Tips for Going Gluten-Free

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Gluten-free living is receiving a lot of buzz. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). If you’re one of the 2 million Americans diagnosed with celiac disease, eating even tiny amounts of gluten can damage your digestive tract and lead to symptoms such as:

Recently, it’s been recognized that some people have a less severe condition called gluten sensitivity. Like those with celiac disease, people with gluten sensitivity feel better when they eliminate gluten from their diet.

Whatever your reason for avoiding gluten, the abundance of gluten-free products in the marketplace makes it doable. Here are some tips for developing a gluten-free lifestyle.

Be a Food Detective

Your most important goal is to avoid any food containing wheat, barley, rye, or triticale. This means that most grain products, baked goods, pastas, cereals, crackers, cookies, and snack foods are off-limits.

Check the label on all packaged foods, even those you think are gluten-free. You may be surprised to find some form of wheat or gluten in foods like flavored potato chips, frozen French fries, imitation fish, soups, sauces, bouillon, cold cuts, soy sauce, and beer.

Get familiar with wheat’s many names and forms. These include wheat starch, modified food starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, bulgur, couscous, farina, malt and malt flavoring, graham flour, durum flour, semolina, einkorn, emmer, farro, kamut, and spelt.

Go for a Healthy Balance

Now that you know what to avoid, what foods should you embrace?

  • Base your healthy gluten-free diet around vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and gluten-free whole grains.

  • Low bone density is common in people with newly diagnosed celiac disease. Be sure to get enough calcium from low-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified foods. People who get little sun exposure may need a vitamin D supplement.

  • Choose rice and other gluten-free grains. Quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wild rice, and amaranth are delicious. Just cook them as you would rice.

  • Corn and oats can be eaten by gluten-sensitive individuals, as long as they’re “pure” and not contaminated with wheat, barley, or rye.

  • Try the many gluten-free breads, baked goods, and pastas available in many natural foods stores.

  • If you like to bake, experiment with rice flour, bean flours, and gluten-free baking mixes.

Dine Out Gluten-Free

With care, you can still eat out at many restaurants. Be sure to tell your server that you can’t have wheat or gluten and that no wheat products can touch your food. Ask questions about ingredients. Because breading, marinades, and sauces often contain gluten, you may want to play it safe by ordering simple foods, such as grilled fish or meat, rice, and vegetables.

You can easily find gluten-free dining options, thanks to a variety of mobile phone apps. There are apps to help you locate gluten-friendly restaurants in your area, see how other gluten-free diners have rated restaurants, and communicate your gluten-free needs when traveling in a foreign country.

Think Outside the Box

To avoid gluten completely, think beyond food.

  • Your toaster may be exposing you to wheat bread crumbs. If the toaster in your house is shared with family members, consider getting your own.

  • Lipstick, lip gloss, and lip balm may contain gluten.

  • Some over-the-counter and prescription medications and nutritional supplements may contain wheat. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist.

Going gluten-free is easier than ever, thanks to new food products, cookbooks, and mobile apps. Check out online resources and support groups for additional tips.

Key Takeaways

  • Check the label on all packaged foods, even those labeled gluten-free. Get familiar with wheat’s many names and forms.

  • Tell restaurant servers that you can’t have wheat or gluten and that no wheat products can touch your food.

  • Check for gluten in other sources such as your toaster, makeup, and medications.

  • Embrace foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and gluten-free whole grains, baked goods, and pastas.

  • Be sure to get enough calcium from low-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified foods.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 26
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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