ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GLUTEN
Unless you’re a food scientist or nutritionist, you might have a hard time understanding what gluten is exactly. You probably know it’s found in wheat, and you might even know it’s a protein.
If you’ve looked any deeper than that, then you’ve probably been overwhelmed with information overload and scientific jargon. You’ve probably come across a few myths about what gluten is and what it does to the human body.
All the information about gluten is overwhelming. Where do you even begin?
We PROMISE we will simplify and clarify everything there is to know about gluten.
Here’s the deal…
“Gluten” refers to two different types of proteins: gliadin, and glutelin. We’ll look deeper into these two different proteins later, but for now just know that gluten is protein. Proteins are used for structure, function and regulation in the body — and in plants. Gluten is found in the endosperm of grains — that is to say, it’s within the seed. It’s there to give the grain sustenance while it sprouts and grows. When we harvest the grain, we harvest the endosperm and the gluten with it.
Gluten is not present in all kinds of grains though. It’s primarily found in all varieties of wheat, barley, and rye. There are plenty of grains that don’t contain gluten in their seeds, including rice, quinoa, and millet.
These grains grow from different types of proteins. Some nutritionists believe that the increase in incidences of gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity is due to the increased consumption of gluten within our culture. Instead of eating a wide range of grains, we eat a lot of wheat, some more wheat, a bit of rice but often with wheat on the side, and some wheat for dessert. Toast and cheerios for breakfast, a salad roll or pasta for lunch, a breaded piece of meat for dinner. That’s gluten morning to night.
But other nutritionists believe that non-celiac gluten intolerance is a total scam.
What is the truth?
- EASILY UNDERSTAND HOW GLUTEN CAN DAMAGE THE GUT [Back to Top]
- CLEAR UP THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CELIAC DISEASE AND GLUTEN INTOLERANCE [Back to Top]
- THE SCARY TRUTH ABOUT THE HISTORY OF GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- AVOID THESES FIVE DISEASES ASSOCIATED WITH GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- SAVE TIME AND EASILY LEARN WHICH FOODS CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- 12 DIFFERENT GRAINS THAT CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- 5 IMPORTANT HEALTH BENEFITS OF GLUTEN CONTAINING GRAINS [Back to Top]
- THE REALITY OF BLOOD SUGAR AND GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- 10 COMPLETELY SURPRISING PLACES YOU WILL FIND GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- THE TRUTH ABOUT GLUTEN IN PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS [Back to Top]
- PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THESE COMMON FOOD PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- COMPLETE LIST OF FOODS THAT ARE NATURALLY GLUTEN FREE [Back to Top]
- REPLACE WHEAT FLOUR IN YOUR KITCHEN WITH THESE GLUTEN FREE FLOUR ALTERNATIVES [Back to Top]
- STAY SAFE WITH THESE 8 GLUTEN-FREE FOOD SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS [Back to Top]
- GUARANTEE A GLUTEN FREE MEAL WHILE EATING OUT WITH THESE 3 EASY STEPS [Back to Top]
- CHARM YOUR WAY TO A GLUTEN FREE MEAL WITH THESE 6 STEPS [Back to Top]
EASILY UNDERSTAND HOW GLUTEN CAN DAMAGE THE GUT [Back to Top]
Celiac disease is the first thing to understand about the damage that gluten can do to the gut. It’s the king of gluten sensitivity.
Around 1% of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease. It’s very different to gluten intolerance and wheat allergies, and understanding celiac disease helps us to understand gluten and those other conditions.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition – that means that the body’s immune system attacks the body itself. In celiac disease, this self-attacking is triggered by the presence of gluten in the gastrointestinal tract, and the damage occurs in the gastrointestinal tract.
The reason why people develop celiac disease is not fully understood, but most holistic professionals believe that it’s caused by an interplay of genetics, environment, immune health, and can be brought on by significant life events (trauma, illness, or natural ageing).
PAINLESSLY CHECK IF COULD HAVE UNDIAGNOSED CELIAC DISEASE
Celiac disease is hereditary which means that one of the celiac genes (HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8) has to be present in your DNA for you to develop celiac disease.
That means that if no one in your family has ever had celiac disease, it’s probably impossible for you to develop it.
But there’s a catch…
While the symptoms of celiac disease have been described frequently in medical literature since the second century, the diagnosis of celiac disease was only “invented” in the 20th century. That means that any of your ancestors who had celiac disease probably weren’t diagnosed with it.
It gets worse…
To make matters even more complicated, celiac disease is notoriously underdiagnosed. It can be completely asymptomatic, or can present with vague gastrointestinal symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as IBS. So your great aunt with “the weird tummy thing” could definitely have had celiac disease.
The bottom line:
Celiac disease is not something that people a few generations ago knew much about, so don’t rely on your family history to determine if you are at risk of developing celiac disease. Get genetically tested. If your test comes back clear with no presence of celiac genes, then there is no way you can ever develop celiac disease!
