You sit down at the restaurant, and the first thing that arrives is a basket of rolls or popovers. You have yet to order, yet you have a big basket full of gluten sitting in front of you. Gluten is in so many foods, and many are tasty ones it’s hard to imagine giving up. Gluten is one of the first food components we recommend patients give up because it’s inflammatory and increases gut permeability. When the gut becomes too permeable, it leads to what’s known as a “leaky gut.”
Most patients wonder, “How do I give up gluten?” Going gluten-free can be a shock at first, but you can do it, and doing so will ultimately contribute to better health.
Gluten is a sticky protein in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. It’s mainly known for the chewy texture it gives to bread. However, you’ll find out how many other foods it’s in when you give up gluten. It’s in cereal, crackers, cookies, and cakes, but can also hide in soups, frozen dinners, and even whole chicken. Gluten si everywhere, leading to high levels of consumption every day –whether or not you’re eating bread and baked goods.
Researchers are learning more and more about how gluten and similar proteins contribute to autoimmune disorders and other health conditions. We know it causes severe intestinal damage in those with celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases, but it can also cause harm to healthy people.
Most people don’t see an immediate response after eating foods with gluten, so they think they’re fine eating it. Unfortunately, gluten can still cause inflammation and affect the body systemically. Your brain, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and every tissue in the body can be damaged by gluten. Now, think about what happens if your gut is damaged. Your body absorbs nutrients through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. If your GI is damaged, you can eat healthy but still be malnourished. “Gluten-free” isn’t a fad that’s going away. Continuing to consume gluten is the habit that needs to go away.
Learn more about celiac disease and why everyone should give up gluten in this video:
But Seriously, How Do I Give Up Gluten?
We understand it can be overwhelming to give up gluten at first, but we’ve seen thousands of patients do it and feel better after making the break. Giving up gluten is much easier if you focus on all the delicious healthy foods you can eat and how you’ll be much healthier without it. Here are a few more suggestions and tips to make it easier.
1. Know Which Common Foods Have Gluten
Which foods can’t you eat when you give up gluten? Some foods obviously have gluten, like bagels, bread, crackers, cakes, pies, and other baked goods, but there are also some you may not have considered. Soups often have flour (and gluten) as a thickening agent. Other common foods with gluten are sauces, marinades, lunch meats, pasta sauces, rice mixes, and even some French fries. Wait, you thought French fries were just potatoes? A popular fast-food restaurant chain has 19 ingredients in their fries, and that’s before they go in the fryer.
2. Understand That it Goes Beyond Gluten
While gluten gets all the press, other grain-derived proteins can cause issues. There’s a good reason why “grain-free,” paleo, and the carnivore diet have become popular. Grains and other seed foods like legumes, nuts, and seeds have overall higher levels of anti-nutrients called lectins. Gluten is the most famous lectin out there, but there are many others. Technically gluten-free grains like corn, rice, and oats, have gluten-like proteins that can trigger the immune response and create chronic inflammation. Examples include zein in corn, orzenin in rice, and avenin in oats. Every immune system is different, so it’s possible to be fine with oats and not rice… and vice versa.
3. Read Labels and Watch for Ingredients
Gluten isn’t always on the label as wheat. It’s in other grains or names for wheat, such as barley, rye, spelt, semolina, durum, and triticale. Oats are (wheat) gluten-free, but they’re often contaminated with wheat while in the field or during processing. They also have their own inflammatory protein, avenin. Also, watch for seitan, bulgur, cereal extract, couscous, flour, Triticum, and malt. Other ingredients that may contain gluten are dextrin, glucose, food starch, artificial flavoring, natural flavoring, maltodextrin, vegetable protein, and monosodium glutamate.
4. Better Yet, Ditch the Labels
Just because the label says “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. We’ve seen “gluten-free” cotton candy before. Now, you know THAT’S not healthy! Foods with artificial flavorings and MSG aren’t healthy, even if they are gluten-free. Your best bet is to look for organic, whole foods—vegetables, fruits, and other foods that don’t need labels. Foods without labels are the best foods when you give up gluten. You can be sure if they have gluten in them or not.
5. Try New Spins on Old Dishes
When you go gluten-free, you have options and opportunities to be creative. Missing pasta? Try spaghetti squash or vegetable noodles. There are also many good alternatives with cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, quinoa porridge, and even cauliflower-based pizza crust. If they can make pizza out of cauliflower, then you, my friend, can give up gluten. When you cook at home, you can often find ways to make your favorite dishes without gluten. Check out the healthy recipes on our website for gluten-free options. We also love the Yummly app for cooking with allergies. The app makes it easy to find gluten-free and grain-free options.
6. Bring A Gluten-Free Dish to Pass
Parties and social gatherings can be challenging for people new to giving up gluten. You think about the buffet of food and wonder, “What will I eat if I have to be gluten-free?” Offer to bring a dish. You’ll take some pressure off the host and ease your mind. At least, you’ll know there will be at least one dish you can eat, and there will likely be others looking for gluten-free options, too. Try making a cabbage noodle-based stroganoff and bring it to the next potluck. You’ll be surprised how many people ask you for the recipe. The vegetable noodles serve as a neutral flavor base for the sauce — just like wheat pasta. It’s the herb and spices that provide the yum factor.
7. Don’t Forget the Beverages
You might be surprised to learn that some beverages also contain gluten. Be careful with drinks like colas and apple juice with caramel coloring. Beer is loaded with gluten. Don’t worry if you’re a beer drinker, though. There are options! Check out our article on cleaner alcohol options for some better beer alternatives.
8. Watch Out For Non-Food Sources of Gluten
Potential non-food sources of gluten include personal care products, dental sealants, mouthwash, makeup, soaps, shampoo, hairspray, and low-quality vitamins and other supplements. It can hide in ingredients like Avena sativa (oat starch), Hordeum distichon (barley extract), Triticum vulgare (wheat germ oil), fermented grain extract, and more.
You Can Give Up Gluten
Once you’re aware of what gluten can do to your body, and you’ve spent a few weeks avoiding it, you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was difficult. Giving up foods that cause inflammation helps many people release symptoms they hardly even noticed before. Headaches, joint pain, skin issues, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and more may dissipate. After a while, you’ll wonder why anyone is still eating gluten.