So what does it really mean to “Go Gluten Free” and why should I?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
There are many reasons why people choose to go gluten-free, the most common being to manage celiac disease, control dermatitis herpetiformis, and to reduce symptoms of gluten sensitivity and intolerance. Not sure if you have a gluten intolerance? By using the Elimination Diet you’ll be able to discover which foods you may be sensitive. Read my previous blog here on Biohacking and the Elimination Diet. Symptoms and conditions of gluten sensitive are, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, depression, Multiple Sclerosis, IBS, ADHD, insulin resistance and inflammation and the list goes on. These are just a few of the many reasons why it’s a good idea to avoid it.
Let’s start with what gluten actually is. Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in cereal grains and gives dough an elastic texture acting as a glue that binds grains together. The unique texture of gluten helps food maintain a specific shape and is critical in making dough rise. Gluten is a natural component of most whole grains, and we’ve been consuming it since we first started cultivating grains some 11,000 years ago. Therefor us humans have only been consuming it for only a fraction of evolutionary history, which means there were over 66,000 generations have evolved without it.
It’s important to understand the distinction of a whole grain. Grains are made up of three parts – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Used in their natural “whole” state, they contain plenty of fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins, and, of course gluten. You may also have heard or noticed the term, enriched flour. In this form, flour has been stripped of its nutrients through extensive chemical and mechanical processing. Flour is called ‘enriched’ because 5 nutrients are added back in (20 essential nutrients 2 have been removed!). The nutrients used to ‘enrich’ the stripped down flour are created in labs.
When you first transition to gluten free, it can be super hard to know exactly what you’re able to eat.
Avoiding things with wheat is obvious but it can be a lot more challenging than this. Barley, rye and spelt are also likely to cause problems. Luckily, there are tons of alternatives that are naturally free from gluten, including quinoa, buckwheat and rice.
Oats are more of a gray area though. They don’t contain gluten but they can easily come into contact with it through cross contamination. A general rule of thumb? Assume that oats are a no-no unless they specifically state that they’re gluten free. This takes away any risk that they’ve come into contact with gluten.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meats, dairy and fish are naturally gluten free so it makes sense to have them as a large part of your diet.
There are tons of gluten free products available these days, although they often contain a fair amount of fat, sugar and salt. In some cases, they can be a lot like regular junk food.
And a quick word about foods and drinks that are going to be off limits or need to be swapped for a gluten free version. Common sources of gluten include wheat flour, bread, cakes, pastries, cookies, pizza, pasta and crackers. More surprisingly, beer, sausages, sauces and soy sauce often contain gluten so if these are favorites of yours, look for gluten free alternatives!
Some of the culprits are obvious but others can be a lot sneakier. This is sometimes down to food labeling, and you’ll often see gluten as ingredients such as vegetable protein, emulsifiers, dextrins, stabilizers, starches, modified food starch or hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
This can be a huge problem if you’re celiac as even a tiny bit of gluten can trigger symptoms. And it’s not much fun if you’re intolerant to gluten either.
You might be super surprised to know about some of the foods and drinks that contain gluten. Let’s talk briefly about a few of them:
- Potato chips – Not so much the potato chips themselves but it’s super common for their seasonings to contain wheat starch or malt vinegar
- French fries – They’re often coated in wheat
- Granola bars – They’re often made from oats that may have come into contact with gluten and aren’t certified as gluten free
- Salad dressings and marinades – They often contain malt vinegar, soy sauce or flour
- Processed soups and sauces – They often use flour as a thickener
- Hot chocolates – Cross contamination with gluten can be a problem with some prepackaged cocoa drinks
Get into the habit of checking food labels thoroughly before you buy so you know exactly what you’ll be consuming.
Don’t forget about any medications you’re on (including supplements). Gluten is often used as a binder and medications can be a surprising source of gluten that many people aren’t aware of.
Until next time!
Live, Feel and Be Well