If you do have the genes, you are at risk of developing celiac disease.
But a risk isn’t a guarantee…
Having the HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8 genes doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop celiac disease. In fact, your whole family could carry the genes and never develop the autoimmune condition. These genes need to be “switched on” in order to begin the cascade of gluten sensitivity and autoimmune processes that lead to tissue damage in the small intestine. There are a few theories as to what the “celiac trigger” could be:
- Viral infections
- Antibiotic use
- Isotretinoin and Accutane (drugs used to treat acne)
Celiac disease can be triggered one or many of these triggers combine with the presence of the HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8 genes and a diet that includes gluten. When this happens, an autoimmune process begins.
This is very different to a gluten intolerance or wheat allergy.
CLEAR UP THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CELIAC DISEASE AND GLUTEN INTOLERANCE [Back to Top]
Here’s the real story. In celiac disease, the gluten protein is seen by the immune system as a pathogen — something that has invaded the body and must be eliminated.
In this heightened immune state, the walls of the small intestine become enlisted as “soldiers” to fight off the bad guys (or rather, to fight off the gluten which has been mistakenly identified as a bad guy). As they would in any serious infection, the intestinal walls become inflamed in an effort to destroy the gluten. The problem is that gluten isn’t an infection — it’s actually a benign protein found in food and on its own does no harm…
We’ll get to that later.
There’s certainly no reason for the over-reaction by the immune system. The subsequent inflammation of the small intestines leads to abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation, and internal damage.
It gets worse…
The process of inflammation flattens the microvilli — these are the little hairlike projections that grab onto the nutrients in digested food and drawn them into the bloodstream.
Without microvilli, nutrients aren’t absorbed and the person with celiac disease suffers from mild to serious nutritional deficiencies, depending on the extent of damage to the microvilli. To add insult to injury, the unabsorbed food moves to the large intestine (or bowel) where it ferments and can cause bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea or constipation, and further abdominal pain.
Then again, depending on the individual, all of this inflammation and damage can go completely unnoticed for years and years – potentially forever! But the symptoms of nutritional deficiency can be serious and insidious, and any sign of celiac disease should be thoroughly investigated.
Now let’s consider a non-celiac gluten intolerance…
Some nutritionists believe that no one should eat gluten. That could seem like a bit of an unreasonable belief, but is it really?
The increase of IBS diagnoses has risen incredibly quickly over the last ten years. (Incidentally, so has diagnoses of celiac disease!). IBS refers to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a condition of “non-diagnosis” — that is, everything else has to be ruled out before IBS will be diagnosed.
It presents with some of the same symptoms as celiac disease: pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea and constipation. Some doctors are quite reluctant to give a diagnosis of IBS, and this is partly because the medical world knows very little about what IBS is, or how to manage it.
Gluten free diets have been shown to significantly help IBS sufferers, and this opens the question — if removing gluten from the diet relieves the symptoms, does that imply that eating gluten may be contributing to the onset or the ongoing symptoms of the syndrome? Maybe…
Here’s the theory…
Zonu-who? Zonulin is a protein that is rapidly produced by the body in response to gluten.
The walls of the gastrointestinal tract are held together loosely. The gut is not just one smooth, completely connected tube. There are “gaps” between the intestinal cells.
These gaps are there to allow all kinds of nutrients and substances to pass back and forth. Normally the gaps are very well regulated and shut tight so that big stuff like proteins can’t get into the body’s blood system. It’s a great system.
But there’s a catch…
In the presence of gluten, zonulin is released and it stimulates the intestines to create bigger gaps between cells. Now large proteins have an opportunity to move through the gut wall and “invade” the bloodstream — this is referred to as leaky gut. Normally proteins are broken down to smaller molecules before being digested. They should be tiny peptides or amino acids before being absorbed!
What’s worse is that it’s not just proteins from food sneaking through. The tight gaps in the intestines usually keep out things like microbes, toxins and bacteria. With increased zonulin causing leaky gut, these nasties have a chance to get into the blood.
The problem with big proteins in the blood is that the immune system is always on the look-out for unfamiliar proteins because that’s what viruses, parasites, and bacteria are made of. The moment that the immune system notices an invading protein, it mounts an immune response against it. And where there’s an immune response, there’s inflammation… and where there’s inflammation there can be:
- Dysfunction of any body system
- Depleted nutrients
- Over-reactive or under-reactive immune responses to real threats
Imagine all of this going on in a patient with celiac disease! They already have an autoimmune response to gluten in the small intestine, plus big proteins are sneaking into their blood and throwing their immune system into further mayhem!!
Of course this still has serious consequences in people non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The activation of zonulin and onset of leaky gut can lead to the symptoms of IBS… or other symptoms that aren’t gastrointestinal related and therefore harder to pin-point as being related to food.
