9 Steps to a Gluten Free Diet, 7 Gluten Foods to Avoid, What Is Gluten

Gluten intolerance has become a growing concern in recent years, prompting much discussion as to why it is on the rise. While food production and manufacturing processes are highlighted as possible reasons, increased awareness of intolerances and developments in the testing and diagnostic process may also explain some of this. Many people following a gluten free diet may not even know what it is or why it can be problematic, so we’ll get into that here.

What is Gluten?

Gluten, which actually means glue in Latin, consists of a composite of elastic-type proteins found in the endosperm portion of seeds from grass-related grains. The two main kinds of protein that form gluten are called gliadins and glutenins, which are found in the endosperms of many grains. Approximately 80 percent of the protein content in wheat is gluten. Gluten is intended to nourish embryonic plants during germination, which is why it is stored in the endosperm. Because starch is water-soluble and gluten is not, gluten can be separated from wheat flour by dissolving away the starch with cold water. The process is more efficient if salty water is used. Corn and rice also have comparable proteins but are usually lacking in gliadins.

Gluten is very absorptive and elastic, properties that allow bread to rise. It’s also responsible for the chewy texture in grain-based foods. Gluten is also utilized as an additive for foods that have low protein levels or no protein at all. Wheat gluten is used in vegetarian cooking to reproduce the firmness and texture of meats, and it is often found in plant based meat substitutes.

What is Gluten Free?

The term "gluten free" has been permitted for use on food labels since 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which sets standards for its use. The basic components of FDA labeling standards for "gluten free" are described as:

  • Non appearance of all gluten-containing grains in the product. Gluten-containing grains are identified as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, Kamut, or their crossbred hybrids like triticale (which is made from wheat and rye).
  • Non appearance of all grain components in a food product (like wheat flour or wheat starch) that have not been processed for removal of gluten.
  • Maximum level of 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten in the final food product after gluten-containing components have been processed for gluten removal.

In general, 20 ppm of gluten in food means 2 milligrams of gluten protein in 100 grams of the food (about 3.5 ounces). It is commonly observed that most people who have healthy immune, inflammatory, and digestive systems will have no issues with this amount of gluten. Conversely, for people with a compromise to these body systems, for example, those diagnosed with celiac disease, there is no guarantee that undesirable reactions will be prohibited by the intake at this trace level. Notably, consumption of multiple gluten free products throughout the day could leave you with a higher gluten amount than would be healthy for your body.

Gluten Intolerance Symptoms | How to Know If You Have a Gluten Allergy

Symptoms of gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity often reflect symptoms of celiac disease, but on a lesser scale. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an “innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response (such as autoimmune) or allergic reaction.

One major characteristic of gluten sensitivity is “brain fog”, and we’ll discuss this in more detail later. Although this may seem like an interesting symptom, it’s best to avoid gluten if you’re noticing symptoms such as those below.

As a side note before we dive into the symptoms, you cannot definitively identify if you have a gluten sensitivity by taking a celiac disease test because non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not damage the intestines quite like celiac disease.

People who have gluten-related symptoms but test negative for a wheat allergy may have a gluten sensitivity that is not celiac disease. The following symptoms may be seen instantly after gluten consumption or they may take a few days to notice (which is what makes this so difficult!)

  1. Digestive Issues

Occurring in most cases of gluten sensitivity, abdominal pain is by far the most common symptom of gluten intolerance. It can include one or more of the following: stomach cramping and pain, feeling bloated and gassy, diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.

  1. Skin Problems

Irritated and inflamed skin is another sign of gluten sensitivity, occurring in many patients. It may manifest itself as eczema (red, itchy, dry skin) or erythema (red rashes, bumps, and lesions).

  1. Chronic Headaches

Intense throbbing or pulsing pain in one part of your head after eating is also indicative of sensitivity to gluten.

  1. Unexplained Fatigue

When the body isn’t properly absorbing vitamins and nutrients from food, this can often lead to chronic fatigue.

  1. Hyperactivity

On the flip side, sensitivity to gluten can also be marked by an unusual increase in activity: being in continuous movement, acting impulsively or aggressively, as well as being easily distracted.

