legumes (lentils, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc)
- Nuts (as long as they aren’t coated -- they should be fine, but check the label)
- Seeds (same as nuts)
- Unprocessed meats (chicken, beef, pork, etc. preferable organic and/or grass-fed)
- Seafood (batters are usually a no, but regular seafood is ok)
- Tofu (no soy sauce, but plain soy products are ok. Choose organic to avoid gmos)
- Milk (check labels if it is flavored)
- Unflavored yogurt (same as milk)
- Cheese (should be ok but check in case!)
- Butter and Ghee (stay away from flavored butters)
- Gluten-free sauces (ketchup, mustard, mayo, salsa, hot sauce, bbq sauce)
- Coconut, avocado, olive oil
- Coffee and Tea
Gluten-free does not mean the end to enjoying pasta, bread or pastry/baked goods. Choose products made with these naturally gluten-free grains, nuts and seeds:
- Gluten-free oats (check the packaging)
- Quinoa (actually a seed)
- Almond, Coconut, Sorghum, Chickpea and other alternative flours
Gluten-free living has become much more popular in the last decade making it a lot easier for you! Here are some overall tips:
- For processed foods, check packages. Most gluten-free products will have an explicit “gluten-free” label, if not a certified gluten-free symbol. Those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity should only consume products with the gluten-free certification!
- Look out for Allergen Statements! This also goes under package checking. As of August 2014, the FDA requires companies who claim their products do not contain any gluten based ingredients, but are not certified gluten-free, to include an allergen statement on the label to assist consumers in determining if that product is safe to consume. You may see a statement such as; ‘manufactured on equipment that also processes wheat’. Just because a product is gluten-free, does not necessarily make it safe for you to eat. For those extremely sensitive to gluten, products that are made in the same facilities as gluten products may be a risk. Cross-contamination exists--check those labels!
- Don’t be afraid to ask! Restaurants and unlabeled products can be risky. If they aren’t sure, try to abstain. Sticking to plain meats and vegetables will likely be the safest option.
- There are more and more restaurants offering gluten-free options these days. If you Google or Yelp search for gluten-free restaurants you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of choices you have.
- Eat Keto-Snaps when you are craving a dessert or looking for a whole food based snack. We are gluten-free and delicious.
Tips for Checking Labels
Label checking will become your best friend. When looking at labels, here are some keywords you want to avoid:
- Wheat (germ, protein)
- Durum (type of wheat)
- Barley (flour, flakes, pearl)
- Breading or stuffing
- Brewers yeast
- Hordeum vulgare
- Triticum vulgare
- Graham flour
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Seitan (pure wheat gluten)
- Malt (extract, syrup, favoring, vinegar)
- Farro (spelt or dinkel)
- Fu (used in some Asian dishes -- a dried gluten product)
Gluten-Free Diet Overview
We hope that whether you’re going gluten-free because of celiac disease, intolerance, or a food elimination test to see how gluten affects you, this guide can be used as a launch point.
Depending on your health condition, a gluten-free diet may be essential to the well being of your organs and body as a whole. However, this diet does not have to be as difficult or painful to adhere to as you may imagine. Once you get the hang of it, searching out labels and finding your favorite gluten-free meals and snacks will come naturally to you.
Think of this as a quest to find the best gluten-free restaurants and snacks. Keto-Snaps already has you covered in the snack department -- we are in this gluten-free adventure together!