If you think about it, these invading food proteins move from the gut into the blood, and therefore they can travel anywhere in the body. The inflammation will happen anywhere in the body as the immune system will mount its response wherever the proteins are found.
That means that inflammation will occur anywhere and therefore the symptoms of leaky gut are systemic — that means that they can cause problems in any part of the body!
Common symptoms of leaky gut include:
- Food sensitivities (including gluten, lactose, sugar, and FODMAPs)
- Development of inflammatory bowel disease (different to IBS)
- Moon swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches (especially upon waking)
It’s also important to note that gliadin – the gluten molecule from wheat – can easily cross into breast milk. Mothers with a high amount of gluten in their diet have a lot of unprocessed gliadin in their breast milk, which is fed directly to their infant.
So far the evidence suggests that the amount in the breastmilk is unlikely to cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract of the infant, and authorities suggest that it is perfectly safe to feed your baby if you have been eating gluten unless the child has been diagnosed with celiac disease.
There are studies suggesting that gluten present in the breast milk may actually help to protect and develop a tolerance for gluten in the infant. However, personal anecdotes of mothers with children who are diagnosed with celiac disease suggest that some mothers suspect the gluten present in their breast milk may have contributed to the development of celiac disease in their children.
There is a need for more research in this area of pediatric medicine, as the basis of belief on the pathogenesis of celiac disease in infants is based on that of adults!
THE SCARY TRUTH ABOUT THE HISTORY OF GLUTEN [Back to Top]
As covered earlier, gluten is a term given to different types of proteins in the endosperm of grain seeds. These types of proteins are called “prolamins” and their job within the plant world is to feed the seed as it sprouts and grows.
The prolamins that are generally referred to when we say “gluten” include gliadin (found in wheat), secalin (found in rye) and hordein (found in barley). There are other types of gluten-like proteins in other grains, such as avenin which is found in oats, but most people with gluten allergies and intolerances do not react to these other prolamins, so they are considered “not gluten” by most people.
The prolamin gliadin is the most commonly indicated prolamin to cause problems in gluten-sensitive people. It is abundant in wheat, and is the most common protein found in wheat.
Due to farming and genetic modification of wheat crops, the amino acid sequence found in gliadin from the 1960s is very different to the amino acid sequence found in today’s crops.
This genetic modification of wheat occurred in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, primarily in America and then throughout the world. Crops of wheat that are sprayed with chemical fertilizers started to stand very tall — so tall that as they came to head (just before they were ready for harvest) the stalks of wheat would fall over, leading to a lot of lost wheat.
Not good for the farmer’s pockets. You may consider that the use of chemical fertilizers would be the variable to change in order to rectify this problem. Nope. Instead, science introduced a cross-breed of wheat called semi-dwarf wheat, which was shorter and yielded 10 times the amount of wheat per acre — much better for profit.
They did this through the introduction of a RHt dwarfing gene that reduced the plant’s sensitivity to gibberellic acid, the plant hormone that encourages tall growth. In theory, this alteration wheat shouldn’t change anything about how edible or healthy it is — wheat is wheat.
Well, it is undeniable that since the 1960s, the incidences of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) have increased, as has the general population’s weight and rates of obesity.
However, these occurrences could be entirely coincidental — and science would support this idea as there are no conclusive studies to back up these claims of cause and effect.
It’s possible that the relationship between the introduction of crossbred dwarf wheat and the increased population issues with gluten sensitivity could be only due to advances in nutritional science understanding the impact that gluten has always had a negative impact on the human body.
This has some ground as “ancient wheat” varieties such as spelt and kamut also contain gliadin — in theory, it hasn’t been altered in the way that wheat has, but people with celiac disease still react to this “old” type of gliadin.
However, people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can often eat these ancient grains without developing any gastrointestinal symptoms, or their symptoms may be less severe or frequent.
AVOID THESES FIVE DISEASES ASSOCIATED WITH GLUTEN [Back to Top]
Generally, celiac disease is the most commonly known disease related to gluten. Some people might consider IBS to be gluten-related too, but that’s about as far as the imagination goes. Wheat allergies are completely different — there are lots of different parts of the wheat plant that someone can be allergic to. So are there any other diseases beyond celiac disease and IBS that gluten can cause or contribute to?
- BAKER’S ASTHMA
In these people, the inhalation or consumption of gliadin (particularly the ω-gliadins present in wheat) causes an allergic reaction that results in asthma. This can be a one-time occurrence but generally will develop into a chronic disease, and can be so severe that it necessitates a change of career.
Baker’s asthma usually presents as rhinitis as first — that is, a runny nose. From there, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can develop. Tightness in the chest is also a common symptom and is often mistaken for anxiety.
