Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and hybrid grains. Most people can eat gluten without any problem. However, some people may be sensitive to the gluten protein. Or they may have celiac disease, which can be a serious health condition. This disease causes your immune system to attack and damage the small intestine. People who suffer from it should follow a gluten-free diet.
A gluten-free diet involves avoiding products that contain gluten. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines and controls the term “gluten-free” when it comes to food labeling. This requires gluten-free foods to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
The road to better health
Maintaining a gluten-free diet can be difficult. Gluten is found in many cereals; the main ones are wheat, rye, barley and hybrids. It is found in bran, semolina and spelled. It is also found in bulgur, couscous, faro and starch. Some flours contain gluten, such as white flour, whole wheat flour, maca, fortified and self-fermenting flours.
Avoid these foods and drinks or check the list of ingredients for gluten sources.
- Pasta, bread and cereals.
- Croutons, crumpled and stuffed.
- Processed meat such as cold cuts, sausages, hot dog and hello.
- Imitation of mussels and bacon.
- Sauces, juices and thickeners.
- Soups and soup bases, such as broth cubes.
- Soy sauce and marinade.
- Soups and soup bases, such as broth cubes.
- Certain pastries.
- Malt, malt flavoring, malt vinegar and malt alcohol.
- Beer and some types of alcohol.
Companies often change the ingredients in processed foods, so check food labels every time you buy them. Look for the USDA “gluten-free” label on the package. Wheat-free foods are not the same as gluten-free foods. If you have celiac disease and you are not sure if a food contains gluten, it is best not to eat it.
Gluten is sometimes added to unlikely non-food products, such as:
- Prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
- Nutritional supplements, including vitamins.
- Lipstick, lip gloss and lip balm.
- If you have celiac disease, wash your hands after working with play dough.
Gluten-free eating does not mean that you cannot enjoy a healthy, balanced diet. A wide variety of foods are naturally gluten free. They include:
- Meat, chicken and fish (excluding marinade or marinade).
- Rice (without sauce).
- Beans, legumes and nuts.
- Flax and chia seeds.
- Gluten-free flours, such as corn flour, potatoes, soy, rice, millet and tapioca.
- Most dairy products, such as milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese and yogurt.
- Wine, cider and some alcohol.
Companies have also started selling gluten-free versions of food. Some of these options include gluten-free bread, pasta, sauces and baked goods. You can find many of these gluten-free foods at your local grocery store. Some restaurants also offer a gluten-free menu. Call in advance to see what options are available.
Aspects to be considered
Celiac disease can be very serious, but you can control it by avoiding gluten. It may take time to learn how to eliminate gluten from your diet. Talk to your doctor if you need help. Your doctor will give you a list of what you can and cannot eat. They may also ask you to work with a registered nutritionist, who will make a plan and make sure you get all the nutrients you need. You may need to take a supplement at the beginning of your diet. This is only necessary if your body does not absorb the nutrients from eating gluten-free foods. Be sure to choose a gluten-free supplement.
A gluten-free diet can help reverse the damage caused by celiac disease. You will also feel much better. If you “cheat” on your diet, your symptoms and disabilities may return. Coping tips include:
- Learn as much as you can about gluten-free diets. There are websites, books and cookbooks on how to eat gluten free.
- Ask questions when ordering food. The waiter or chef can tell you the ingredients of the dish. It is possible to have a gluten-free menu. Some restaurants even specialize in gluten-free diets.
- Join a support group. Talk to your doctor about finding a group for people with celiac disease. Sharing with others who are in the same situation as you can also be helpful.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Can I follow a gluten-free diet if I do not have gluten intolerance or sensitivity?
- Will I lose weight or gain weight on a gluten-free diet?
- What should I do if I accidentally eat gluten?
- Can you recommend a registered nutritionist?
- Can you recommend a support group for people with celiac disease?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides an overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.