  1. Depression

Loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness, low energy, variations in sleep, mood swings, and anxiety have been linked to people suffering from gluten intolerance.

  1. Bone and Joint Pain

Eating gluten-laden foods when you have a sensitivity can cause inflammation to rear its ugly head and cause a myriad of aches and pains throughout the body.

  1. Brain Fog

A type of mental fatigue, this clouding of consciousness denotes a weakening in awareness of oneself and one’s environment. Inattentiveness, forgetfulness, confusion, and an incapability to think straight are among the signs of this mild cognitive impairment.

  1. Numbness in Hands and Feet

In the short term, losing feeling in the hands or feet on occasions where pressure on the nerves causes a part of the body to fall asleep is perfectly normal. However, some cases of gluten intolerance may cause numbness in the body’s extremities.

  1. Canker Sores

Canker sores – small lesions in the inner cheek and on the gums – are an additional sign of undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

  1. Fibromyalgia

There is confirmation that gluten sensitivity may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia – a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, memory and thinking impairments, and depression. A small study including 20 fibromyalgia patients found that all symptoms improved dramatically after consuming a gluten free diet over the course of several months. Additionally, when eight of the patients in the study began consuming gluten when they began to feel better, they experienced a complete return of symptoms. Eliminating gluten from their diets once again brought their fibromyalgia back into remission.

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) shares many of the gastrointestinal symptoms of both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and for some patients with IBS, symptoms have improved while on a gluten free diet. One study found that most IBS patients who subsisted without gluten experienced significant reductions in abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue and had much better stool consistency.

If you’re concerned about any of the symptoms above and think you might have a gluten sensitivity, the best and easiest way to find out is through a food sensitivity test. These tests detect immune reactions to over 100 different foods you’re consuming, and they can definitively tell you if you need to be avoiding gluten. Click here to check out our favorite test and have one mailed to you!

7 Gluten Foods to Avoid

You should communicate with your doctor or take a food sensitivity test to determine if you have celiac disease or suffer from gluten sensitivity. You can also try removing gluten from your diet, to see if your symptoms go away and if you generally feel better. Here are the 7 gluten foods where gluten may be secretly lurking.

  1. Grains

The rule in achieving a gluten free diet is escaping three main grains – wheat, barley, and rye. Cakes, bagels, cookies, cereals, muffins, pasta, and bread are common foods with grain content.

While these might be easily identifiable, you need to be cautious with pastries, waffles, spaghetti, pretzels, buns, doughnuts, vermicelli, cornbread, rye and pumpernickel bread, pies, pancake mixes, dumplings, wheat germ, bran, ice cream cones, tortillas, noodles, batter-fried foods, pita, rolls, biscuits, bread crumbs, croutons, and gravies as well.

Please note that most manufacturers have implemented the production of gluten free versions of such foods. Nonetheless, their foods might not be entirely gluten free. It is suggested that you use grains such as rice as a replacement for some of the grains listed above. 

  1. Processed Meats

For gluten free diets, you should remove all processed meat types. Processed meats should be avoided because of their dangerous preservatives, which have even been linked to various cancers. Meats such as salami, sausages, pepperoni, hot dogs, bologna, liverwurst, and cold cuts should be avoided, as lower quality meat may use gluten flour as a binding agent. Alternative gluten free protein sources recommended include unprocessed meats such as turkey and chicken, and increasing your vegetable intake.

  1. Sweets and Treats

If you have a sweet tooth, you may need to listen up. The majority of sweet treats in the store are filled with gluten. Be aware of all chocolate, root beer, sherbets, commercial cake frosting, candies, cereal, ice cream, and malt-containing chocolate candy food products. And to the extent that bakeries go, unless it’s a gluten free bakery, forget it.

Before purchasing any of these food products, it is recommended that you check the label or ask the baker if it’s something you need to worry about. Nevertheless, there are still healthy and gluten free desserts out there that you can have. There are gluten free apple crisps, waffles, cakes, brownies and generally anything you can think of if you hit the right store. However, if you want to get rid of all of the sweets, you’ll have an excuse to decrease your sugar intake and eat a bit healthier.