While the ω-gliadins of gluten in wheat flour are a usual suspect, other types of grains, flours, and additives can cause or contribute to baker’s asthma.
- URTICARIA (Hives)
Urticaria is a common expression of wheat allergy, and it is often the gliadin portion of the gluten in the wheat to which people are allergic to. This is the most common expression of wheat allergy in children, whereas exercise-induced anaphylaxis is the more common expression in adult.
Hives look like raised bumps on the skin and can be incredibly itchy. Hives usually break out quickly after exposure to gluten, and are quick to subside once gluten has been removed from the diet and environment.
However, medical intervention should be sought if they do not subside within 24 hours, or if they appear again within one month. Emergency medical care must be sought If any symptoms of anaphylaxis are present (wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling of lips or throat, tightness of chest, blue tinge to the skin, difficulty breathing, and/or dizziness or fainting).
- EXERCISE-INDUCED ANAPHYLAXIS
Where children tend to break out into hives in an allergic reaction to gluten, adults more commonly suffer from anaphylaxis (inability to breathe) during exercise.
Consumption of gluten (specifically the w-gliadin portion of gluten found in wheat) combined with the increased oxygen flow and stress due to exercise leads to an IgE immune response that causes wheezing, inability to breathe, and can sometimes cause swelling of the limbs and hives.
Continuing the cycle, exercise increases the amount of gliadin in the bloodstream, which of course increases the IgE immune response and the symptoms continue to escalate.
- NON-EXERCISE INDUCED ANAPHYLAXIS
Sensitive individuals can experience anaphylaxis when exposed to gluten, even without exercise acting as a “trigger”. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening as it makes it almost impossible to breathe.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include a tightening or swelling of the throat and airway, which makes it difficult for air to pass through to the lungs; chest pain and tightness in the chest which can add to panic and feelings of distress; trouble swallowing; pale or blue skin as oxygen levels are low in the blood; dizziness or fainting as not enough oxygen is delivered to the brain to maintain balance or consciousness; and a racing heartbeat as the heart tries to deliver more blood to get oxygen throughout the body (and to itself!).
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. An ambulance needs to be called as immediately as someone goes into anaphylaxis. Every second counts, and acting fast can save a life.
Like celiac disease, gluten ataxia is an autoimmune condition. Instead of immune-mediated damage being done to the small intestine, the target is the cerebellum. This is the part of the brain that is in charge of balance and complex movements like walking, swallowing and speaking.
The exact mechanism of action is unknown, but the onset of ataxia is sudden and there are high levels of circulating gluten antibodies in the blood. Ataxia is characterised by abnormal walking (similar to staggering while drunk), and uncontrollable muscle movements. Gluten ataxia is the most common form of ataxia when it has a sudden onset, and it can be improved or at least halted in its progression by eliminating gluten from the diet.
SAVE TIME AND EASILY LEARN WHICH FOODS CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
You’re probably well aware that wheat contains gluten, and if you’ve been reading this article then you know that there’s even more than that. Here’s a recap of what we’ve already covered:
- Gluten refers to types of proteins found in the seed of grains.
- When grains sprout, they feed on the gluten to help the plant grow.
- Not all grains contain gluten or gluten-like proteins.
The main culprits are wheat (containing gliadin and glutenin), rye (which contains secalin) and barley (contains the gluten called hordein). The gluten is still present in flour made from these grains, and is responsible for giving a stretchy quality to dough (have you ever seen pizza made by hand?) and a chewiness to bread.
So if you just avoid wheat, rye and barley bread, you’re in the clear right? Okay, maybe pizza and pasta too. Shouldn’t be so hard to avoid gluten, should it? If you’ve ever tried to go on a 100% gluten-free diet, then you will know how gluten sneaks into the most unexpected foods, and how overwhelming it can be trying to avoid it!
It doesn’t have to be that hard. There is a key to quickly identifying which foods contain gluten, and it’s an easy process to learn…
First, you have to remember that you are only on the look-out for three grains (four if you’re celiac or sensitive to oats!): wheat, barley, and rye. If you see any of these on the ingredient list, the product definitely contains gluten. If you see anything beginning with or containing these words, the product definitely contains gluten. For example, “wheat-based thickener” … gluten.
Second, know the synonyms! This can be a little tricker and takes some time to master. There are about thirty different varieties of wheat used commercially, and each has a different level of gluten and (as we discussed earlier) gliadin molecular structure.
Some people are totally tolerant to the “ancient” varieties of wheat — things like spelt and kamut — but the general rule of thumb is that if you have an established sensitivity to gluten, even the ancient stuff will probably give you some trouble.
