Gluten Free Diet 

What is a Gluten Free Diet

Perhaps the first question is what is gluten?  It is a protein found in wheat rye and barley.  .  There are some other related grains such as bulgar, kamut, spelt, einkorn and triticale which are forms of wheat and are also off limits.

If you have Celiac Disease you have an autoimmune condition that causes your body to react to gluten.  This means that the food you eat cannot contain these grains, and it also means that your food cannot come in contact with these grains.  So your pizza can be made with gluten free flour, but if the board that it's made on is dusted with wheat flour then you may have a reaction.

Just remember the acronym BROW - Barley, Rye, Oats*, Wheat

*Oats are technically gluten free but high risk for contamination.  If you consume Oats be sure they are certified gluten free. 

Why Choose a Gluten Free Diet?

The most common reasons for choosing a gluten free diet plan are health related.  Celiac (coeliac) disease and gluten / wheat intolerance are on the rise.  Since I’ve started down this path though, I’ve met so many people who simply don’t feel well.  They may be experiencing stomach cramps, diarrhea or other digestive symptoms.  Some have been diagnosed with IBS, others have been to multiple doctors who just can’t figure out the problem.  So, they decide to try removing gluten from their diet, often with great success. 

How Much is Too Much

If you have celiac disease you really need to eliminate gluten from your diet entirely.  However, zero exposure may be unrealistic so it's reasonable to wonder if there is a safe level.  In terms of reactions, people vary.  Research suggests that less than 10mg per day is unlikely to cause problems.  To put that in perspective, that's less then a crumb of bread.  For a product to be certified gluten free it must be tested and confirmed to be below 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten.  This is really because of the limitations of testing equipment.  Anything below 20ppm would be undetectable. 

Is Gluten Free for Everyone?

That's really for you to decide.  I can assure you with 100% confidence that you can have a full, nutritious, balanced diet without gluten containing grains.  If you have “glutinous” family members you can keep them happy too.  My family eats mostly gluten free.  We’ve switched to gluten free pasta, and most of our meals include that or another gluten free starch like rice or potatoes; though you can leave that out for a lighter meal and a bit of variety.  We do keep regular bread in a bread box and a separate toaster for me.  The kids still like their waffles and cereals so we have those too, even though I try to discourage processed foods.  Baby steps ;)

If you're thinking about trying a gluten free diet but you're not sure if you should or you're not sure if it will make a difference for you, consider an elimination / challenge trial.  Totally eliminate all sources of gluten for 4 or 5 days, then challenge your system by adding a generous portion of gluten back in and see how you feel.  Think nice, big sandwich.  If you are sensitive to wheat or gluten you’ll likely react.  You should be aware though that if you eliminate gluten from your diet completely, you can’t be tested for Celiac Disease because without gluten you can’t get an accurate test.

Will I Lose Weight on a Gluten-free Diet?

The answer to this one is “it depends”.   It depends on how you approach it and it depends on what your situation is now.

A gluten free diet can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you make it.  So if you are struggling with your weight and you trade in a diet of highly processed, high carbohydrate foods made with wheat flour for essentially the same diet made with gluten free flours, you won’t see much of a result.  The breads, pastas, snack foods and sweets are bad for your waist line no matter what kind of flour is in them.  I've actually found that celiac is a bit of a blessing in disguise when it comes to that.  I'm not tempted by the sweet trays at holiday gatherings or the cookies and doughnuts at the coffee shop.  I don't really even look at those things as food anymore.  

If you focus your diet on whole fresh vegetables with some fruit and whole fresh cuts of meat, you will be healthy and you will be at a healthy weight.  And the best part is, those foods are naturally gluten free.  No special cookbooks and recipes, no expensive gluten free products;  just wholesome real food.

Now some people do in fact react to wheat with bloating and weight gain.  If this is you, then eliminating the culprit from your diet will calm your rumbly tummy and help you take off the extra pounds.  And you’ll do even better if you reduce the intake of processed foods altogether and focus on those whole fresh foods we talked about earlier.

So if you talk to someone who says they switched to a gluten free diet and lost a ton of weight, dig a little further.  It may be that in eliminating gluten they eliminated all those processed high carbohydrate foods and that’s why they lost weight.

Will I Gain Weight on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Funny how the answer to a seemingly opposite question can be the same.  It depends.  Though most people don’t gain weight switching to gluten free, there is one big exception.  A common though not universal symptom of Celiac disease is low body weight.  This is because the body is not absorbing the nutrients from the food you eat.  If this is your situation, then going gluten free may help.  Work with your doctor and / or a qualified nutritionist on this one.  You probably have some intestinal damage that’s preventing absorption, and that won’t be corrected over night.

What about Holidays and Dinner Parties?

If you’re the host, it’s pretty easy.  You can plan a delicious, mostly gluten free meal for your guests.  Just provide some dinner rolls and they probably won’t even notice. 

If you’re the guest at a holiday celebration or dinner party, it’s a little more of a challenge, but you can be a good gluten free house-guest.  Make sure your host knows about your gluten free diet plan and what it means.  I like to bring a gluten free dish to share.  That way I know there will be something I can eat, and others can see that gluten free is really not that strange. 

If you're hosting a person with Celiac and you're wondering what you can feed them, browse around the site and check out the substitutions page for things to watch for and substitution ideas.

Will This Diet Cure My Celiac Disease?

Sadly no.  At least according to today's medical understanding of Celiac Disease, there is no cure.  You will need to remain on a gluten free diet for the rest of your life.

What if it doesn't Work?

A gluten free diet is the standard prescription for celiac disease.  However, some people with celiac find they still have intestinal upset, cramps, diarrhea even though they are gluten free and pretty sure they are not getting cross contamination.  If this is you then you may need to go on a bit of a sleuthing expedition.  If after several months  you find you are experiencing frequent relapses in symptoms even though you know you've been careful, you may have other food intolerances.   You may also want to check out some alternate diet plans such as the "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" or the "Paleo Diet".  These are also gluten free, but go a bit further toward eliminating other grains, sugars and starches that may be irritants.  At the end of the day you may end up with your own personal gluten free diet that works for you.

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