Gluten-Free Eating

By Cassie Weness, RD, LD

article_healthyeating_bread-grains.jpgIs your gut telling you something might be wrong with your diet? Almost 70 percent of the immune system is regulated in your small intestine or what we often refer to as the gut. When your immune system mistakenly attacks the protein called gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt and Kamut®) it can cause a wide range of symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, migraine headaches, fatigue, joint pain, skin and respiratory problems, ADD/ ADHD and many more. If you're struggling with any of these issues, there's one easy and cost-free way to tell if gluten is to blame—completely eliminate gluten from your diet for 4 to 6 weeks and see if your symptoms of a potential gluten intolerance go away or lessen in severity.

People who feel better on a gluten-free diet fall somewhere on a spectrum of gluten intolerance: one extreme is Celiac Disease and the other is gluten sensitivity. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the intestinal lining every time gluten is eaten. Researchers estimate that 1 in 133 people in the U.S. have Celiac Disease. Gluten sensitivity, the other end of the spectrum, is speculated to be even more prevalent and can be thought of as the body attacking the gluten--not the body itself—every time gluten is ingested, as if it were a virus or a bacteria. No matter where you may fall within the spectrum of gluten intolerance, the remedy is the same—go gluten free!

Living without gluten

Eliminating gluten-containing foods such as bread, pizza, beer, pasta, crackers, cookies, cakes and more, can sound like a daunting task. But if you keep it simple by mainly shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, you will find gluten-free shopping and cooking does not have to be complicated. The perimeter of the store is where you will find fresh meats, vegetables and fruits—all of which are components of a healthy eating plan. In addition, you will find dairy products like yogurt, butter and cheese—all gluten-free! Other wholesome items to include in your gluten-free eating plan are brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, beans and lentils.

Beware that if you go gluten free to cure what ails you and end up turning mainly to the many processed gluten-free products now on the market, you likely will not feel your best. Several of the gluten-free products now available are nothing more than junk food because manufacturers often add extra sugar and fat to simulate the texture and satisfying fluffiness that gluten brings to foods like bread and crackers. Whether you're avoiding gluten or not, continue to adhere to the Nutritional Weight & Wellness motto of "eat real food" the majority of the time. Remember, real food is something you could theoretically raise on a farm, grow in your garden or pick from a tree.

Tips for eating gluten-free the healthy way

It's important to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs like B-vitamins, iron and fiber, whether you're gluten-free or not. Too often people who go gluten-free fear they will not get enough of these nutrients in their diet. To ensure that you're getting enough vitamins and minerals, eat a variety of healthy protein (meat, poultry, fish, and eggs), veggies and fruit, beneficial fats (olive oil, avocados, butter, nuts and seeds), and smaller servings (1/2 cup) of beans, lentils, brown rice, and quinoa. If you can tolerate dairy products, items like yogurt and cheese can be good sources of B-vitamins, calcium and protein.

Try some of these "real food" ideas to go gluten-free the healthy way:

  • Breakfast: Scrambled organic eggs in olive oil and serve with steamed broccoli and ½ cup strawberries.
  • Lunch: Salmon Salad Supreme served on a bed of greens. It's delicious and easy!
  • Dinner: Grilled sirloin steaks served with Sweet Potato Wedges and a side salad topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Snacks: A gluten-free meatball, 10 grapes and 8 walnut halves OR 2 ounces of nitrate-free deli meat spread with cream cheese (roll these up) and serve alongside ½ cup raw carrots.

Whether you have a gluten sensitivity or full blown Celiac Disease, the above examples are nutrient-rich and delicious ways to fuel your body.

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Heal your gut for lasting health

One final step to consider is healing your gut. By the time people figure out their body doesn't process gluten, most people have done years of damage. Remember, almost 70 percent of your immune system is regulated in your gut so it is essential to your health to take care of it.

Part of the gut damage occurs because many of the good bacteria that used to be housed in your gut have been lost. An effective supplement of good bacteria we often recommend is Bifido Balance. One of these capsules, taken 15 minutes before each meal, is a great way to begin replenishing the good gut bacteria that help you fight off illness. Another supplement that goes hand-in-hand with Bifido Balance is L-Glutamine. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps repair damage to the intestinal wall to help avoid leaky gut syndrome.

Focus on the positives!

If you are one of the millions that has discovered gluten-free eating is for you, it's natural to focus on what you cannot eat...at first. But remember, there are many more foods you can eat than those you cannot. Sweet potatoes, a delicious peach, a ribeye steak hot off the grill, roasted chicken, some good dark chocolate—focus first on all of these scrumptious foods, and more, that you can eat. Believe me, you will not go hungry. And in the end, you will likely see improvements in your health you never imagined!

For more information, listen to the April 7, 2012 podcast on how to successfully live and eat gluten free.

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