The term "gluten-free" used to only be used in vocabularies of food scientists and registered dietitians, but today the topic of gluten is one of the most commonly discussed food trends in the news. For example, NPR discussed how the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet has become such a fad, it has downplayed some of the serious side effects of those affected by celiac disease. According to a survey by the NPD Group, nearly one-third of U.S. adults say that they're trying to either eliminate or cut back on gluten. But the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reported only about 1 percent of the American population suffers from celiac disease.
Although gluten-free has become so popular -- celebrities follow it, your best friend raves about it and it works for your coworker -- for many people, avoiding gluten has become a cultural as well as a health choice. People with celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, experience gut-wrenching damage to their gastrointestinal tract, which is a response triggered by their immune system in the presence of wheat, barley, rye, spelt, couscous, durum wheat or triticale. Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose because people can go some time eating gluten before the obvious symptoms such as diarrhea and cramping begin.
Regardless if you are celiac or just making a personal choice to break up with gluten, here are some healthy tips to keep in mind before you make the leap:
- Resist the urge. Adjusting to enjoying gluten-free food can feel like a massive paradigm shift. At first, I thought, "How do I eat?" I love my sandwiches and bagels but resist buying gluten-free bread and opt for more nutritious, gluten-free grains such as organic brown rice noodles and quinoa.
- Watch your nutrients. When people make the change to a gluten-free diet, they may be cutting out valuable nutrients often found in gluten-filled foods. Be sure you are finding alternative sources of fiber and B vitamins -- fruits, veggies and lean meats are naturally gluten-free, so it's really easy to fill up on the good stuff while you're on a gluten-free diet.
- Get creative. Just because you're cutting out gluten, it doesn't mean you have to cut the variety in your diet. Rethink the way you use gluten-free foods and diversify your diet by taking note of foods you wouldn't have normally paired together. Some of my go-to gluten-free snacks are organic rice cake nut butter, topped with fruit, or using hummus as salad dressing.
- Look for the unexpected. When you're looking for gluten-free foods, remember that "wheat-free" doesn't automatically mean "gluten-free." Keep an eye out for products that contain wheat, rye or barley such as soy sauce, gravy and beer.
With the growth of the gluten-free industry and so many differing opinions on any diet choice, it can be overwhelming to figure out the best healthy options that work for you. Keeping some of these tips in mind can help you can feel confident in navigating the gluten-free community, and ensure that your diet, gluten-free or not, is a healthy one.