West Valley Medical Center - January 21, 2015
by Greta VanDyke, RN, certified diabetes educator

Joining the gluten-free crowd is a challenging endeavor! And if you find it's going to be part of your journey, here are some basic nuggets to understand:

So, what is gluten?

Gluten is a specific type of protein.ï_ Not the kind you find in meat, fish or eggs, but the kind you find in some grains, namely wheat, rye and barley. Gluten helps dough rise and give shape and a chewy texture to baked goods.

What's this celiac disease' I keep hearing about?

A gluten-free diet is primarily used to treat celiac disease, a condition caused when gluten creates inflammation in the small intestines. Eating gluten-free helps control the symptoms and can help prevent disease related complications. But some people find that even though they don't have celiac disease, they still experience symptoms like belly discomfort or pain, bloating, gas or diarrhea when they eat gluten. People with this “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” may also benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Does going gluten-free mean I can't eat bread?

Yep, going gluten-free means saying goodbye to bread, at least as we knew it. No more muffins, bagels or donuts, not even that healthy whole-grain bread if it includes wheat, rye or barley. And don't forget about the cereals: many of our breakfast cereals start with a base of wheat. Oh! And pasta! No matter what its shape or name, most pasta is usually made out of wheat.

Okay, anything else I should stay away from?

Yes, but the answer isn't as straightforward as you'd like. Avoiding wheat, barley and rye can be challenging because of the many names they go by. For instance:

  • Wheat: enriched, phosphated, plain and self-rising, durum, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt
  • Barley: malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley (yes, that includes many beers!)
  • Triticale: a cross between wheat and rye

You've probably realized by now that you'll become a label-reading expert. Many food additives use gluten-containing ingredients, like malt flavoring or modified food starch. Also, avoid hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) and hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP). Basically, stay away from cookies and crackers, cakes and pies, processed foods and sauces and seasoned snack foods, like potato and tortilla chips.

Yikes! Is there anything left to eat?

I'm ready for the good news! How about you? There are many healthy and delicious foods that are naturally gluten-free. Consider beans, seeds and nuts in their natural, unprocessed form. Eggs, fresh meats, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables and even most dairy products can be part of a gluten-free diet. Many grains and starches are gluten-free: buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, rice, quinoa, soy, tapioca, amaranth and arrowroot for starters. Most health food stores and many grocery stores now carry gluten-free foods and products.ï_ You'll likely find bread, pasta, crackers and bars to help you manage being gluten-free.

Wow, this is going to be tough. How can I learn more?

You're right! Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and will take some getting used to. Like anything new, there is a learning curve, so give yourself some time to study and learn about the changes you'll want to make.

You can also join us at 5:30pm Thursday, Jan. 29, for a free seminar all about the gluten-free lifestyle. Click here to learn more!