Here are the different names for the many varieties of wheat to watch out for:
- Common wheat
- Soft wheat
- Hard wheat
- Emmer or farro, also spelled faro
- Kamut (trademark name of khorasan)
- Spelt (very closely related to common wheat)
- Semolina (the starch of durum wheat)
- Red spring wheat
- Red winter wheat
- Rivet wheat
- Einkorn and wild einkorn
- Rivet wheat (also known as English wheat or cone wheat)
- Polish wheat
- Club wheat
- Indian dwarf wheat
- Bulgur or bulgar
12 DIFFERENT GRAINS THAT CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
Common wheat is also known as “bread wheat” and will generally appear on ingredient labels simply as “wheat”. Around 95% of the world’s cultivated wheat is common wheat. Not all common wheat contains the RHt dwarfing genes, but most does.
Khorasan or Kamut
An “ancient grain” currently grown in Iran, khorasan grains are twice the size of common wheat. They contain much less gliadin that common wheat but it’s important to remember that, even though it is marketed as a high-protein health food, kamut is not gluten free.
Spelt is also an “ancient grain” that contains less gluten than common wheat, but still contains enough gluten to cause problems for people with celiac disease. Many people on “gluten-light” diets enjoy spelt with no gastrointestinal upsets, particularly when it is prepared as sourdough bread as the fermentation is said to somewhat break down the gluten proteins. Spelt of any kind is not suitable for celiacs.
Emmer aka Farro
Emmer is a type of “hulled wheat” and mainly grows in the mountains of Europe and Asia. It is a huge crop in Italy, specifically in Tuscany, where it is known as farro. It is much higher in fiber than common wheat, which has created quite a buzz in the health food world for pasta and breads. With increased global demand for farro, many knock-off varieties (often spelt) are grown at lower climates and sold as “Italian wheat”. Regardless of the health benefits of its high fiber content, emmer contains plenty of gluten that will trigger a celiac attack or bout of IBS.
Durum wheat was developed through “artificial selection” of emmer wheat. It contains 3% more gluten than common wheat, and is often used to manufacture semolina, bulgur and dry pasta. It is also used in bread, pizza dough, soups, stuffing, puddings, cakes and pastries, usually in combination with common wheat flour. On ingredient labels it may be stated simply as “durum”.
Red Spring and Red Winter Wheat
These varieties are high protein and high gluten, and are commonly used to make bread. While it’s unlikely that they will turn up on an ingredient label simply and as a sneaky as something like “red spring” or “red winter”, you never know… Better to keep their names in the back of your mind.
Einkorn and Wild Einkorn
Einkorn is often thought of as a “wild” or “ancient” grain but in fact it was one of the first varieties of wheat to be cultivated. However, it does not yield a very high quantity of grain compared to other varieties so is no longer popular in the commercial market. Nutritionally, einkorn is very high in protein, fats and beta-carotene, and one in vitro study in 2006 suggested that the gliadin in einkorn may not trigger celiac disease in the same way as other varieties of wheat do, or to the severity. However, this is not enough evidence to suggest that einkorn is suitable to be eaten on a gluten free diet.
The endosperm of the durum wheat grain is extracted in the milling process to produce semolina. The bran and germ of the grain are removed and all that remains is the endosperm or starch.
As you know, this is where the gluten is stored, so you can bet your bottom dollar that semolina is high in gluten. It is often used to make couscous. It is also sometimes used to coat baking pans to stop products sticking in the oven. Obviously this poses a threat of cross contamination to products that may otherwise be gluten free.
The use of gluten in manufacturing of gluten-free products is weirdly common and may or may not be declared on the packaging as an ingredient, depending on the level of strictness on labelling laws wherever you are in the world.
Celiacs are advised to avoid all products that carry labels stating they were made in factories that also process gluten-containing products. Also treat all home-baked or home-cooked goods with caution — plenty of people are still confused about exactly what does and doesn’t contain gluten, and what makes a product “truly gluten free”.
Bulgur, Bulgar or Bourghul
Bulgur is made by cracking the wheat and then parboiling it to partially cook the product. Because of the partial cooking, bulgur is very quick to prepare and can even be simply soaked to be ready to eat.
However, this extensive and high-heat manufacturing process does cause losses of some nutritional value, especially when compared to alternative whole grains (e.g. quinoa). However, it has fewer calories and twice the fiber of brown rice, so is a popular weight loss food. It is commonly found in tabouli, or as a more nutritious alternative for couscous. As it is parboiled cracked wheat, bulgur contains gluten.
Triticale is a recent man-made hybrid of wheat and rye. It is considered a valuable crop as it has some of the nutritional, desirable aspects of wheat with the environmental hardiness of rye. It is mostly used for commercially raised animal feed, but has been finding its way into health food stores, particularly as a cereal. It contains gluten in almost equal amounts to common wheat.
Rye is technically part of the wheat family, and is closely related to barley. It is mostly grown in Europe, and is used to make bread such as pumpernickel and crackers, and to brew beer and the Slavic, non-alcoholic, fermented drink called Kvass. It is available commercially as a whole kernals called “rye berries”, as cracked rye, or rye flakes.
