For many individuals, going gluten-free is not so much a choice as a necessity. It is currently estimated that about 1 in 133 individuals suffer from a condition called Celiac Disease which is sometimes referred to as a severe form of gluten intolerance. But what do these terms mean and how might they impact your decision to go gluten-free?
Even if you do not have a medical need to remove gluten from your diet, there may still be benefits to doing so. In this article you will learn the basics about going gluten-free and how to do it for yourself.
8 Steps to Go Gluten Free
Step 1: Learn What Gluten Is
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. While gluten itself is not inherently dangerous, it can cause troubling and potentially dangerous reactions for those with allergies and sensitivities. Individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease may experience symptoms ranging from intestinal distress to muscle aches, lethargy and even malnutrition.
Step 2: Understand the Difference Between Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
While some people do switch to a gluten-free diet out of preference, it is a medical necessity for many. The top medical conditions for which a gluten-free diet is the only treatment include celiac disease, gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease is at one end of the spectrum as a type of autoimmune disease resulting in gastrointestinal inflammation when gluten is consumed. The body regards gluten as a foreign invader and creates antibodies to fight it – unfortunately, some of those antibodies attack the intestinal tissue as well, causing issues like malabsorption of nutrients.
Gluten sensitivity is on the opposite end of the spectrum – gluten consumption may cause mild gastrointestinal disturbance, but does not create an autoimmune response. Gluten intolerance is in between the two. Gluten consumption results in symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and intestinal stress in both gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance. The difference is that the symptoms are more severe and last longer with gluten intolerance than sensitivity.
Step 3: Get Blood Tests Done
The only way to know for sure whether you have celiac disease is to have your doctor perform a blood test. This blood test will test for certain antibodies that are typically present in the body of individuals suffering from celiac disease. It is important that you continue to consume gluten up until you take the blood test because if you stop, the antibodies may not be present which will give you a negative test result. If the blood test returns a positive result, your doctor may order an intestinal biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, at which point you will need to switch to a gluten-free diet.
Step 4: Evaluate Your Diet
If going gluten-free is a choice for you, you will have the luxury of making the transition slowly. For individuals suffering from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, the quicker you make the switch, the sooner you will experience relief from symptoms. In order to succeed in switching to a gluten-free diet, you need to make conscious choices in your diet.
To start, take a look at your current diet to see just how much gluten you typically consume. Foods like bread, pasta, fried foods, soy-based sauces, gravies, certain soups and even your favorite breakfast cereal may contain gluten. Once you have identified the sources of gluten in your current diet you can start to make the switch.
Step 5: Clean Out or Divide Your Kitchen
The next step in the process is to remove or segregate gluten-containing foods from your kitchen. If other members of your family are continuing to follow a traditional diet, it would make more sense to separate gluten-free from gluten-containing foods rather than to get rid of them entirely. If you have celiac disease, it is especially important that you store your gluten-free foods in a separate cabinet to prevent cross-contact.
Step 6: Label all Gluten-Free Shared Foods
If other members of your family do not follow a gluten-free diet, you will have to get used to labeling your food. For those who switch to a gluten-free diet by choice, cross-contact may not be much of a concern. For individuals with celiac disease, however, bread crumbs left in a shared jar of jelly have the potential to make you very ill. Get used to keeping two of everything your family shares and label one Gluten-Free so only you use it. Another option is to educate your family on the dangers of cross-contact so they use clean utensils when dipping into jars.
Step 7: Stock Up on Gluten-Free Convenience Foods Intelligently
The gluten-free diet has become increasingly popular lately which means that there are more gluten-free convenience foods on the market. This is great for individuals who must follow a gluten-free diet but it is not something you should take advantage of too often. Gluten-free convenience foods are often just as processed as regular convenience foods – they may be full of sugar and relatively low in actual nutrients. It is great to have some of these foods on hand for a quick snack or a meal on the go but you should get used to cooking if you plan to succeed in following a gluten-free diet. The good thing is anything paleo friendly is going to be gluten free. So stick to your paleo friendly options and you'll be good to go.
Step 8: Experiment with New Foods and Flavors
Even if going gluten free is more a necessity than a choice, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it! There are plenty of new foods and flavors out there just waiting for you to discover. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ethnic flavors and be sure to visit some gluten-free blogs for recipe ideas. As long as your meals are delicious and flavorful, you won’t even notice that they are gluten-free. Try PrimalPal for free and create a meal plan with delicious paleo, gluten-free recipes.
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