Switching to a gluten free diet has been pretty trendy over the past few years (especially if you reside in my hometown of Boulder, CO), but for good reason! Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease causing an allergy to wheat, is one reason people may be forced to go gluten free (but that only affects about 1% of the U.S. population). However, many people in recent years, including myself, have found they are sensitive to gluten, which is harder to detect.
Gluten is a protein in wheat, and people with sensitivities report a wide range of symptoms when they eat gluten including digestive upset, joint pain, headaches, and brain fog. To date, no studies have found evidence that gluten is the cause of these symptoms, yet emerging evidence is starting to show gluten can cause gastrointestinal discomfort for some people, especially those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Many people report these symptoms go away once they remove gluten from their diets. A 2017 study showed gluten has inflammatory properties and can negatively impact the gut microbiome and intestinal permeability. A reliable test for gluten-intolerance is yet to exist, so we really have no choice but to rely on what we feel in our bodies plus experimenting with how we feel when we omit gluten.
Substituting gluten with gluten-free processed and packaged foods can be just as harmful as eating gluten. My goal is to give you some tips on transitioning to a gluten-free diet without making you feel too deprived nor by relying on unhealthy gluten-free substitutes. It is important, if cutting gluten, to ensure you are still including nutritious, whole grains into your diet.
Let’s begin with identifying the most common foods containing gluten. This includes anything with wheat, such as wheat-based (the most common kind) pasta, breads, pastries, pancakes/waffles, processed chips and snacks, wheat-based crackers, soy sauce, plus a few non-wheat grains including barley, farro, couscous (not a whole grain), spelt, kamut, farina, and rye. But don’t panic because there are many naturally gluten-free whole grains and delicious foods you can add into your diet to leave you feeling satisfied with more energy and a healthier gut!
- Try almond-flour bread instead of wheat based-breads. It’s easy to make at home (even for the non-bakers out there, which would be me!) and delicious. You can make healthy sandwiches and toast with this almond flour loaf.
- If you love your pancake breakfast in the morning, try these protein pancakes. Also easy to make, they will absolutely satisfy your short-stack craving. Make some extra because they are great to reheat for a quick breakfast.
- Granola is another great gluten-free substitute that can add crunch and flavor when you feel like you are starting to miss gluten-filled cold cereals.
- Bread-based sandwich alternatives also can be an easy fix. Try using lettuce or a corn tortilla as a wrap for any sandwich, put a burger between two portobello mushrooms, or make a turkey sandwich using Cauliflower Thins. Getting creative can be fun and still offer convenient, on the go, lunch solutions.
- Soy sauce has gluten, but you can use either tamari, a naturally brewed soy sauce without gluten, or coconut aminos, which are naturally gluten free. With both, it’s hard to tell the difference from real soy sauce.
- Of course there will be times when you want to turn to packaged foods, and in moderation, this is absolutely fine. (I usually tell people to try to abide by the 80/20 rule.) Some of my favorite gluten-free brands (and some are just naturally gluten-free, without trying to swap in other ingredients) include Simple Mills almond-flour based crackers and other products, Hippeas chips, Tinkyada (brown rice based) and Banza (chickpea based) pastas, Caulipower pizza, and BFree breads.
I would love to hear what whole-foods based gluten-free snacks you include in your diet, so feel free to reply here or send any other questions you may have.