How Gluten Intolerance Affects Your Health
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly seen or heard many people saying they are reducing their gluten or giving it up altogether.
In some cases, people actually have allergies or a condition called Celiac disease, which is causing gluten to make them ill. Others simply have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.
The latter is more common, so that is what we are going to talk about.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in a variety of different grains.
Many people think about wheat as being gluten, but it can also be found in rye, oats, and barley.
The gluten protein is made up of other proteins, including glutenin and gliadin.
These are often more closely linked to people that have negative reactions in the form of a gluten allergy or Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition of the small intestine.
The symptoms are slightly different when comparing an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten as opposed to actually being allergic to it.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
When you have an intolerance to gluten, your symptoms can range from mild discomfort and abdominal pain, to some of the more common signs of being allergic to gluten.
First of all, you might find that you have abdominal discomfort or indigestion when you consume foods with a lot of wheat or rye.
There are actually many regular food items that contain wheat or other grains, that you would otherwise think are harmless.
You may eat a simple sandwich with wheat bread and suddenly find that your stomach is hurting and you might even have diarrhea or nausea.
Some other common symptoms include headaches, skin changes, and allergy symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and runny nose.
If you are found to have a gluten sensitivity, you don’t have to completely give up all gluten, but you do need to decrease it as much as possible.
The more foods you eat with gluten, the worse you are going to end up feeling.
They might not cause serious illness like if you had Celia disease, but gluten can definitely make you feel ill.
If you want those stomach aches and migraines to go away, stay away from foods with wheat, rye, or barley.
This includes most breads, grains, pasta, and a wide range of packaged and processed foods.
You should try to stick to a diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein like meat.
Foods That Do and Don’t Contain Gluten
Now that you understand a little more about what gluten is and how it affects your body if you have an intolerance to it, it is time to figure out what exactly you can eat.
This is a new lifestyle, so don’t treat it like something you only do when convenient.
If you think it will be better, start gradual by slowly removing food items with gluten one by one until eventually the majority of your diet doesn’t have it.
Remember that you have a sensitivity, not an allergy, so you can still have some gluten in small quantities.
Foods With Gluten
Before discussing what you can eat when you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, it helps to understand exactly what foods are going to contain gluten.
It is found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, couscous, bulgur, semolina, triticale, spelt, and many others.
This means the majority of cold cuts, commercial broth and bullion, malt, soup, breads, salad dressings, sauces, condiments, processed cheese, and processed foods will have it.
Some food items you need to get rid of or reduce considerably are:
- Condiments and salad dressings
- Canned beans
- Processed meat like hot dogs
- Non-dairy creamer
- Egg substitutes
- Granola and trail mix
- Energy bars
- Ice cream
- Fruit filling and pudding
- Cereals and breads
Fruits and Vegetables
For starters, you can begin by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Most fresh produce, and some frozen, is not going to contain any type of gluten and won’t upset your stomach. Some good vegetables to have are greens, broccoli, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, leeks, fennel, artichoke, bok choy, rasishes, onions, cabbage, green beans, celery, and mushrooms.
With fruits, you want to be careful about the sugar content. Try to go for fruits like tomato, bananas, lemons, limes, and some berries. These fruits tend to have a lower amount of sugar.
Fats and Seasonings
You don’t have to worry too much about having flavor with your food, just because you can’t have most grains.
Healthy fats are a great thing to add to your gluten-free diet, including olive oil and coconut oil, nut butter, olives, nuts, seeds, almond milk, and butter if it is organic and grass-fed. With seasonings and condiments, feel free to have anything without sugar, soy, and wheat.
This means mustard, salsa and horseradish are fine, but ketchup is unfortunately out.
As you can see, your new lifestyle will provide you with a lot of tasty, nutritious food even without having gluten.
Less Common Signs You Have a Gluten Intolerance
While you might know about all the typical signs of having a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, such as stomach pain, indigestion, and headaches, there are some less common ones you might want to know about.
Here are some of the less common signs of gluten intolerance to be aware of.
While you may not realize it, your skin condition, such as red splotches on the face and excessive dandruff on the scalp might actually be due to a gluten intolerance.
While these conditions can be worse if you actually have an allergy to gluten or Celiac disease, people with an intolerance to gluten may also experience similar symptoms.
You may find that you have a lot of dandruff and that using special shampoo doesn’t do much good.
Perhaps you have redness on your face and can’t figure out why.
These are both signs of eczema, which tend to be common among people who have issues with gluten.
Mental Health Disorders
If you are someone that struggles with a lot of different mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, it may very well be linked to your gluten intolerance.
There have been quite a few studies that actually link gluten disorders and Celiac disease to anxiety and depression.
Like the skin conditions, the symptoms might be worse with Celiac disease, but that doesn’t mean your anxiety or depression can’t also worsen if you have an intolerance to gluten.
