What Is The Gluten-Free Diet?

Gluten-free diets like the Paleo Diet is a craze that's steadily built momentum in celebrity circles in previous years - now gluten-free cookbooks are becoming bestsellers and thousands of ordinary people are trying out this diet.

But what does the gluten-free diet involve, and should you really be embarking on it for weight loss purposes without a doctor's input?

Gluten Free PastaDemand for gluten-free products are at an all time high, such as gluten-free pasta with gluten free bolognese sauce, shown above

What Is Gluten?

Inside a cereal grain is a type of protein called gluten. It is gluten that makes the dough more elastic and affects how “chewy” a baked good will be. Although gluten is sometimes thought of as simply a product of wheat, it is also found in rye and barley.

Not every grain contains gluten. Some gluten free grains are:

  • Wild rice
  • Sorghum
  • Brown Rice
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Polenta corn
  • Buckwheat
  • Teff

While oats are also gluten free, they are often processed in the same factories as wheat, which means they could be contaminated.

Why Is Gluten So Important?

It seems as if suddenly, gluten has become a big deal. Why? Because the typical diet is simply overflowing with some type of gluten filled grain. Whether it is bread, crackers, pasta, seasoning packages, spice mixes, cereal, anything that is breaded, such as chicken or steak, all baked goods, pizza, noodles, spreads, soup, gravy, or salad dressing, it contains gluten.

For some people, this is a serious problem.

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease

By now, you have probably heard of these modern health problems. Some people, even though they have tested negative for celiac disease, state that eating gluten gives them a variety of health problems, such as headaches or insomnia. While many doctors dismiss this idea as being "in someone's head", the fact remains that thousands of people claim that going gluten free has made them feel better.

Common complaints for those who suffer from gluten sensitivity are dry skin, fatigue, rashes, muscle cramps, headaches, bloating.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten actually causes damage to the small intestine. It is not common, with an estimated 1 out of every 100 persons worldwide being affected, but for those persons, this disease is a very real and serious problem.

The disease appears to be hereditary, with a person having a 1 in 10 risk of developing it themselves if their parents or a sibling has it.

Common symptoms of celiac disease are:

  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine headaches or seizures
  • Arthritis
  • Liver problems
  • Itchy skin rashes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and/or feet
  • Frequent miscarriages

The Diet Itself

As you might have guessed from the name, the gluten-free diet is an exclusion diet which removes the protein gluten. Gluten-free diets were initially intended as a treatment for those who have a gluten intolerance known as celiac disease. People without this illness might also have some form of gluten intolerance, which can be subdued by removing gluten from the diet.

Foods Which Contain Gluten

Gluten is a staple protein in many of the products we consume every day, which makes gluten-free diets quite tricky for many. You’ll find gluten in these ingredients:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Durum flour
  • Spelt
  • Graham flour
  • Farina
  • Semolina

You should also avoid the following foods unless they’re specified as being gluten-free:

  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Candy
  • Biscuits, cookies, wafers
  • Pasta
  • Chips / French fries
  • Sauces
  • Processed or imitation meat
  • Salad dressings
  • Soups, soup bases or stock cubes

You can see why many might find the gluten-free diet a challenge! However, there are a range of delicious foods that are allowed on this diet, including most dairy products, all beans and seeds in their natural form, fresh meat and fish, fruit and vegetables.

Make These Three Foods Your New Friends

Some people believe that potatoes, because they are starchy, are somehow a forbidden food on the gluten free diet. Potatoes contain absolutely no gluten and can be enjoyed anytime! In fact, potatoes are actually super foods that are high in many important minerals including folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper.

In addition to adding much needed fiber to our diets, potatoes can make you feel as if you are eating a more "normal" diet. Pass on the bread platter and put some potatoes on your plate!

Another food that sometimes gets a bad rap is Chia seeds. Some people believe that these tiny seeds are too fatty to be good for you, but the exact opposite is true. Chia seeds are miniature treasure chests of nutrition that should not be passed up! They contain almost no calories, but have a whopping 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein! Yes, one ounce will have 9 grams of fat, but these are mostly the omega-3 type of fat that your body really needs.

Don’t pass up one of Mother Nature's most perfect foods!

Last, but not least, are beans. Like potatoes, many people think beans contain gluten, but this is not true. Beans not only lower cholesterol levels in the body, but studies have found that the more beans you eat, the less gas and bloating you will have. For those who frequently suffer from these problems due to gluten, beans can help to make you feel like a new person.

Let's Talk Soups and Smoothies

Most people find that they have a difficult time finding snacks or quick breakfast foods that are gluten free. To top it off, although everyone knows they need to eat a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, it can be difficult to fit in all that food.

Enter the fruit smoothie. Not only will these delicious drinks nourish your body with essential vitamins and minerals, they are quick and easy to make. Simply put a few pieces of fruit in your blender with a bit of water or milk and run the blender for a minute or two. It really is that simple! These are perfect to make for breakfast because you can pour them in a container and go!

If you find you have trouble eating all the fruit you should, try making a morning smoothie!

We also want to mention soup because this once staple food item seems to have fallen out of favor lately. Soups can be another great way to get in those needed vegetables that you otherwise might miss out.

A salad and a cup of vegetable soup for lunch is one of the most perfect meals ever invented.