Rye contains another type of gluten called secalin. It also has a lower amount of glutenin than common wheat, but a higher level of gliadin. It was previously suspected that glutenin was the primary culprit for triggering in gluten sensitivity, but as gliadin has been implicated, rye and its products are not recommended for anyone with gluten sensitivity.
Barley is a popular cereal grain that was originally native to Asia, and contains the gluten called hordein. While it is not as well studied as gliadin in terms of impact on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, it is a known trigger for people with either of these conditions. Barley is used to make malt and to make alcoholic beverages such as beer. Malt is created by germinating and drying out the barley grains, and is used frequently in candy and syrups. Beer is created through the fermentation of the barley grain. All malt products and barley-derived beers also contain gluten.
5 IMPORTANT HEALTH BENEFITS OF GLUTEN CONTAINING GRAINS [Back to Top]
It’s not all bad. Physiologically, gluten has its benefits. Humans haven’t been fooled into eating something that is completely rotten for us.
- PROTEIN Let’s not forget that that nutritionally, gluten is a protein — and protein is very good for you. Most people have a hard time getting enough protein through diet alone. A four ounce serving of seitan (a gluten-based product often found in vegetarian and vegan cooking) contains 85g of protein – that’s some people’s entire daily requirement! That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider than a four ounce steak only contains 28 grams of protein.
Of course seitan is a condensed form of gluten — it’s produced by washing away the starch from wheat flour and being left with just the proteins, which are mostly gluten. Eating four ounces of wheat or spelt will only give you 14 grams of protein. But that’s still impressive when you consider that rice – the most commonly eaten alternative grain – only contains 3.1 grams of protein for every 4 ounce serving.
- MINERALS & VITAMINS Gluten itself is just a protein, but the grains in which it’s found contain an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals.
The minerals found in gluten-containing grains depend on the variety of the crop, and the quality of the soil where they are grown. Generally speaking, the highest concentration of antioxidants and B vitamins is found in the bran of the grain (a kind of “second skin”), and the germ (the “embryo” of the grain which has potential to sprout).
The bran and germ are commonly removed from the grain in the milling process. What remains is the endosperm which is mostly comprised of starch and proteins (including gluten) and a small amount of minerals and vitamins.
Whole grain products retain the germ and the bran, and therefore have a higher density of nutrients and, of course, fiber. However, all manufacturing processes (including the milling of whole grains into whole grain flour) cause loss of nutrients to some extent.
Whole wheat is high in manganese, B vitamins including folate and betaine, selenium, phosphorous, and copper. Most of these nutrients are lost when the bran and germ are removed.
However, fortification of wheat flour is mandatory in many countries – this means that any commercial wheat flour must have additional vitamins and/or minerals added to it. This is done in an effort to reduce common nutritional deficiencies in the general population.
Most commonly, white flour is enriched with folate in an effort to reduce incidences of spina bifida.
Whole rye is rich in zinc, iron, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper and B vitamins. Again, the exact content of the grain depends on the conditions in which it was grown.
Whole barley contains a good amount of molybdenum, manganese, copper, chromium, phosphorous, magnesium and B vitamins including niacin, thiamine and folate.
Once the grain is processed in any way, the mineral content is reduced, and the ratio between minerals is changed. The majority of fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants reside in the bran and the germ of the grains, so white flour and its products (e.g. pasta, pizza, bread, ) contain few B vitamins and antioxidants, and are primarily made of carbohydrates (mostly starches) and protein.
- WEIGHT LOSS
We know that bread makes you fat, but eating whole grains has been found to be an effective strategy in weight loss due. Rye is particularly effective in satiety – that is, it makes you feel “full” for longer, reducing hunger and cravings.
This is in part due to its high fiber content, and its low glycaemic index – that is to say, it doesn’t spike blood sugar the way refined wheat or white rice does.
A study conducted in 2010 compared weight gain between participants who ate whole grain products versus refined grain products. The study showed that participants who ate refined grains put on weight, whereas the whole grain group did not.
But what was even more interesting that the participants eating a diet rich in whole grains ended up losing weight, particularly around their midsection, hips, and waist.
Of course eating the same calories in whole grains as refined grains will result in weight gain, but it’s a lot harder to eat that many when whole grains make you feel so full.
A major issue with gluten free diets is that the products available are highly refined. Where someone might eat a whole grain wheat or rye bread, after a diagnosis of gluten intolerance they may switch to a bread that is made from highly refined rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour — all of which have a high glycaemic index, low fiber content, and high caloric density, which of course adds up to serious weight gain!
