For people with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, a gluten free diet may have many advantages. Going gluten free could alleviate the symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity at every level. People who suffer from headaches, fatigue, joint pain, stomach upset, bloating and skin conditions may experience varying levels of relief when they adopt a gluten free lifestyle.
About 1% of the population, or 1 in 133 Americans, has celiac disease. Awareness of the disease continues to grow, as does scientific research about how best to cope with the celiac disease. Healing after diagnosis is often achieved by adhering to a 100% gluten free diet. There is currently no pharmaceutical cure for celiac disease.
One way that celiac disease can wreak havoc on the digestive system is by preventing the absorption of important nutrients. For some people, adopting a gluten free diet provides a means by which to heal the lining of their small intestine and live symptom-free. Some scientific studies indicate that ignoring the problem can lead to many serious problems, like iron-deficient anemia, seizures, osteoporosis and nerve damage.
Healthy Gluten Free Foods
Choosing a gluten free diet excludes a lot of unhealthy foods. Most processed foods contain gluten, unless they are specifically designed as a substitute for gluten intolerant people. There’s a long list of junk foods that people on a gluten free diet must avoid. Doughnuts, bread, pizza, fried foods, pastries, pasta, nearly everything on a fast food menu, and many traditional desserts are off-limits.
A lot of foods that are naturally gluten free are also healthy. Non-starchy choices like fruits and vegetables make great replacements for the old standby junk foods and result in a much better diet overall.
The single act of removing gluten from the diet doesn’t present many benefits to people that aren’t gluten sensitive, gluten intolerant or living with celiac disease. A shift toward healthy foods in the diet isn’t just about avoiding gluten. To benefit from a gluten free diet, people who don’t have gluten tolerance issues must replace those starchy, carbohydrate-laden foods with whole foods that are high in nutrition.
People who adhere to a gluten free diet because of intolerance may experience weight loss, clearer skin, a higher energy level and a better overall sense of well-being. These benefits are related to the absence of symptoms they experienced as a result of the negative effects of gluten on their digestive system.
Going gluten free can be tricky business
There’s more to going gluten free than just skipping bread, pasta, beer and cereal. Gluten is present in many foods that don’t immediately come to mind when people decide to remove gluten from their lives and begin a gluten free diet.
Certain medications, soy sauce, the vague ingredient “natural flavorings” and even some supplements and vitamins contain enough gluten to cause problems for people living with celiac disease.
Before deciding to go gluten free as a dietary choice (as opposed to doing so because of celiac disease or gluten intolerance under the direction of a physician), it’s important to understand that a gluten free diet has drawbacks.
Many processed foods that contain wheat, barley, rye, and gluten are fortified with B vitamins, so removing those foods completely could result in a nutritional deficiency in some people. One way that many people overcome this type of problem is with supplements and by purposefully consuming foods rich in B vitamins. Some great sources of B vitamins include seafood, potatoes, poultry and leafy green vegetables.
Women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should be especially cautious when choosing a gluten free diet and consider adding a high-quality supplement to provide crucial B vitamins. They should also carefully consider the advice of their doctor when it comes to their nutritional needs.
Another deficiency that is common with a gluten free diet is fiber. For many people, a gluten free diet requires additional sources of fiber, since many products that contain gluten are also main fiber sources in the typical American diet.
Getting fiber from beans, whole fruits, vegetables, and other grains like brown rice is easy, but making the effort should be part of the change in diet when going gluten free.
Foods labeled gluten free aren’t always healthy
Increased awareness of celiac disease has created a demand for gluten free food products. As a result, people who must avoid gluten for medical reasons have many more choices than they did even a few years ago.
It isn’t safe to assume that companies producing gluten free food are substituting gluten with other, more healthy ingredients. In many cases, pre-packaged and processed gluten free foods can be high in sugar, pesticides, GMO ingredients, saturated fat and empty calories.
The gluten free food industry is expected to reach $24 billion a year by 2020. While there are some great processed gluten free food choices available, carefully reading labels is the only way to find them.
For example, a product that has “Gluten Free” on the label but has a full day’s worth of sodium packed into one serving is not a healthy choice. In fact, even for someone with celiac disease, consuming this food regularly could cause other health problems, like high blood pressure, which strains the kidneys, arteries, heart and brain.
A diet with high levels of sugar and salt presents a danger for adults and children. So, while finding a substitute for foods with gluten may seem easiest in a grocery store aisle with foods labeled as such, a better choice is almost always whole fruits, vegetables and naturally gluten-free grains.
How to benefit from a gluten free diet
Replacing gluten-laden processed foods with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild rice and ancient grains can have some wonderful side effects. These foods are naturally lower in calories and higher in beneficial fats and the kind of vitamins that are easily processed and absorbed.
Deciding to consume fresher foods with fewer additives and preservatives is beneficial whether you can tolerate gluten or not.
Choosing a gluten free diet under the direction of a physician may present clear and immediate benefits for people who are experiencing issues with gluten intolerance. While it may be frustrating at first to find things to eat that are “safe,” it’s important to avoid settling for substitutes that are high in sugar and salt.
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