Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Many people choose a gluten-free lifestyle to avoid refined flour, which has almost no nutritional value but is calorie-laden. Some people avoid gluten because they suffer from celiac disease (the medical term for gluten intolerance), which can cause digestive discomfort in the form of gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating.
Effects of Gluten Intolerance
Gluten intolerance is an autoimmune disease rather than an allergy. In severe cases of celiac disease, gluten attacks parts of the small intestine where nutrients from food are absorbed. Malnutrition is the most obvious side effect, followed by anemia, osteoporosis, stunted growth (in children) and depression. If you think you may have gluten intolerance or symptoms of celiac disease, seek the advice of a doctor as soon as possible to be tested. Your physician may suggest that you meet with a dietitian.
A gluten-free diet does not mean you can have no carbohydrates. You can enjoy quinoa, rice, corn and flours made from these grains. Many gluten-free breads are available. Beans are a satisfying combination of carbohydrate and protein. Rice and beans are a nutritious and safe food choice.
Meat is naturally free of gluten. Be aware, though, that breaded meats contain gluten (unless you prepare them yourself, using gluten-free flour). Meatballs almost always have breadcrumbs mixed in, and many meat replacement products (designed for vegetarians) also contain gluten. Packaged and prepared meat products that may contain gluten are hamburger patties, hot dogs, cold cuts and canned chili.
Except for malted drinks, gluten does not naturally exist in milk products. However, there may be gluten in prepared dairy foods like cheeses, flavored yogurts, whipped cream and some nondairy creamers.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh and unprocessed frozen fruits and vegetables contain no gluten. Avoid canned fruit, creamed vegetables and prepared sauces for vegetables unless you can make sure that there is no gluten in the syrup or sauce.
Foods to Avoid
Packaged and processed foods often contain gluten. If avoiding them altogether sounds too difficult, read labels to look for the word “flour” on such foods as instant flavored rice, egg substitutes, flavored potato chips and chocolate. Barley contains gluten, as do matzoh and semolina flour. Beer and some other alcoholic beverages contain gluten.
Call restaurants before eating out to ask about gluten-free dishes.