A gluten-free diet is a diet plan that excludes the foods containing the protein gluten, including, rye, wheat, and barley.
This diet is essential for those with gluten sensitivity. It can also help you manage the signs and symptoms of a medical condition named the celiac disease.
There are some studies about the gluten-free diet conducted on the people with celiac disease. However, more research is needed on the benefits of this diet on the general population.
You need to avoid foods that contain gluten if you are intolerant to this protein. Otherwise, you may experience some side effects with severe discomfort.
Read on to get a detailed idea on the gluten-free diet, its pros, and cons, and a sample menu to start your diet. But, first, you need to have some basic knowledge about gluten and the negative effects it causes.
What is Gluten & Why is It Bad for You?
Gluten is a family of proteins stored with starch in the endosperm of different cereal grains. It is found in barley, wheat, and the products made from these grains, such as bread, pasta, etc.
The name was originated from a Latin word for “glue.” It’s because this protein is responsible for the sticky consistency of flour when mixed with water.
Because of this glue-like properties, gluten can create a sticky network, giving the bread the ability to rise and become chewy when baked.
However, some people may feel uncomfortable after eating foods that contain gluten. The reason could be celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Up to 1% of people around the world are affected by celiac disease. It’s an autoimmune disease that makes your body consider the gluten as a foreign threat. As a result, your body overreacts and attacks the protein to remove the threat.
While removing the threat, this attack also damages the surrounding areas, such as the gut wall. You may experience severe nutrient deficiencies, digestive problems, anemia, weight loss, stomach pain, depression, etc.
As these symptoms are quite common in some other diseases, diagnosis of celiac disease is quite difficult.
There are two ways to diagnose the celiac disease:
- Blood test (also known as a tTG-IgA test).
- Biopsy from the small intestine.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
People who do not have wheat allergy or celiac disease, but still feel uncomfortable after consuming gluten are classified for having non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Around 0.5%-13% of people worldwide suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
People with gluten sensitivity experience symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, tiredness, and rash.
There are so many controversies about the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
A randomized clinical trial involved 35 people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They were given both gluten-free flour and wheat-based flour at a different time.
The result shows two-thirds of the people failed to tell the difference between the two flour. In fact, nearly 50% of the participants had negative symptoms after eating gluten-free flour.
On the other hand, a study published in 2015 confirms the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Gluten-Free Diet: Foods You Can Eat
Some foods are naturally free of gluten. You can use them to make some healthy and delicious meal.
Vegetables and fruits: All the fruits and vegetables are gluten-free and safe to eat.
Grains: Rice, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca, buckwheat, millet, corn. Oats that are labeled gluten-free are also safe to eat.
Flours and starches: Corn and its flours, potato and its flour, soy flour, chickpea flour, coconut flour, almond flour.
Protein: All kinds of egg, fishes, and meats, except coated or battered meat.
Dairy: Plain milk, yogurt, and cheese without added flavor.
Seeds and nuts: All seeds and nuts are considered gluten-free.
Fat: Butter and all vegetable oils.
Beverages: All beverages except beer. However, beer labeled as gluten-free is safe to drink.
Gluten-Free Diet: Foods You Need to Avoid
Many common ingredients are included in foods that contain gluten, making it challenging to avoid gluten completely.
Here are some foods containing gluten that you need to avoid:
Wheat-based food: All wheat-based pasta and bread, cereals (unless labeled gluten-free).
Snacks: Crackers, candy, roasted nuts, muesli bars, pretzels, flavored popcorns.
Backed foods: Cakes, muffins, cookies, pizzas, and pastries.
Sauces: Soy sauce, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, marinades, etc.
Beverages: Flavored alcohol, beer.
Besides, broth and couscous may contain gluten in some cases.
Benefits of Gluten Free Diet
Whether you have celiac disease or not, a gluten-free diet can have some health benefits for you:
1. Gluten-Free Diet Can Soothe Digestive Problems.
A gluten-free diet is known to treat digestive problems like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, among others.
Research published in the Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench proves the efficacy of a gluten-free diet in easing digestive symptoms in people with non-celiac gluten sensitivities.
Another research was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In that study, 215 people with celiac disease were given a gluten-free meal for six months.
Result shows, those patients experienced significantly reduced stomach pain and symptoms of diarrhea and nausea.
2. It May Reduce Chronic Inflammation Due to Celiac Disease.
Celiac disease can cause chronic inflammation that may lead to various health problems.
A gluten-free diet can help ease inflammation associated with celiac disease.
