Many people follow a gluten-free diet to help with weight loss, boost their energy levels, or improve athletic performance.
Though there’s very little evidence that the gluten-free diet helps with weight loss or energy levels, the diet is medically necessary for people diagnosed with celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity, according to a May 2017 article published in Diabetes Society.
At Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, our board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. John Rivas specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease. Given the role the gluten-free diet plays in the management of this chronic gastrointestinal condition, we want to share some of the dos and don’ts of gluten-free eating.
Don’t believe everything you hear about gluten
Like fat and carbohydrates, gluten has a reputation for being bad for your health. Many claim that gluten causes weight gain, fatigue, and various health ailments. However, there’s very little evidence to support these claims, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
What is gluten exactly? Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley, and rye. Manufacturers also use gluten as a food additive to improve texture, moisture, and flavor in various food products.
Despite what you may hear or read, gluten isn’t bad for you, unless you have celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity. There’s no reason you need to cut gluten and gluten-containing foods from your diet unless you’re directed to do so by your doctor.
Do avoid gluten when medically necessary
You must follow a gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of your small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten-containing foods, their immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the digestive tract. Over time, the damage may lead to malabsorption and malnutrition.
A gluten-free diet is the primary treatment for celiac disease. When following a gluten-free diet for celiac disease, you must cut all foods containing wheat, rye, and barley from your diet.
Common foods that contain gluten include:
- Bread, pasta, and crackers made from wheat flour
- Processed foods such as cakes, cookies, and candy
- French fries
- Hot dogs
- Canned soup and soup mixes
- Salad dressing
You may also need to follow a gluten-free diet if you have nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Though not as serious as celiac disease, people with this condition may experience various symptoms, such as foggy brain, abdominal pain, or mood changes when they consume gluten-containing foods.
Don’t mistake wheat-free for gluten-free
Food labels are a good way to find gluten-free foods. The FDA has set strict rules and guidelines for manufacturers to be able to label their food items as “gluten-free” or “free of gluten.”
You may also find foods labeled as wheat-free. However, don’t mistake wheat-free for gluten-free. Though wheat is a major source of gluten in the American diet, not all wheat-free foods are gluten-free.
When using food labels to help you find foods for your gluten-free diet, look for those that say:
- No gluten
- Free of gluten
- Without gluten
If the food is labeled as wheat-free but says nothing about being gluten-free, then it may not be safe for you to eat.
Do eat a healthy, balanced diet
Though you may need to make some changes to your usual eating habits, you can still follow a healthy and balanced diet with gluten-free eating.
Examples of healthy, gluten-free foods include:
- Fresh chicken, seafood, fish, and red meat (without added breading or seasoning)
- Whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa
- All fresh fruits and vegetables
- Most dairy products (milk, plain yogurt)
You can also find many gluten-free products to replace some of your staple items, including gluten-free bread, pasta, and cereal. Like any healthy, balanced diet, gluten-free treats are OK but should be consumed in small amounts.
Gluten-free eating is easier than ever, thanks to the popularity of the gluten-free diet.
If you have questions about whether you should be eating a gluten-free diet or not, we’d be happy to answer them. Contact us by phone or book an appointment online today.