The Basic Gluten-Free Diet – Tips for Beginners

A gluten-free diet is one where you need to abstain yourself from eating foods that contain a protein called gluten. Many foods around us contain gluten, and such common foods include wheat, rye, barley and triticale ( wheat and rye hybrid). The gluten contained in these foods often cause adverse reactions in certain people who are sensitive to the protein.

On a gluten-free diet, you are encouraged to remove these grains and any other food or ingredient that could be containing gluten. This means, on a gluten-free diet you cannot make each pasta, bread and baked foods made with gluten-containing flours. Besides, you also have to keep an eye on the foods that may contain hidden gluten such as salad dressings, soups, salads and processed foods. This is because; sometimes these foods contain ingredients which are derived from grains that contain gluten.

You might like to note that you cannot even foods that have been processed in a place where it could have possibly been contaminated with any gluten containing food like wheat. For example, while oats in its purest form are certified free of gluten, it may have been grown or processed where it could have been possibly contaminated with wheat. You can figure this out reading the product labels carefully.

Who is the Gluten-Free Diet For?

People who suffer from celiac disease are primarily recommended to go gluten-free. This is because; celiac patients develop inflammation in their small intestine whenever they consume gluten containing foods. A diet free of gluten helps to control the persisting signs and symptoms of the disease while further preventing complications. Reportedly in the U.S, approximately 1 out of every 100 people has this disease.  The gluten-free diet is also helpful for individuals who don’t have celiac disease but do suffer from certain symptoms after eating gluten foods. These people display what is medically known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. We also know it as gluten intolerance.

The symptoms of both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are quite similar although, the former has more adverse effects on the body than the latter. In either of these conditions, the patient may experience recurring abdominal pain with chronic fatigue. There is tingling or numbness in the feet or hands. Some may experience chronic constipation while others can have diarrhea when on a diet of gluten containing foods. In some conditions, people may have unexplained infertility. Usually, the patients may also suffer from low bone density with conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Tips for Beginners

For those of you who have recently discovered of their condition, the very thought of a strict gluten-free diet may seem like a lifelong daunting task. While for beginners, it is a challenge but with updated knowledge and gradual lifestyle changes, you can easily adapt to this diet. Your key is to focus on the foods that you could eat rather than the ones who go off limits now. The good news is that these days many gluten-free versions of bread and pasta are easily found these days. The organic food stores, specialty grocery shops, and even several popular grocery chains display on their shelves gluten-free bread, pasta, biscuits, and cakes.

New to the diet, you may have to get into the habit of reading the labels of certain food products before purchasing. The food labels usually mention if it has been grown or processed in a place where gluten containing stuff are also present and if they could be possibly contaminated. In others, you will likely find a clear ingredients label mentioning whether or not it contains gluten. Keep an eye on the grains like wheat, barley, Kamut, spelled and rye or other hybrid grains which could contain gluten.

With so many people suffering from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, the market is flooded with great substitutes for the otherwise gluten containing bread, pasta, cereals, and crackers. This apart there are so many foods that are naturally devoid of any gluten. Go ahead and munch on fresh fruits as much as you like. The vegetables too do not have any gluten in them thankfully. And what’s more, if you are a non-vegetarian, you could continue enjoying poultry, meat, and fish. A gluten-free diet also doesn’t put any restriction on regular dairies products like milk, cheese, yogurt and the likes.

While being on a gluten-free diet means giving up on certain grains, it also comes around as an excellent opportunity to adopt newer and possibly, healthier foods into your life, many of which you might have never heard about. For example; the super-nutritious quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, polenta, millet, corn, and tapioca. Just make sure you pick the uncontaminated foods. And soon, you will discover that chicken with polenta crumbs, quinoa chocolate cake, buckwheat pasta and rice noodles do also taste equally good or maybe even better.

Being well-informed and updated is one of the first steps towards a healthier and more enjoyable gluten-free diet. This way not only will you know what foods and drinks to avoid and take, but continue to update you also come to know what great gluten-free substitutes is the market coming up with. Be noted that lagers, beers, ales, and stouts contain varying amounts of gluten. So, if you have been a fan of these alcoholic drinks, you may now have to choose only from the gluten-free alcohols like spirits, liqueurs, sherry, wine, port, and cider. Beer lovers might have to look for gluten-free beers, which if not very extensively are indeed sold in individual specialty stores or supermarkets.

Thankfully, being on this diet, you will not have to sacrifice eating out in a restaurant and enjoying happy meals with friends and family. These days the popular burger and fast food chains and so many restaurants offer gluten-free menus.

Being on a gluten-free diet also means now you have to more responsible of what you wheat and how much gluten-free you can make your kitchen environment. Precisely, this means that even a small bit of gluten is potent enough to give you symptoms if you suffer from celiac disease. So, to minimize any risks of cross-contamination you have not only have to eat gluten-free but also make sure that kitchen surfaces, utensils, and tableware are washed down well before use. This will ensure they have not been contaminated with any gluten. Maybe you would also like to have your butter, spreads, and jams separated so no crumbs might have been spread by others using the same product.