- CARDIOVASCULAR PROTECTION
Whole wheat is rich in cardioprotective nutrients such as plant lignans, sterols, stanol and saponins. The bran and germ of whole grain wheat, rye and barley all contain potent antioxidants (e.g. vitamin E, selenium, phenolic and phytic acids) that are essential to keep the cardiovascular system healthy.
A meta-analysis from 2013 showed that eating three serves of whole grains per day could reduce the risk of heart attack by 21%, as well as reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
Whole grain wheat and rye may also reduce the risk of hypertension and help to keep blood pressure under control according to this study. While it is possible to consume whole grains that are gluten-free, it’s also common for people going on a gluten-free diet to go for white rice and potatoes, or gluten free pasta and noodles while feeling like they’re doing the right thing for their health.
For patients with celiac disease, it may seem that avoiding gluten is the most important thing to focus on in the diet. This is true, but don’t forget that the inflammation associated with celiac disease causes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, it’s especially important to replace gluten-containing foods with gluten-free whole grains.
- PROTECTION AGAINST DIABETES
In this age of paleo diets, we hear a lot about how grains cause diseases like diabetes. The is plenty of conflicting evidence, but this systematic review and meta-analysis from 2013 clearly shows that eating two serves of grains (specifically whole grains) reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
White rice (a common substitute for gluten-containing grains) was shown to significantly increase the risk.
None of these benefits are “worth it” for a gluten sensitive individual to eat gluten containing
grains, but it’s important to be aware of the nutrients that may be low in a gluten-free diet.
Avoiding gluten is 100% necessary ALL THE TIME for anyone with celiac disease.
CAUTION: There is no definition of what constitutes a “whole grain product”. In the USA, if a product contains at least 51% of whole grains amongst 49% refined grains, it can be labeled as “whole grain”.
THE REALITY OF BLOOD SUGAR AND GLUTEN [Back to Top]
Gluten free diets are a recent health craze and many sources state that going gluten free can cure pretty much any disease.
The legitimacy of these claims is not always backed up by evidence-based nutrition, though. While anecdotal evidence
Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) is an autoimmune condition characterised by absolute insulin deficiency, and it is associated with celiac disease. In fact, 10% of type 1 diabetics have been diagnosed with celiac disease — we know that the under-diagnosis rate of celiac disease is significant, so it’s possible that as many as 20 – 30% of type 1 diabetics may suffer from this concurrent autoimmune condition.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is not associated with celiac disease, and is not an autoimmune condition. However, type 2 diabetes is far more prevalent than type 1, and therefore there may be many people who have both celiac disease and T2DM.
It is essential to have control over blood glucose levels in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Gluten may have a role to play.
Gluten is mostly found in foods with high carbohydrate and starch content – that is, wheat-based products. It follows that removing gluten – and therefore these high carb foods – from the diet should make it easier to manage diabetes, right?
There’s a catch…
Starches are an important part of a diabetic diet, and without them the diabetic is at risk of having a hypoglycemic attack (that is, symptoms caused by low blood sugar).
Going on a gluten free diet runs the risk of eliminating these starches altogether. However, if properly managed, the diet can use potatoes, rice, and other starchy foods to replace those taken off by going gluten-free.
Another issue is stress. Stress plays a huge role in regulating blood glucose. While it may sound a little silly to say, going gluten free can be a stressful event! Unless necessary due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, going gluten free may simply add stressful restrictions to the diet.
Focussing on eating more whole grains and fewer processed foods is a better diet change for more diabetics than going gluten free.
10 COMPLETELY SURPRISING PLACES YOU WILL FIND GLUTEN [Back to Top]
- Chocolate – Many brands of chocolate use gluten as an emulsifier or thickener.
- Chicken and turkey – “Plumping” or bulking up of poultry meats is often done with the use of gluten. Rotisserie chickens are often basted with a sauce to give the skin an attractive caramelized brown appearance, and guess what that sauce contains? Yep, you got it – gluten.
- Pickles and olives – These products are often brined in malt vinegar derived from barley.
- Curry powder – Not all curry powder contains gluten but err on the side of caution and look for certified gluten free varieties. Many other spice blends may contain gluten or wheat flour as a bulking agent and to help the spices “flow” better out of the jar.
- Coffee – Large roasters are known to use wheat flour to lubricate their machines, which leads to cross contamination. Small local roasters generally do not need to use flours, but don’t be afraid to ask about their processes.
- Vanilla extract – Distilled grain alcohols are used to extract the active component of vanilla, and some products contain caramel colouring that is derived from barley.
- Dentist gloves – The powder that coats dentil gloves is often made with wheat starch!
- Nuts – The nuts themselves don’t contain gluten, but if they have been processed or packaged in a factory with grains that contain gluten (and most of them are), then cross contamination is very likely. There are certified gluten free varieties available though!
