People eat gluten-free for a number of reasons ranging from serious health conditions like Celiac disease to gluten intolerance to severe allergies to personal preference. No matter why, it’s becoming more and more popular for individuals and families to cut gluten out of their diet. However, gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy. It’s a challenge to completely avoid gluten since so many products contain at least trace amounts, making it difficult to eat gluten-free and eat well. But it is possible! Here are 9 tips to help you learn how to eat gluten-free the right way.
1. Do your homework on products. Did you know current FDA standards will call a food “gluten-free” even if it still has up to 20 parts per million of gluten in it? While this isn’t a ton of gluten, for those with Celiac or a severe allergy, that little bit makes a huge difference in how they feel after eating a food. The lesson learned is to not trust a “certified gluten-free” stamp, but rather to investigate for yourself whether that food’s claim of being gluten-free is reputable.
2. Be aware of the sneaky places you might find gluten. Even if a food seems like it should be gluten-free, it might not be. While seeing “wheat” on an ingredient list is a dead giveaway, there are many other ingredients that might contain gluten, depending on how they are made: baking powder, emulsifiers, spices, vegetable gum, and various food stabilizers can all contain gluten. If you need to avoid even a speck of gluten in your food, go back to tip #1 and do your homework. Bonus tip: beauty products are another sneaky place gluten can pop up. If your skin issues aren’t clearing up even while you’re eating strictly gluten-free, your cosmetics and toiletries might be to blame!
3. Stick with it long enough to see results. To be completely honest, when you first go gluten-free, you could spend a period of time feeling significantly worse than you did when you ate anything and everything you wanted. This is completely normal. In fact, believe it or not, certain components of gluten are literally as addictive as morphine to the body. You shouldn’t be surprised at seeing withdrawal-like symptoms at first! It can take up to 6 months before your new gluten-free lifestyle feels normal.
4. Work on rebuilding your gut. A gluten allergy or intolerance – especially in the case of Celiac – can really do damage to your digestive tract. The ultimate affect is your body stops absorbing nutrition very well, causing malnutrition. Once you’ve figured out you need to eat gluten-free, it’s important you focus on allowing your gut to heal and proactively feeding your body nutrient-dense foods.
5. Go grain-free for a while. While not all grains contain gluten, if you have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten that does compromise your gut, any grain – with or without gluten – can make things worse and aggravate your sensitive digestive tract. You might not need to permanently live that way, but at first, going strictly grain-free can give your gut time to heal.
6. Beware of cross-contamination. Even if a food is gluten-free, not every kitchen is equipped with separate pots, pans, knives, toasters, etc. for gluten-free food prep. Before ordering out, clarify with the wait staff whether their kitchen has designated gluten-free zones and make sure your friends and family are aware of the severity of your allergy before accepting a dinner invitation.
7. Avoid packaged food. We’ve already talked about the sneaky places gluten can hide in pre-packaged food. The best way you can avoid contamination is to only eat food you’ve prepared yourself. This might be outside your comfort zone and might require a lot more time in the kitchen than you’re used to, but it ultimately will allow you to make healthier choices all around.
8. Get excited about your new menu options. Since you’ll be cooking more than you might have in the past, you might as well embrace it and go all-out learning how to cook new foods you enjoy. Focusing on what you can eat rather than what you can’t is a mental attitude that will make living gluten-free significantly easier.
9. Eat naturally gluten-foods. Yep, that’s right – vegetables, fruits, and meats are all naturally gluten-free. Prepare them simply, and you’ll never have to worry about accidentally getting “glutened.” Plus, you’ll be rebuilding your nutrition from the best sources possible. Learning how to eat gluten-free will require work and effort, but it is becoming more and more approachable as a lifestyle choice. Many restaurants offer gluten-free plates, grocery stores have increased the amount of gluten-free products they carry, and resources abound to help you successfully live and eat a gluten-free life without feeling deprived.