A basic soup broth with potatoes, beans, carrots, green beans, squash, or any other vegetables you happen to have on hand is not only filling, but super nutritious. Put your soup together the night before in a crock pot, and then turn it on when you leave home in the morning. When you come home from work – instant dinner, just add a side salad. What could be easier or more nutritious?

Detoxing Side Effects

When you first go on the gluten free diet, you might begin to wonder if you are making matters worse. The fact is that while your body is detoxing from gluten, you might experience some unwanted side effects. This is perfectly normal and you should start feeling better within 7 days or less.

Common detoxing side effects are:

  • Feelings of Anxiety - This is a normal reaction to the removal of a commonly consumed food. Your body might not understand why you have removed something it is used to and it shows this with feelings of anxiety.
  • Bloating - Some people feel more bloated without gluten than with it! This is a temporary problem that should pass with 72 hours as your gut heals.
  • Constipation – You can avoid this problem by eating plenty of the foods mentioned above, such as apples and bananas, which will add bulk to the stool.
  • Cravings - This is completely normal, but bothersome. You might find that you are suddenly craving crunch foods like crackers or doughy foods like bagels. Be prepared by having plenty of safe substitutions on hand.
  • Depression - You might find yourself a bit depressed feeling like you are missing out on some of your favorite foods, however, once you start feeling like a new person, these feelings should pass quickly. Give yourself time to adjust.
  • Dizziness -Foods with gluten are a quick burst of energy, very much like sugar. As your body withdraws, you can feel dizzy at times. Eat some protein to help stabilize your blood sugar.
  • Fatigue - Give your body time to adjust to the new diet. Feelings of fatigue should pass within a few days.
  • Headaches - This is a common withdrawal symptom. Take ibuprofen or Tylenol if headaches are severe. These are a temporary problem.
  • Joint Pain - Like fatigue, this is a common withdrawal symptom as your body detoxes and removes gluten and inflammation.

Best Foods to Help the Body Heal

There are some natural foods you can consume that will help the body naturally heal itself if you believe you have been damaged by gluten.

  • Apples - the pectin in apple skins help to remove unwanted toxins from the body. Be certain to eat whole apples, including the peel, as the fiber helps to remove the toxins bound by pectin via the stool.
  • Avocados - These luscious fruits are a great source of healthy fat that also help to fight the inflammation that occurs after consuming gluten.
  • Bananas - Naturally high in potassium, these fruits are easy on the intestines and help to fight inflammation.
  • Cranberries - These are well known not only for their ability to fight bladder problems, but these tiny fruits are super high in antioxidants, which allow the body to heal itself naturally by removing inflammation.
  • Grapes - Red grapes are best, although all grapes have something to offer. Red grapes contain a special ingredient called Resveratrol, which fights inflammation.
  • Kale - The super food of the 21st century! Kale has more healing vitamins than just about any other leafy green out there. Try kale chips if raw kale isn’t to your liking.
  • Kiwi - You will want to peel these first, but these pretty little green fruits are loaded with healing antioxidants.
  • Spinach - Add spinach to your salads and super boost your vitamin, calcium, and mineral intake in one swoop. Second only to kale, spinach is a powerhouse of nutrition!
  • Strawberries - All berries have super healing power, especially strawberries and blueberries. These fruits are tiny, but are packed with antioxidants that have been proven to reduce inflammation.

You should also consider taking a multivitamin that includes vitamins A, D, D, E, zinc, as well as B complex to help improve and support the immune system.

Sample Gluten-Free Menu Plan

  • Breakfast
    Gluten free muesli and low fat milk & fruit
  • Morning snack
    Rice cakes
  • Lunch
    Chicken wrap with salad
  • Afternoon snack
    Low fat yoghurt
  • Dinner
    Gluten free pasta with mince and vegetables and gluten free bolognese sauce

Why You Will Lose Weight On The Gluten-Free Diet

One of the key benefits of the gluten-free diet is that is encourages people to avoid processed food in all its forms, shunning them for fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Not only do processed foods contain gluten, they also contain a lot of sugar, salt, fat and other hidden ingredients that can contribute towards weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle.

By eliminating products like bread and pasta, those on the gluten-free diet are also removing these almost nutritionally void products from their diet.

Useful Tips

If you're planning to eliminate gluten from your own diet for weight loss purposes, here are a few tips to help make the process easier for you:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit
  • Be aware of cross-contamination between foods. Some foods that are manufactured in a plant where gluten-containing foods are also made can be contaminated with the substance, undermining your diet.
  • Always read the ingredients list when you're shopping. A product might contain a 'wheat-free' label, and still contain gluten in another form of flour or grain.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when you're eating out in restaurants and cafes. Ask your server which dishes are gluten-free, and don't feel embarrassed when asking them how they're prepared, and whether there's a chance of cross-contamination in the kitchen.

The Bright Side

Food manufacturers are becoming more aware of the demand for gluten-free products, and are putting forward their own items without gluten in them. Even Domino's Pizza now offers a gluten-free pizza base! As this exclusion diet becomes more popular and accepted as a way to treat celiac disease and other digestive problems, trends indicate that more affordable gluten-free products will be hitting the shelves soon.

Downsides of the Diet

It can be costly to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and animal products all of the time – especially if you're supplementing your diet with dedicated gluten-free products that tend to cost more than their counterparts which do contain gluten. Many celebrities have stuck to the diets – including Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Novak Djokovic and Kourtney Kardashian – but those on strict budgets might find it harder to eliminate gluten entirely.

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