  1. Seasonings and Condiments

Numerous seasonings and condiments contain gluten, thereby triggering gluten-intolerance associated problems. Your new gluten free diet demands that you remove soy sauce, bouillon, barley malt, modified starch foods, malt products, MSG, and Worcestershire sauce.

Furthermore, most salad dressings and gravies use gluten grains and flours for condensing. You may opt for tomato sauces or homemade dressings and sauces using gluten free butter, salt, and olive oil. Liquid aminos and tamari are great replacements as well. You can use arrowroot, potato starch, or cornflour for homemade condiments.

  1. Alcoholic Beverages

With the information that most alcoholic drinks are made from grains, malted beverages including wine coolers and beer should be on top of your list to avoid. It is suggested that if you have to drink alcoholic beverages, proceed with caution and choose alcoholic beverages such as red and white wine, specific vodkas, gin, cider, whiskey, tequila, and rum.

  1. Potato Chips

Most chips are harmless, but make sure to check each bag before buying. Some — particularly those with heavy seasoning — contain wheat. In this case, identifying it will be easy, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s easy to mistakenly suspect potato chips are free of flour. Health food stores often sell gluten free chips, but you’re safe to try regular chips at the grocery store — after investigative the product list.

  1. Ketchup

Any bottle of ketchup will list ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and spices. However, the bottle won’t announce that gluten was added during the product’s manufacturing process. Gluten-free ketchup is a common find at the health food store, but you may not want to pay two or three times the amount of a normal bottle for it. Luckily, Heinz ketchup is gluten free, as are many of the company’s products. Heinz has taken steps in recent years to highlight each of its foods online and identify whether or not each holds gluten.

9 Steps to Eating a Gluten Free Diet

  1. Acceptance

It is not easy for everyone to accept the fact that they have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or gluten intolerance. For the most part, it's not so much the diagnosis as the perceived limitations that it brings with it.

If you are used to going out to eat with friends often, or not looking at food labels, it is likely to seem daunting to have to track your diet so closely. It may even seem like an end of a certain way of life, especially once you start doing research on what foods you have to avoid.

Accepting the fact that you have to begin a gluten free diet is the first step to becoming healthy. Accept this because, in order to get healthy, you likely have no other choice. While you may want to change the situation, your body simply is not able to tolerate gluten at this time.

This is your life and your body, so accepting your new reality is a must. If you are able to consciously make the decision that you are going to embrace your new way of life, you will feel better both physically and mentally.

  1. Focus on the foods that you CAN eat

A gluten free diet is similar to a traditional healthy diet. You can still eat vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and lean meat. You will not go hungry!

You can still eat a steak if that’s what you desire. A colorful and flavorful salad, homemade guacamole and even mashed potatoes and lamb kebabs. There are a ton of delicious foods that you do not have to go without and can enjoy in moderation.

Instead of thinking about the foods that you can't eat at first, think of the good foods you can eat. Many foods that you love will still be a part of your diet. Focusing on the positive is always a good way to start any new habit. Also, start exploring new foods that are naturally free from gluten. There are a lot of gluten free grains that you may not have heard of before, and they’re delicious. Since living gluten free closes the door to some grains, why not open the door to other grains?

3. Find and use gluten free substitutes

There are a lot of gluten free replacements for common foods that taste great. You don't have to sacrifice flavor or texture like you may have had to 10 years ago if you were eating gluten free. Even when we talk about cosmetics, it’s easy to find gluten free brands which offer a wide range of products that come in beautiful shades. Have fun with the foods and products you use in your life, and make a game out of finding new ones that fit into your gluten free life.

  1. Figure out where gluten hides

The three grains that you need to avoid are wheat, rye, and barley. Avoid eating any kind of food, taking medicine, or using products (such as lipsticks, makeup, or shampoos) that may contain these.

