Fast-food-flavored ice cream, gluten, Oreo science and peanut butter pie. What didn’t we cover in this episode?! In honor of National Celiac Disease Awareness month, the main topic of episode 55 is celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free has received a lot of attention for many years with more people deciding to go gluten free to help improve their health. We hear that wheat is harmful to our bodies and avoiding gluten can help with bloating, increase energy and improve symptoms of ADHD and autism, but how do we know if we should believe everything we read and hear.
In this episode, we’re answering these questions about gluten-free diets:
What is gluten and what foods is gluten found in?
What is celiac disease and what’s it have to do with a gluten-free diet
Is a gluten-free diet a healthy diet and is it right for me?
Is there such thing as a budget friendly gluten-free diet?
So what is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye and therefore found in any foods made with these ingredients, for instance, most soy sauce has wheat in it. Oats are not a source of gluten but often contaminated with gluten during processing. If you have ever had gluten-free bread, you’ll notice it might fall apart easier and that’s because gluten makes bread more elastic, giving it that “bounce back” and keeps it glued together.
For most people gluten is likely harmless. For those diagnosed with celiac disease, eating any gluten can damage the intestines and make it difficult to absorb needed nutrients. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where eating gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and changes in weight plus long term health conditions like anemia, early onset osteoporosis, infertility and nutritional deficiencies. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can result in the same symptoms but no intestinal damage occurs when eating gluten. Many people report positive health results when eliminating gluten; however it is not something that is generally recommended unless you have these diagnosed medical conditions. The only treatment for celiac disease is following a gluten-free diet. If you decide to go gluten-free for other reasons, talk to a registered dietitian to ensure your diet is balanced in nutrients you could be missing by eliminating foods with gluten.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 people (about 1 in 133 in the US) worldwide has celiac disease and over 80% of these people are undiagnosed. In some cases, family members will self-diagnose because they have symptoms similar to a family member who has celiac disease, instead of being tested by a doctor. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.
To test for celiac disease, you typically start with a blood test called tTG-IgA test. For this test to work, you must be consuming gluten. If blood test results suggest celiac disease, your physician will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy looks for damage in the intestinal wall. Unfortunately the average time to be diagnosed with celiac is four years from symptom onset.
For those other conditions like ADHD, joint pain, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that we hear could be improved on a gluten-free diet, this could be because the person does have a non-celiac wheat or gluten sensitivity. If gluten is removed from the diet and symptoms improve, this is likely the case.
For those with celiac it’s very important to adhere to the gluten-free diet. Even crumb size amounts for gluten can trigger intestinal damage or symptoms.
When you cut gluten from your diet, it’s important to know what nutrients you might be cutting back on. For instance, if you regularly eat whole wheat bread and bran flakes and you decide to go gluten free, eliminating those 2 foods will cut out a good chunk of fiber from your diet. A gluten-free diet can be a very healthy diet for anyone, but takes planning.
When you remove wheat, barley and rye foods from the diet, out goes the traditional breads, cereals and pastas, which may be a major source of B vitamins, fiber and carbohydrates for some people. Gluten-free sources of B vitamins are beans, poultry, fish, green vegetables, nuts and dairy. Brown rice, sweet potatoes, beans, apples, berries and pears all provide fiber and carbohydrates.
One of the biggest challenges when going gluten-free is finding bread that tastes like wheat bread. In wheat breads, gluten is like the glue that holds the bread together, so gluten-free breads tend to crumble. Try toasting gluten-free bread if you don't like the taste or texture.
Avoid purchasing a lot of gluten-free mixes, cookies, cereals and bread products all at once. Start to build your diet with naturally gluten-free staple foods like potatoes, corn, beans, meat, fruit and vegetables. Fill in as needed with gluten-free substitutes, like brown rice pasta and gluten-free pancake mix or find recipes to make your own mixes. Gradually, start to experiment with different gluten-free flours to make items like cookies, muffins or protein donuts. A few options are coconut flour, almond flour, gluten-free flour blends and brown rice flour. Typically, a blend of flours works and tastes best.
Remember that "gluten-free" on a label does not necessarily equal "good for you" foods. Gluten-free cookies and cakes may still contain as much sugar as the traditional wheat cookies and cakes.
If you have cruised the grocery store for gluten-free breads, you probably experienced sticker shock with the prices. It is possible to have a budget-friendly gluten free diet. Here are ten budget-friendly gluten free foods:
Potatoes & sweet potatoes
Fresh & frozen fruit
Fresh & canned vegetables, frozen vegetables without sauce
Dried & canned beans
Peanuts & regular peanut butter
Milk & cheese
Some of our favorite gluten-free products are:
Glutino multi-grain bread
Van’s gluten-free waffles
Kinnickinnick donuts (Mindy’s favorite of course)
Banza chickpea pasta
Blue Diamond Nut Thin crackers
Lastly, after ensuring your pantry is gluten-free, search for restaurants in your neighborhood with a gluten-free menu. Go to FindMeGlutenFree.com to find restaurants.
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