GLUTEN-FREE DIET: A STEP TO HEALTHY EATING
Introduction to Gluten-Free Diet
During the past few years, public awareness about following a gluten-free diet has become increasingly popular. But there are a few doubts too, like – if you don't have gluten intolerances or celiac disease, are gluten-free foods beneficial for you?
How did the gluten-free diet plan become so popular?
The interest and curiosity around gluten-free meals began in 2018 when it was first reported that all food served at the Golden Globes Awards was gluten-free. Also, global celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Jessica Alba are famous for avoiding foods that contain gluten due to gluten sensitivity, which is why even Lady Gaga is also said to have removed gluten entirely from her diet in 2011.
And while stars and other celebrities heavily promote the health benefits of going gluten-free, it's worth exploring how gluten foods impact your body and whether you should consider giving it a go.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many popular food items like bread, pasta, and whole grains. For instance, gluten-containing whole grains like bulgur and barley are extremely rich in fiber and vitamins, considered essential to promoting good health. Gluten is generally considered harmless unless you have either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
But for people who have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive, consuming gluten foods can be pretty harmful. For these individuals, when they consume gluten-based food, it can cause a severe reaction that can damage the lining of the small intestine, which prevents the body from absorbing essential nutrients, consequently leading to several symptoms, including abdominal pain, headaches, anemia, and depression.
What are the health benefits of going gluten-free?
According to a study published in 2017 in the Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, gluten can cause intestinal symptoms, even in people without celiac disease. The symptoms can be disturbed gut function as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
If you have decided to go gluten-free, even though it may initially seem like you're missing out on some of your favorite food items, several health benefits must be reaped.
Reducing your gluten intake may encourage you to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, leading to healthier living. For instance, swapping a sandwich for a salad will undoubtedly benefit you if you're trying to lose weight.
Many people have gone on record stating that they lost excess weight, felt less fatigued, and had less joint pain after switching to a gluten-free diet. These benefits can be attributed to the exclusion of unhealthy foods.
You can even have gluten-free equivalents of your favorite foods like gluten-free grains, wheat-free bread, Chinese food, and even gluten-free fast food!
Today, you can even go to restaurants in your local area that serve 100% gluten-free food. Just search for terms like "gluten-free food near me," "gluten-free food list," or "gluten food list," and you should see a long list of gluten-free restaurants near you.
What exactly are gluten-free food items?
Switching to a gluten-free diet requires paying meticulous attention to the food items you'll need to select, the various ingredients found in foods, and their nutritional content.
Several naturally gluten-free food items can be a part of your gluten-free diet like
- Most fruits and vegetables
- Most beans, seeds, legumes, and nuts in natural, unprocessed forms
- Lean, non-processed meats, fish, poultry, and
- Most low-fat dairy products
Grains, starches, or flours that can be included in any gluten-free diet have:
- Corn — it can be cornmeal or grits and polenta that's labeled gluten-free
- Gluten-free flours like rice, corn, corn, potato, soy, and bean flour
- Hominy (corn)
- Rice, including wild rice
- Tapioca (cassava root)
- Grains not allowed
What should be avoided when going gluten-free?
When shifting to a gluten-free lifestyle, try and avoid all foods and drinks containing the following:
- Triticale (i.e., a cross between wheat and rye)
- Oats, in some cases
Oats and oat products labeled "gluten-free" have not been cross-contaminated during the show. Though oats are naturally gluten-free, they can be contaminated during production with wheat, barley, or rye. But then there are people with celiac disease who can't tolerate "gluten-free" labeled oats.
What are the risks of following a gluten-free lifestyle?
Food items not included in a gluten-free diet often provide several essential vitamins and other nutrients. For instance, whole-grain bread and other products are natural or enriched sources of the following minerals:
If you have read the above by now, you should be aware that following a gluten-free diet will probably change your nutrient intake (for the worse, that is). A few gluten-free loaves of bread and cereals have significantly varied nutrient levels compared to the products they are replacing. Then many gluten-free foods also have higher fat and sugar contents than the gluten-containing food being replaced.
Therefore, it's essential to read all labels carefully, not only for gluten content but also for overall nutrient levels, salt, calories from fats, and calories from sugars.
In any case, it is always advised to consult with your doctor or dietitian about foods that provide healthy and nutrient-rich alternatives.
What are the costs of following a gluten-free diet?
Generally, the costs of preparing gluten-free foods are significantly higher than the cost of the foods being replaced. The expense of moving to a gluten-free diet can be substantial, primarily if your diet consists of foods that aren't naturally gluten-free.
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