Common Misconceptions

Sometimes, the gluten-free diet is also promoted as a weight-loss diet or a diet that is possibly healthier for the general population. However, be informed that both these claims remain unfounded till date. While the diet is indeed healthier for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there is no reason to believe that people with normal body conditions need to switch to a gluten-free diet for better health if they can already drive all the nutrition following a regular balanced diet. Also, if someone is used to an unhealthy diet of too much refined wheat products and suddenly goes gluten-free, it will naturally prove healthier. That’s because he will have to eliminate the refined flours from his diet and eat more of fruits, vegetables and gluten-free grains which are far more nutritious than refined wheat flour.

Foods to Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet

Being on a gluten-free diet you might have to give up on certain foods for your life, but you can continue eating many foods and include several nutritious and delicious foods which you might have never heard of or thought about. For example, even on a gluten-free diet, you can continue eating meats be it chicken, beef, lamb or any other. Fish and seafood also remain a part of your diet, and you can still benefit your body with the delicious goodness of shrimps, salmon, haddock, trout, and others.

You can eat eggs though the pastured eggs enriched with omeg-3s are healthier. There is no restriction to dairy either, and so milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, etc. still stay the same for you. Eat more of fruits and vegetables and legumes too. Besides tuberous vegetables, all kinds of nuts and healthy fats like coconut oil, butter, avocado oil, and olive oil are recommended.  You can eat gluten-free foods with your choice of herbs, spices, and condiments. Take care to eat only gluten-free grains. Eat rice, quinoa, corn, millet, flax, arrowroot, amaranth, oats, sorghum, tapioca and buckwheat, arrowroot.

On a gluten-free diet, you are rather lucky to have gluten-free replacements for several foods without having to starve on them like on many other diets. You can still enjoy gluten-free bread, cakes, pastries, muffins, cookies, and biscuits. However, one thing to remember is that most of the gluten-free foods are overloaded with sugar and highly processed, which could mean consuming more calories than required. While occasional snacking on these are not a bad idea at all, making them a part of your everyday diet should only be done with careful observation of the ingredient labels. Even on a gluten-free diet, you can drink coffee and tea as well as juices of all fruits.

One Week Gluten-Free Meal Plan

Here is a sample gluten-free menu for a week. This can be tweaked as per your preferences.

Day 1

  • A breakfast of veggies scrambled eggs and fruit.
  • A lunch comprising chicken salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
  • A dinner of stir-fried ground beef with veggies with a side of brown rice.

Day 2

  • A breakfast of vegetables with omelet and fruit.
  • Baked salmon with butter and a side of vegetable stir-fry.
  • Butter fried burger patties with a side of potatoes for dinner.

Day 3

  • A gluten-free oatmeal with milk and raisins breakfast.
  • A powerful smoothie for lunch with chocolate whey protein powder, almond, berries and coconut milk.
  • A butter sautéed salmon with a green salad for dinner.

Day 4

  • For breakfast a corn taco with cheddar cheese with a cup of skim milk and a fruit.
  • For lunch a tossed salad mix with vinegar and olive oil dressing, sliced tomatoes with a drizzle of pesto, a cup of skim milk and pan-fried skinless chicken breast.
  • Chipotle marinated pork tenderloin with cooked millet, steamed broccoli and a dessert of fresh strawberries for dinner.

Day 5

  • Greek yogurt loaded with fruits and nuts for breakfast.
  • A lunch of tuna salad with an olive oil dressing.
  • Meatballs with vegetables and a side of brown rice for dinner.

Saturday

  • Coconut oil fried omelet with vegetables and fruit.
  • Sweet potato turkey hash, green salad and non-fat vanilla yogurt for lunch.
  • Steak with a side of vegetables and a sweet potato mash for dinner.

Sunday

  • A breakfast of bacon and eggs and a cup of mixed fruits.
  • Bistro Beef tenderloin with brown rice and steamed green beans for lunch.
  • A dinner of grilled chicken wings with a side of stir-fried vegetables and wild rice.

Snacks

If you find yourself hungry in-between meals, you can snack on any fruit, nuts, yogurt with berries, fresh baby carrots, rice cakes or hard boiled eggs to name a few.

Things to Note and Remember

Not everyone realizes this, but a wheat-free product is not necessarily gluten-free too. This is because it could still be made with other ingredients like rye, barley or even spelled which rather a form of wheat and all these contain gluten.

Furthermore, if you suspect that you are having symptoms of gluten intolerance or you might be having celiac disease, it is not a good idea to begin your gluten-free diet just yet even before a diagnosis has been done. This is because; it can make the diagnosis difficult by giving inaccurate test results.

As stressed several times throughout the article reading the label is of utmost importance before buying any food product. This is also owing to some special cases such as in the case of caramel color. While caramel color is produced from corn and is gluten-free but some companies could also manufacture it with wheat in which case it will contain gluten and will not be suitable for you.

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