The basics + how to make the transition
These days, the word ‘gluten’ is on everyone’s lips. And judging by the increasing amount of gluten-free products lining store shelves, the message is clear: the gluten-free trend is here to stay. While a gluten-free diet (GFD) drastically improves the health of people afflicted with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, there’s evidence to suggest that anyone can benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet. Below, we’ve got the low-down on this burgeoning wellness trend.
What is gluten?
A composite of gliadin and glutelin, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. While it naturally occurs in the foods listed above, gluten is commonly used as an additive for foods low in protein, as a stabilizing or thickening agent, and can be found in everything from ketchup to cosmetic products. Gluten is responsible for enabling dough to rise, for adding a chewy texture to bread and bread-based items, and for adding elasticity and flavour to other foods.
Recently, it has come to the attention of medical practitioners that more and more people are showing symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Sufferers exhibit an adverse reaction whenever they consume gluten. Abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, fatigue, headaches, tingling of the extremities, and weight loss/gain are the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance. However, a more serious and life-threatening form of this ailment, an auto-immune disorder known as celiac disease, causes damage to the inner lining of the small intestine due to gluten consumption. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, as well as certain cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, it is estimated that 1 in 133 Canadians is afflicted with celiac disease.
To date, there is no known cure for celiac disease although the disorder can be treated and managed by adopting a strict gluten-free diet for life. As for individuals who are sensitive to gluten, since it remains unclear whether gluten intolerance is a permanent problem or one someone may outgrow overtime, it is up to the individual to decide whether they wish to remain on it after the intestinal lining heals and all symptoms of gluten sensitivity subside.
Benefits of a gluten-free diet
While the advantage of adopting a gluten-free diet for celiac disease sufferers and people afflicted with gluten sensitivity is clear, the added benefits have encouraged others to go gluten-free as well. In addition to restoring digestive health, a gluten-free diet can also decrease cholesterol levels, encourage weight loss, and help ward off heart disease, some forms of cancer, and diabetes. Essentially, it proves to be a diet that everyone can benefit from.
From a dietary standpoint, going gluten-free actually leads to cutting out foods that are high in fat, given that gluten is found in bread products, fried foods, and high-fat desserts (such as pie crusts). It’s no wonder some athletes have adopted gluten-free diets as part of their health regimen!
From gluten-full to gluten-free
While transitioning from a gluten-free diet may prove challenging due to the overwhelming amount of information (or lack thereof) out there, the preliminary factoids below will help you to ease into it, while you gradually familiarize yourself with the wide array of gluten-free foods available.
To avoid: Any foods containing wheat, barley, or rye.
To consume: Unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy. These foods are naturally non-starchy, thus gluten-free. Rice, potato, corn, soy, millet, and quinoa, make up more gluten-free options.
However, once processing factors into the equation, one needs to exercise caution and carefully read food labels to ensure that the item in question is gluten-free. Once spiced, a naturally gluten-free product may become “contaminated”, hence the importance of scrutinizing the list of ingredients.
Luckily, there are now a slew of gluten-free products available that help in making the transition.
For a comprehensive list of foods allowed (as well as foods to avoid) when following a gluten-free diet, please visit the website of the Canadian Celiac Association.
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