According to the research published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, a gluten-free diet can significantly reduce the markers of inflammation in people who have celiac disease.
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also suffer from a low level of inflammation. However, it’s still not sure if a gluten-free diet can reduce that inflammation.
3. Gluten-Free Diet Can Help in Weight Loss.
A gluten-free diet avoids junk foods and replaces them with healthy vegetables and fruits. Hence, it becomes easier to lose weight in a healthy way.
So, if you want to stay fit, add more fresh vegetables, fruits, and other gluten-free foods to your diet.
4. It May Boost Your Energy.
It’s because you may suffer from nutrient deficiencies as the gut is damaged. You may also suffer from anemia, a common problem related to celiac disease.
A gluten-free diet may boost your energy, reducing the symptoms of fatigue and brain fog.
One thousand thirty-one patients with celiac disease attended a clinical trial. 66% of those patients had fatigue.
After following a gluten-free diet, the number of people suffering from fatigue reduced significantly.
Side Effects of Gluten Free Diet
A gluten-free diet is quite healthy but comes with some downsides as well, including:
1. Gluten-Free Diet Can Cause Constipation.
It’s important to maintain a fiber-rich diet for a healthy bowel movement.
As a gluten-free diet eliminates most dietary fiber sources like bran, bread, and other wheat-based foods, you may suffer from constipation.
Besides, the foods you have as a gluten-free substitute are low in fiber. This may be another reason why constipation is so common for someone following a gluten-free diet.
If you have constipation, eat more fiber-rich vegetables and fruits like berries, beans, broccoli, lentils, etc.
2. It May Cause Nutritional Deficiency.
It’s quite normal to suffer from nutritional deficiencies in celiac disease.
A 2007 study shows you may have deficiencies in iron, fiber, calcium, folate, vitamin B12, A, D, E, and K, zinc, and many more.
Following a gluten-free diet may not treat those nutritional deficiencies.
A study was published in 2010. It shows people in a gluten-free diet are more prone to processed foods labeled as “gluten-free” rather than healthy fruits and vegetables.
Besides, most gluten-free versions of foods do not contain vitamin B and other nutrients.
3. Gluten Free Diet is Expensive.
It’s difficult to follow a gluten-free diet if you are on a tight budget.
According to a study published in 2008, gluten-free foods are about two and a half time more costly than regular foods.
It’s because gluten-free foods have to go through stricter testing, which makes them costly.
You can try to eat more single-ingredient foods if you have a budget problem.
4. It Can Make Socializing Difficult.
You may find it difficult to socialize if you’re on a gluten-free diet.
Research published in 2008 shows about 21% of people with celiac disease avoid going to any social gathering to stick to their gluten-free diet.
While some restaurants have gluten-free options, they might be contaminated with the traces of gluten.
However, with some extra preparations beforehand, you can still attend social gatherings.
Gluten-Free Diet: A Sample Menu
Here is a simple yet delicious gluten free menu that you may try.
You can choose anyone from the meal suggestions according to your preference.
Breakfast: Spinach and oven roasted tomato omelet/ berries and hot cereal/ gluten free bagels/ breakfast sausage egg muffins/ breakfast burrito
Snack 1: Crackers snack/ hardboiled eggs/ dried almonds and apricots/ tropical yogurt parfait/ peanut butter and apple slices/ peanuts and raisins
Lunch: Turkey chili/ taco salad/ falafel/ Caprese panini/ tuna salad/ turkey lettuce wraps/ Mediterranean quinoa salad
Snack 2: Trail mix/ stuffed quesadilla/ power smoothie/ peanut butter and banana/ gluten free cereal/ nachos/
Dinner: Tofu stir fry/ lasagna style pasta bake/ steak with yarns and zucchini/ balsamic glazed chicken with mushrooms/ glazed salmons/ pork loin with rosemary and garlic/ garlic mashed cauliflower
Snack 3: Almonds covered with dark chocolate/ peanut butter cookies/ low-fat vanilla or strawberry ice cream/ cookie truffles/ coconut chia pudding.
Most people don’t face problems while eating foods that contain gluten.
However, if you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you must avoid those foods. Otherwise, you may have harmful effects.
A gluten-free diet seems restricting, but there are still so many delicious options for you to choose from.
Make sure you eat more vegetables and fruits that contain fiber, as well as lean meat. These foods will keep your stomach full and satiated.
Despite some side effects it has, a gluten-free diet can provide numerous benefits, helping you stay healthy and fit.