If you have noticed extreme irritability at odd time, worsening depression, or a sudden onset of anxiety, it might be a good time to consider other symptoms of gluten sensitivity.
Severe Digestion Problems
You likely know that having digestion issues is very common when you have an intolerance to gluten, but did you know it can cause more serious problems?
For example, you might have irritable bowel syndrome, seemingly caused by nothing, but it ends up being linked to gluten.
Try eating a gluten-free diet for a short period of time and see if your digestion and IBS symptoms improve.
If they do, then these issues are directly linked to the gluten intolerance.
Any time you have an odd symptom, you should talk to your doctor about it.
They might find that some of your symptoms are due to what you eat, such as the gluten in your diet. Removing gluten for a few days can tell you a lot about how you felt before compared to how you feel after.
Tips For Transitioning to a Gluten-Free Diet
Making the transition to a gluten-free diet is one of the hardest parts of realizing you have a gluten intolerance.
You want to feel better, cure your headaches, and improve your indigestion by changing your diet, but actually doing it can be a bit of a culture shock.
Many of the foods you eat on a daily basis will no longer be allowed and you need to become a stickler for reading ingredients of everything you eat. Here are some tips for transitioning to a gluten-free diet.
Start With Your Favorite Gluten-Free Foods
When you are making the transition to a gluten-free diet, you should first consider what foods you already eat that will still be allowed. This makes it easier for you because you can rely on some of your classic staples that you enjoy eating on a regular basis without feeling like you are missing out on anything.
For example, most vegetables and fruits you eat already can still be enjoyed, such as lemon in your water, oranges as a snack, and bananas with your breakfast.
Most meat can also be eaten, though you need to be careful with processed meat, such as packaged deli meat.
Buy Gluten-Free Substitute Products
While you eventually want to start making more food items from scratch, the transitional period can be quite a challenge. During this time, it is helpful to find some gluten-free substitutes of the foods you can no longer have.
For example, you can usually find your favorite type of bread, biscuits, cookies, crackers, and cereal in a gluten-free version. There are usually boxes of gluten-free boxes as well.
It used to be that only health food stores sold substitutes that were much more expensive than the standard form of these foods, but since gluten-free is becoming more popular, it is easier to find these food items in the supermarket.
Find Friends Who Want to Join You
It can be hard when you are doing this all alone.
Try to find friends or family members that also want to reduce their gluten intake.
This makes it easier when going through recipe books together, swapping ideas for meals, and going out to restaurants.
If you have kids, try to transition them to a gluten-free diet as well so you don’t have the temptations in your household.
Get your family together to come up with delicious gluten-free meals together.
How to Put Together Gluten-Free Meals
One of the struggles of discovering that you have a gluten intolerance is then trying to figure out what you can eat and especially how to put your meals together.
You no longer eat rice or pasta as a side, bread your chicken, have dinner rolls, or eat anything you want.
Even if you were on a low-carb or low-calorie diet previously, the gluten-free diet is not going to allow for the same types of foods.
Here are some helpful ways to put together your gluten-free meals.
Get a Gluten-Free Cookbook
To start with, it is really helpful to have at least one gluten-free cookbook, but preferably a few different ones.
These are going to be your point of reference not just for making sure you have plenty of recipes to choose from, but so you know what foods you can and can’t have.
Many of the gluten-free cookbooks available are going to provide food lists, tips, and suggestions for creating meals that help with your gluten intolerance.
While many of them cater to allergies or Celiac disease, you can still use the same recipes for your gluten sensitivity.
Start Baking Your Own Bread
This might sound like a huge chore, but once you make your own loaf of bread, you will wonder why you haven’t always done it.
There is something about getting bread out of the oven or using a bread maker that is satisfying.
Pulling a loaf of bread you made from scratch and slicing it up yourself is rather cathartic, not to mention the smell and fresh taste when it comes from your own kitchen.
Baking your own bread helps to save money since you can use a gluten-free bread recipe instead of having to buy an expensive alternative at a local health foods store.
Bread machines are easy to use and a quick way to make your own bread.
Find Grain Alternatives
While you can’t have many of the grains you are used to, there are still some that don’t contain gluten.
Finding these and using them in your meals can really make up for what you are missing.
For example, you might not be able to have some forms of rice or pasta, but you can still have quinoa.
This is always gluten-free, healthy, low-fat, and really easy to include in all of your recipes.
Also look for foods that naturally don’t have gluten so you don’t have to second guess anything, such as fresh produce, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Get Rid of the Processed Stuff
With things like dairy and meat, it is okay to eat these food items, but you want to avoid anything that is processed.
Now is the perfect time to stop eating so much processed food and rely more on the natural options.
Instead of hot dogs and deli meat, get ground beef, chicken breasts, and steak