Gluten-free diets are increasingly common. Whether you have a mild intolerance, a diagnosed illness or simply want to cut down on the pasta and bread, a gluten-free diet can be a healthy way to meet your dietary needs.
About one percent of American adults actually have celiac disease, but about one in six follow a completely gluten-free diet. One in five try to eat gluten-free whenever possible. Some follow the diet to help cut down on their carbohydrate intake, while others are under the impression that gluten-free foods are just healthier.
The fact is, eating gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll eat healthier—but you can. Many naturally gluten-free foods are already parts of a healthy diet, like protein, vegetables, nuts, seeds and more.
Whatever your reasons for going gluten-free, the key is to start your diet off right. It will make it far easier to sustain this new lifestyle change, and enjoy any additional health benefits that may result.
If you’re a big fan of bread and pasta, cakes, cookies and other baked goods, the idea of going gluten-free might seem a worse fate than death. A couple decades ago, you might have had to swear off these sort of treats altogether.
Today, the popularity of gluten-free diets has made it much easier to find gluten-free substitutes. Pasta made from corn or rice is a reasonably good substitute for wheat pasta, and almond flour is commonly used in sweet baked goods. There are also dozens of recipe websites specifically dedicated to gluten-free meals, including ways to bake and cook your favorite glutinous meals.
However, you might find it easier (and more satisfying) to focus on what you can have, rather than what you can’t. Beans, legumes, vegetables, lean meats, fruit, fish, nuts and seeds are the cornerstones of many healthy diets. There are also plenty of grains you can still eat, such as quinoa, rice, buckwheat and millet.
When you approach your diet from this perspective, you’re more likely to meet all of your nutritional needs. Of course, consulting with your medical team is important, particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac can interfere with nutrient absorption.
Try these tips
When you’re first starting your diet, you might not realize how omnipresent gluten really is. From sneaky sources to planning your meals out, here are some tips to avoid making mistakes:
- Don’t mistake “gluten free” for healthy: When you switch to gluten-free substitutes, you might go ahead and opt for pre-packaged versions of your old favorite treats. Keep in mind that gluten-free snacks are often loaded with sugar and refined grains—in fact, they may contain more calories than the original versions. Limit these to treats, and don’t forget to check the nutritional information whenever you’re trying a new gluten-free item. And, of course, remember that gluten-free does not mean “low carb,” either.
- Cross-contamination: If you’re not allergic to gluten, cross-contamination shouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, for celiac people, it’s crucial to check. Look for certified gluten-free items, and make sure you read the ingredients list. Oats, specifically, are often cross-contaminated with gluten. Read the labels every time.
- Eating out: When you eat out, you’ll need to ask a lot of questions. Gluten can be anywhere, from flour used to thicken soups and sauces to salad dressings and cooktop cross-contamination. It’s always helpful to call ahead and ask the restaurant if they can accommodate a gluten-free diet—if you have celiac disease, it’s a requirement.
- Make a meal plan: Like any diet, the hardest part is finding new meals, snacks and treats that work with your new lifestyle. Creating a meal plan at the beginning of the week is a great way to ensure that you’re never a victim of hanger and desperation. Find some gluten-free cookbooks or recipe websites to get you started. As you become more comfortable with the gluten-free diet, you’ll quickly learn which meals are most satisfying, and work best with your preferences.
Going gluten-free doesn’t have to be a punishment—in fact, you might just end up feeling better and losing weight at the same time. Focusing on all the things you can have, like ice cream and avocados, helps make up for the things you can’t. Following the tips above will help you make a seamless transition…even if you really miss bread.