FALLBROOK – Dietary fads come and go, but the gluten-free movement is one nutritional trend that seems to have staying power. The gluten-free diet was once largely exclusive to sufferers of Celiac disease, a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine, preventing it from absorbing parts of food the body needs to stay healthy. That damage is the byproduct of the body’s reaction to gluten, a term used to describe proteins found in specific grains. But while the gluten-free diet remains a necessity for those who cannot tolerate gluten, nowadays even non-sufferers are embracing the gluten-free diet for a variety of reasons.
One such reason is non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. Though NCGS is not as severe as Celiac disease, research has suggested that a gluten-free diet can relieve NCGS symptoms, which include abdominal pain and headaches.
Allergies are another reason some people may opt for a gluten-free diet. Unlike Celiac disease or NCGS, both of which are digestive system responses to gluten, wheat allergy is an immune-system response and, like other allergies, can be outgrown. But until a wheat allergy is outgrown, it’s best to avoid foods, including those with gluten that might trigger an allergic reaction.
While a gluten-free diet is a necessity for people with Celiac disease, NCGS or wheat allergies, it may provide little health benefit to those without such conditions. But that doesn’t mean the popularity of the gluten-free diet is about to wane.
Those without a pre-existing medical condition who are considering a gluten-free diet anyway should know a few things about this diet before making such a drastic change.
Gluten-free is not easy
Unlike eliminating sugary soft drinks or cutting back on fried foods, going cold turkey on gluten can be very difficult. Many people who adopt a gluten-free diet find it extremely challenging, as gluten proteins can be found in additives, making something as seemingly simple as reading labels a lot trickier than it looks. Though labels may not list gluten among a product’s ingredients, men and women must be aware of all additives that contain gluten proteins in order to avoid gluten entirely. And while supermarkets are stocking more gluten-free products, shopping for groceries while on a gluten-free diet can be tedious.
Certain foods and drinks must be avoided
Though people considering a gluten-free diet are aware that such a diet requires some sacrifices, they may not know which foods and beverages they will need to avoid until they have instituted the diet. For example, a gluten-free diet excludes any beverages that contain barley, meaning beer cannot be part of a gluten-free diet. Though many gluten-free beers are now on the market, beer aficionados may find such alternatives cannot compare to the real thing. Rye and wheat products also must be avoided, and these include products whose labels list bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina, and spelt among their ingredients. Though there are now many gluten-free foods on the market, unless labels say gluten-free, the following are a handful of products that should be avoided:
• Cakes and pies
• French fries
• Salad dressings
• Soy sauce
Many doctors also recommend men and women on a gluten-free diet avoid oats, as they can easily be contaminated with wheat during the growing and processing stages of production.
Be mindful of the dangers of cross-contamination
Cross-contamination can occur during the manufacturing process when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. Manufacturers typically include the phrase “may contain” on labels as a warning to consumers looking to avoid gluten and other ingredients. When labels include this phrase, there’s a strong chance that cross-contamination has occurred, and such products should be avoided by men and women on gluten-free diets.
Cross-contamination also can occur when gluten-free foods are prepared on the same surfaces as foods containing gluten. For example, toasting gluten-free bread in the same toaster as regular bread can easily lead to contamination. Preventing cross-contamination can be a difficult task, and that difficulty merits consideration by people who want to adopt a gluten-free diet.
A gluten-free diet may lead to a vitamin and nutrient deficiency
Grains are often rich in vitamins and avoiding grains as part of a gluten-free diet can deprive men and women of these vitamins, weakening their bodies as a result. When adopting a gluten-free diet, speak with a dietitian to ensure your diet has enough iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. If the diet is lacking, adjustments will need to be made.