When it comes to fried foods, the foods themselves may be gluten free, but they could be contaminated with gluten if they were fried in the same pan as gluten containing foods. For this, simply avoid all fried foods. Also, many products advertise themselves as being "wheat-free," but that does not mean that they are definitely gluten free. Barley can also be sneaky because it hides in unexpected places, like beer, soy sauce, and malt vinegar.

  1. Ask questions

Don’t be frightened to ask questions. This is the one most people struggle with when they start eating gluten free foods. In case of eating out to a restaurant, or during a road trip, don’t hesitate to ask your server which choices would be safe for you to have. There is nothing wrong with asking, reading labels, and choosing your food wisely.

  1. Pre-plan dining out

Dining out with your friends and family is a fundamental part of a happy and fulfilling life. While it does present some challenges if you are on a gluten free diet, nothing should keep you from enjoying going out to restaurants with those you love. Many restaurants these days offer gluten free menus or note the items on their menus that can be prepared without gluten.

You can even seek out specific restaurants that are well-versed in gluten free dining. These restaurants make an effort to offer options using gluten free ingredients and prepare their meals in a way that prevents cross-contamination.

Do not be afraid to ask your server questions about the menu so you can make good choices. Always make sure to tell your server that you have celiac disease or are intolerant to gluten. They need to understand your need to avoid anything that may contain gluten or have been cross-contaminated with it.

If you choose to order a salad or other food that has toppings, make sure to tell your server that you cannot have croutons or other toppings made with bread.

  1. Learn to cook

It’s easy to focus on foods you can no longer eat, but fortunately, the Internet can provide you with a lot of gluten free recipes that will not make you feel deprived. If you already love cooking, you will certainly be fine. While there may be a period of shock in the beginning as you find out some of your go-to ingredients contain gluten, you will learn how to work around it.

Cooking is one of the best paths to healing when it comes to eating gluten free. It might be hard for other people to cook for you if they are not well educated on gluten. But once you are comfortable with speaking up for yourself, you can offer your loved ones some advice. In the beginning, just focus on cooking for yourself. You can also go to restaurants that offer gluten free options, which many do. But the easiest and safest way to eat real food with high-quality ingredients is to prepare it yourself.

  1. Find your community

Join a local gluten free support group, or find some online support. You can meet some very helpful people, both virtually and in person, who are living the same situation that you are. It is great to be able to share ideas and recipes, and even get a sense of support if you are feeling frustrated or down.

Even if you meet someone who is on a gluten free diet for a different reason than you are, they can still provide you with help and inspiration. Many people have been in your shoes before, so if you are new to a gluten free lifestyle, this is a great way to learn how to adjust.

Remember, not everyone has to go gluten free, and doing so will not necessarily benefit your health unless there is a medical reason why you need to avoid gluten. But if you do realize that gluten is causing harm to your health, then using these steps should help you get started with your new eating lifestyle.

9. Indulge

Lastly, don’t forget to indulge yourself! Being gluten free doesn’t mean you have to survive off of kale chips and quinoa for the rest of your life. You still have access to a surplus of gluten free baked good options. Let yourself munch a doughnut every now and then. You’ve definitely earned it!

Start with a Gluten Free Breakfast - Green Smoothie

After deciding to go on a gluten free diet, you’ll be searching for delicious gluten free recipes, so why not start with a full burst of energy with a green smoothie?This green smoothie recipe is loaded with delicious fruits and vegetables and with no additional sugar added. Green smoothies should become an essential part of our home. It is a great way to get a lot of nutrition in a delicious way, and they’re the perfect breakfast for even the busiest of families.

Green smoothies can be so versatile and have so many fun flavors. Don’t hesitate to experiment with the greens you use and the other goodies you throw in. Click here to read more and download our green smoothie chart!

Detox Green Smoothie

Main ingredients:

  • 1 cup Spinach
  • ½ cup Frozen pineapple chunks
  • 5-6 Green grapes
  • 1 stalk Celery
  • 1 tsp. Fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs Lemon juice
  • 1 cup Water or coconut milk

Simply blend up the ingredients in your blender of choice (we love our Vitamix!) and enjoy each morning for breakfast. Don’t forget to download our green smoothie chart for more ideas!

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