Gluten is a protein found in some grains, such as rye, barely, wheat and semolina. In people with celiac disease, gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine that damages the digestive tract and interferes with nutrient absorption. Other people may be unable to consume gluten due to an intolerance or allergy to the protein. Although you can cut out most gluten by avoiding all foods that contain rye, barley and wheat, gluten is present in small amounts in a large number of foods. To completely eliminate gluten from your diet, you'll need to work with a nutritionist to create a list of all foods with gluten.
Read labels carefully when shopping and before eating, and stick to foods that claim to have been manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Gluten is often hidden in the ingredients list, and some foods that do not directly contain gluten may have been produced in a factory that makes wheat products. Some food additives also contain the protein. Ingredients to avoid include barley, spelt, malt, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, MSG, vegetable protein, smoke flavors, artificial colors, caramel color and hydrolyzed plant protein. You should also avoid spice mixes, seasonings and gravies unless they are labeled gluten-free.
Choose baking flour with a "gluten-free" label. Many types of bread, waffle and muffin mixes, pizza crusts and other foods are available without gluten.
Incorporate safe grains into your daily diet. Brown rice, millet, flax, quinoa, whole corn, teff, sorghum, pure buckwheat and amaranth are some grains that are high in fiber and contain no gluten. You may need to visit a specialty grocer to obtain these grains. You will also want to know if the grains you buy are processed in a plant that processes gluten, as there could be cross-contamination from equipment. Many food labels now offer this information in fine print.
Cook with gluten-free pasta. Many specialty and whole food stores carry pastas made from amaranth, corn, quinoa and rice.
Eliminate processed foods, breaded meats, ready-to-eat cereals and multiple ingredient products from your diet. Many of these contain gluten. Even frozen meats, such as chicken breasts or turkey, may have gluten in a solution they are injected with.
Choose single ingredient foods whenever possible, such as whole fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat, rice and potatoes.
Watch out for non-food sources of gluten. Some lipsticks, toothpastes and medications contain gluten. According to the Gluten Free Society's website, many vitamin supplements are made with grain bases and should be avoided unless they specifically say they are gluten free.
Take a multivitamin supplement if you've cut out gluten. Avoiding ready-to-eat cereals, bread products and other foods that contain gluten means you are not eating commonly fortified foods. This increases your risk of becoming deficient in fiber, iron, calcium, folate and other nutrients.
Always assume every food you encounter contains gluten unless you are certain it does not. Gluten is found in many unexpected places, such as bouillon cubes, soy sauce, potato chips and communion wafers.
- Harvard Health Publications: Considering a Gluten Free Diet
- Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation: Gluten-Free Diet Guide for Families
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Celiac Disease
- Health Services at Columbia: Gluten Allergy - Celiac Disease or Something Else?
- Gluten Free Society: Guidelines for Avoiding Gluten