Understand "gluten" once and for all (and exactly how to go "gluten-free" with ease)!

The following article is a guest submission by one of Meal Garden's trusted Meal Experts - Abby Tai, RHN.

If you're used to eating a standard American diet, it can be a big adjustment to suddenly remove gluten from your diet - especially if you've been eating it for the majority your life.

Well, what exactly is gluten, and where is it found in?

What is “gluten”?

Gluten is a family of proteins that can be found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley.

The two main proteins found in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects.

Gluten can have negative health effects on certain individuals because it acts like “glue” to stick substances together, which often makes it difficult to digest. This glue-like texture can be inflammatory and can often cause negative health effects in certain individuals - particularly if you already have gut and digestion issues.

In fact, did you know that more than 55 diseases have been linked to gluten? An estimated 99% of the people who have either gluten intolerance or celiac disease are never diagnosed.

In addition, 15% of the US population have also been estimated to be gluten intolerant.

 

Do you think that you can be gluten intolerant?

Some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance can include:

  • Mental fatigue (known as “brain fog”) or fatigue in general
  • Autoimmune conditions (such as eczema, psoriasis, hashimotos)
  • Fatigue
  • Gas, bloating, and abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Joint pain
  • Hormone imbalances (e.g. PMS, PCOS or infertility)

According to Diabetes.org, gluten can be found in grains such as:

  • White Flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Durum Wheat
  • Graham Flour
  • Kamut
  • Couscous
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Wheat Germ
  • Wheat Bran

 

You can also find them in commonly eaten foods, such as:

  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Bread
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Muffins
  • Pastries
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Beer
  • Oats (these are usually gluten free but can often be contaminated with gluten when it’s grown or manufactured)
  • Gravy
  • Dressings
  • Sauces

As you can see - gluten is found in many common foods!

Many people can tolerate gluten without any issues; however, it can definitely cause problems for people with certain health conditions.

If you're finding that you're experiencing negative health symptoms or you have an autoimmune disease - you may benefit from removing gluten from your diet from a short period of time.

Fortunately, the list of gluten free alternatives is very broad (much broader than we think!) and there are tons of alternatives to choose from.

What’s the best way to test for gluten intolerance?

One of the best ways to determine if you have a sensitivity to gluten is to do an elimination diet and remove it from your diet for at least 2 to 4 weeks. After that, you can monitor your symptoms and notice if you feel better once it’s removed. You would then reintroduce it back in your diet after the 2-4 week elimination period.

I suffered from very severe eczema for over a decade and once I had followed a very strict elimination diet (including removing gluten from my diet), and my skin significantly cleared up within 2 months! See my before and after picture below. Being on the elimination diet and changing the foods I ate was more effective than the oral and topical steroids that I had been taking for years!).

You can check out my elimination diet foods list here, if you want to read more detail on how the elimination diet works, how it can benefit you, and how removing other inflammatory foods (along with gluten) can significantly help to improve your health.

Please note that the more severe your health symptoms are, the longer it can take your body to heal and notice an improvement. It’s also worth noting that gluten can have such a drastic affect on your body, that it can take months and even years to clear from your system. Therefore,the longer you can eliminate it from your diet before reintroducing it, the better it is for your body.

If you feel significantly better off of gluten or feel worse when they reintroduce it, then gluten is likely a problem for you.

Here are some gluten-free alternatives that you can try

All of these following foods are naturally gluten-free:

  • Rice
  • Wild rice
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Soy
  • Sesame
  • Flaxseed
  • Hemp

 

Note that whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, legumes, fats, and oils are also gluten free.

If you’re having trouble adjusting or finding gluten free substitutions, here’s a quick cheat sheet on foods with gluten that you can replace:

  • Pasta → rice, buckwheat, millet or quinoa noodles
  • Bulgur → rice
  • Couscous → quinoa
  • Wheat bran → gluten-free oat bran
  • Bread → gluten-free bread
  • Cereal → non- GMO corn flakes, brown rice or lentil cereal
  • Granola → gluten-free granola mix
  • Beer → gluten-free beer

If you’re baking, here are also some alternatives to flour:

Brown rice flour, chestnut flour, arrowroot flour, coconut flour, hemp flour, chickpea flour, almond flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour, tigernut flour.

Here are also some gluten-free thickeners you can use:

Xanthan gum, carob bean gum, guar gum.

I hope that this information can help you find healing. Be sure to check out my elimination diet recipe collection on Meal Garden and also check out my elimination diet story to learn more about how removing gluten (and other inflammatory foods) can have a significant impact on your health.