Gluten-free diets are something that we seem to hear more and more about these days. We hear it, but what’s it all about? Riverview Dietitian Laura Kenny recently led a seminar on this very topic at the Riverview Rehab & Fitness location in Noblesville and shares her presentation notes with us here.
What is gluten?
- Gluten is a special type of protein that is commonly found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
- Despite a wide spread misperception, gluten alone is not necessarily bad for your health.
- Some people do have difficulty digesting gluten and therefore must avoid it.
- Populations for which a gluten-free diet has proven effective include those living with Celiac Disease or with a gluten intolerance and those with an allergy to wheat. Studies have also been conducted to evaluate the benefit of a gluten-free diet for those with autism or behavior disorders – with inconclusive results to date.
What is Celiac Disease?
- Celiac Disease is is a digestive condition triggered by eating gluten.
- An immune reaction occurs in the small intestine when exposed to gluten. The result is damage to the villi on the surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb nutrients from the food.
- About 1 in 133 healthy individuals are living with Celiac Disease and its prevalence continues to increase.
- Symptoms of Celiac Disease include gas, bloating, diarrhea, irritability, depression, joint pain, muscle cramps, mouth sores, Anemia, bone disorders, Neuropathy, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Those living with a wheat allergy may be able to consume barley and rye safely and are more than likely to be allergic to other types of wheat such as spelt and Kamut.
- Those with a wheat allergy who are also gluten sensitive may also need to avoid rye and barley.
- For appropriate candidates, eating a gluten-free diet minimizes damage to the intestine, helps decrease the risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, lowers the risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers, increases the quality of life, increases life expectancy, and decreases healthcare costs.
- Gluten-free foods were originally developed for those with Celiac Disease (less than one percent of the population).
- In 2003, 135 gluten free products were introduced to the marketplace, while 832 new products debuted in 2008.
- A gluten-free diet consists of no wheat, barley (including malt) or rye, or any ingredients derived from these grains. Oats that are pure and uncontaminated and tested and labeled as gluten-free are now available and are considered safe in moderation.
- People wishing to live on a gluten-free diet typically stick to plain, simple foods mostly found in the outer aisle of the grocery store including plain meats, fish or eggs, legumes and nuts, corn and rice, dairy products, plain fruits or vegetables, vegetable oils, and foods that say “gluten free.”
- Always be sure to check food labels and read ingredient lists. If you have a question about a food, contact the manufacturer. Remember, wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free.
- As gluten-free foods become more readily-available, prices will decrease.
- Online sources for gluten-free cooking ingredients are available and may be more affordable.
- Bulk or co-op buying may ease the cost.
Some nutritional concerns to be aware of with a gluten-free diet:
- Gluten-free flours are not fortified.
- Gluten-free foods can be high in fat, sugar and calories (typically to enhance flavor, texture and overall acceptability).
- Certain common vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been noted including iron, calcium, Vitamin D, phosphorus, and fiber.
To get started, purchase a cookbook about gluten-free cooking and a variety of gluten-free flours. Some great cookbooks include:
- Gluten Free Baking Classics
- The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook
- Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free
- Easy, Gluten-Free
Many chain restaurants offer gluten-free foods. Be sure to notify your server that you are on a gluten-free diet. Some of these restaurants include:
- Outback Steakhouse
- PF Chang’s
- On the Border
- Olive Garden
There are many great gluten-free snack ideas for those on-the-go. Consider:
- String cheese
- Corn nuts
- Dried fruits
- Chex Mix
- Cheese cubes
- Rice crackers
- Fruit Roll Ups
- Rice cakes
- Fruit cups
- Fruit snacks
- Trail Mix
To avoid cross-contamination:
- Store gluten-free supplies separately.
- Designate certain appliances for use with gluten-free products only.
- Use clean tools for cooking, cutting, mixing, and serving.