Five Tips for Starting a Gluten-Free Diet

In 2022, consumers have a large selection of gluten-free options, improving their quality of life. For individuals diagnosed with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivities (NCGS) in past decades, their dietary selection was minimal. Whether you live in a region with a vast selection of gluten-free options or a limited variety, you may utilize these five tips to effectively start your diet.

Many individuals struggle to maintain a celiac-friendly diet because of limited awareness and education. When consumers increase their recognition of gluten-free labels and naturally allergy-safe foods, they can achieve a healthy diet without stress. Before evaluating the five tips, individuals may benefit from exploring gluten allergies and their physical impacts.

What Are Gluten Allergies?

Celiac disease results in an immune reaction when one’s intestines come in contact with gluten. The physical response damages the small intestine over time, causing malabsorption. Intestinal degradation causes anemia, weight loss, bloating, fatigue, and diarrhea.

The disease may also cause osteoporosis, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, migraines, and fatigue. Other individuals with the condition experience numbness of the feet, legs, and hands, as well as joint pain. People effectively reduce their symptoms over time by consuming a strict gluten-free diet.

Individuals also treat NCGS with gluten-free diets. The illness is similar to celiac disease, except the condition is non-detectable by certain testing. People with NCGS experience brain fog, abdominal pain, migraines, chronic fatigue, bloating, joint pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

A team of researchers at Columbia University identified the effects of gluten on the intestinal health of individuals with NCGS. They discovered similar immune responses and stomach cell destruction associated with consumption. Researchers believe the reaction may relate to a different component in gluten that causes its lack of appearance on celiac tests.

Scientists look at individuals’ reactions to amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) and fructans when assessing the cause of NCGS symptoms. Understanding the severity of gluten allergies and their probable causes can support informed dietary choices. The first step to starting a successful gluten-free diet is deepening your understanding of the allergen.

1. Expand Your Gluten Education

Gluten is a protein found in various grains like wheat and rye. It is a naturally occurring part of many plants, and researchers discovered a way to extract the protein. Many processed foods contain gluten as a binding agent, holding them together and adding texture.

The protein is present in bread and pasta because it comes from barley, wheat, spelt, rye, durum, emmer, farro, triticale, and other grains. Some naturally gluten-free grains include rice, quinoa, and oats. It is important to look out for specifically gluten-free oats at the store because some products experience cross-contamination.

If oats grow in a field with wheat or rye, they may receive a coating of gluten, decreasing the safety of their consumption by individuals with allergies. When oats are processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains, they also may experience cross-contamination. Remaining aware of the naturally celiac-friendly foods and the risk of contamination supports a successful diet.

2. Identify Sneaky Sources of Gluten

Another beneficial tip for starting your gluten-free diet is remaining aware of the sneaky sources of allergens. Medications and supplements often use gluten as an external coating or filler. Before consuming a new pill, it is important to contact your doctor to evaluate its dietary safety.

Processed meat, poultry, and fish often contain wheat as a filler or bast. Most deli meats, hot dogs, and sausages contain gluten, making them not suitable for consumption by individuals with celiac disease or NCGS. Some meat substitutes also use the protein as a filler, creating dietary challenges.

Imitation seafood, like the crab inside sushi rolls, and seitan, always contain gluten. Some veggie burgers also use wheat and other grains to bind the other ingredients. Many sauces additionally utilize wheat as a thickening agent.

Soy sauce is a common culprit of accidental gluten exposure. Restaurants also regularly add barley to miso, making it not suitable for gluten-free consumers. Fortunately, there are many safe alternatives to wheat-containing foods, like tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.

3. Plan Ahead When Eating Out

The worst feeling is showing up to a dinner out with friends only to realize you cannot eat anything on the menu. Researching a menu before attending a restaurant is the best way to avoid dietary mishaps. Some eateries have designated gluten-free menus whereas others may have zero options.

Calling a restaurant ahead of time is the best way to ensure your ability to safely eat there. Some chefs may even encourage individuals to bring their own gluten-free bread, flour, or pasta to accommodate their dietary restrictions. Individuals can also plan ahead when eating at a friend’s house by bringing a celiac-friendly option.

4. Convert Your Favorite Home-Cooked Meals to Gluten-Free Options

While traditional Italian dishes often contain gluten, individuals can substitute wheat components with chickpea, almond, or rice flour. Consumers with celiac disease and NCGS may make their favorite dishes like pizza using gluten-free substitutes. One pizza recipe uses rice and tapioca flour instead of wheat to create the crust.

It also utilizes xanthan gum to keep the dough together, binding it as gluten would. The crust is also dairy-free and egg-free, making it a suitable option for vegans and lactose-intolerant individuals as well. When making celiac-friendly pizza, it is important to prepare the dough away from wheat-containing dishes to limit cross-contamination.

5. Beware of Cross-Contamination

The final tip for starting a gluten-free diet revolves around cross-contamination. When individuals cook celiac-friendly foods in a wheat-containing kitchen, the meal may come in contact with gluten. Sharing cooking surfaces, utensils, and containers with wheat-containing items can create unsafe dishes for consumers with celiac disease and NCGS.

Flour containing wheat can remain airborne in bakeries for hours, increasing the rate of cross-contamination. Before ordering food from a restaurant or eating at a friend’s house, ensure they have a celiac-friendly kitchen. Many Individuals designate a section of their kitchens to gluten-free meal prep to decrease the risk of cross-contamination.

The Benefits of Eating Gluten-Free

Many individuals benefit from eating a gluten-free diet, especially consumers with celiac disease and NCGS. When you eliminate gluten from your diet, you preserve your small intestinal lining. The diet also decreases abdominal discomfort, migraines, brain fog, and rashes, helping individuals live a normal life without adverse symptoms.

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Born and raised in Detroit with four siblings. Vaughn Lowery graduated Cornell University's ILR School. He is a former Vibe Magazine Intern, Saks Fifth Avenue Executive Trainee, Aetna Account Manager, and Partner of WPI PR & Marketing. As an international talent, he has extensively worked and lived on four continents: North America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Some of his notable clients include: GAP, Marc Ecko, Old Navy, Skechers, Nordstrom, Dasani Water, Elle Magazine and L'Uomo Vogue. He is best known for his TV appearances on America's Next Top Model, Scrubs and as the exclusive Spokesperson for JOE BOXER. Vaughn's first leading film role in "The Young & Evil" was an official selection of Sundance. He's the grandson of civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery; and is a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alphi Fraternity, Incorporated (Alpha Chapter).

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