- Processed meats (hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, bratwurst) – Gluten or just plain ol’ wheat itself is used as a filler to bulk up the product. Even bacon isn’t safe – smoked flavoring is derived from barley or Brewer’s yeast (the yeast is a byproduct in the manufacturing of beer, which usually contains gluten).
- Toothpaste – Gluten is commonly used as a thickener in toothpastes and in most countries there is no requirement to declare all ingredients on the label of personal care products. More in this below…
THE TRUTH ABOUT GLUTEN IN PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS [Back to Top]
What’s that? Gluten in cosmetics? Yep, you read that right. Gluten, with all its thickening, stretchy qualities, is used as a filler or a “booster” for a lot of products, and not just within the food industry.
Is it even possible to escape gluten?! Are all gluten sensitive individuals doomed to a life of pain and suffering??
So far the evidence shows that it’s only the oral ingestion of gluten that causes a celiac reaction. This is mostly because the very physics of it wouldn’t make any sense for it to be otherwise — gluten is a large protein molecule, far too large to cross through the skin and into the body.
Skin is made up of thick layers of cells – the top layers are technically “dead” and shed regularly to make way for new cells that push up from underneath these top layers. The closer the cells get to the surface, the more densely packed together they are. At the top layers, they are held together so tightly that only very small molecules like mineral ions can pass through.
Large proteins like gliadin and glutenin can’t get through skin and into the bloodstream. Since the blood is where the immune system identifies gluten and triggers a celiac autoimmune reaction, there’s no way that topical application of gluten-containing products can cause a celiac attack.
However, there are plenty of other reasons that people may need to avoid gluten in all its forms, including in personal care products. Wheat allergies can be triggered if the gluten in the cosmetic is derived from wheat, for example.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from gluten sensitive individuals who have identified topical gluten as a trigger, particularly on sensitive skin areas such as the scalp.
And then again, consider how easy it is to get some moisturizer or shampoo in your mouth. And what about lipgloss…?
Generally gluten will appear in personal care products listed in the ingredients as:
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Triticum vulgare oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Triticum vulgare extract
- Wheat germ extract
- Sodium lauroyl oat amino acid
- Hordeum vulgare oil or extract
- Secale cereale oil or extract
- Avena sativa
- And of course any mention of barley, rye or wheat varieties…
The products that these gluten-containing ingredients are found in is vast and includes:
- Shampoos and conditioners
- Hair dye
- Hair treatments
- Body wash
- Dish washing detergent
- Clothes washing powder
- Fabric softener
- Dryer sheets
- Dental floss
These last items are, naturally, of more concern — these products go in the mouth! While you may not swallow toothpaste or mouthwash (at least, not on purpose…), the oral cavity is considered to be the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract. Any gluten in the mouth can cause a reaction in some individuals, the severity of which depends on the person’s sensitivity. A celiac with
Other dental products to be concerned about include dentures and braces — believe it or not, a lot of plastics contain gluten! Anyone with celiac disease should inquire to their dentist about the potential gluten contamination of their oral prosthetics. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be fine with this.
A note on personal care products:
Not all ingredients need to be declared on the label. Each country has a different set of labelling laws determining how much of a given ingredient needs to be present in the product before the ingredient must be declared on the label.
This is also relevant to “gluten free” declarations. Currently in the US, if a product contains less than 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten, it can be declared as “gluten free”. Sounds like it’s “gluten low” rather than “gluten free”, huh? Shouldn’t it be zero parts per million?
This isn’t some conspiracy against celiacs by Big Gluten corporations — it’s just that the currently technology used for testing for gluten is unable to deliver accurate results with any more sensitivity than 20ppm.
That measurement goes for “gluten free” food, too…
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THESE COMMON FOOD PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN GLUTEN [Back to Top]
This is a good place to start if you are looking to experiment with adopting a gluten free diet. This list is nowhere near exhaustive! There are plenty more sources of gluten in the diet — these are just the most obvious ones.
THE MOST OBVIOUS FOODS THAT CONTAIN GLUTEN
|Breads and Buns
Whole wheat loaf
Some pie fillings
Ice cream with “cookie dough” pieces
Battered meats or fish
QUICKLY LEARN WHICH FOODS OFTEN CONTAIN HIDDEN GLUTEN
|WHEAT & OTHER GRAIN INGREDIENTS
COMPLETE LIST OF FOODS THAT ARE NATURALLY GLUTEN FREE [Back to Top]
Frozen fresh fruit and vegetables without any added sauces
|Gluten free grains
Certified gluten-free oats
Brown rice (long grain, medium grain and short grain)
Whole buckwheat groats
Job’s tears (hatu mogi)
*Buckwheat and chia are technically seeds but they are used like grains!
REPLACE WHEAT FLOUR IN YOUR KITCHEN WITH THESE GLUTEN FREE FLOUR ALTERNATIVES [Back to Top]
If you were an avid baker before you had to go gluten free, you might be overwhelmed by the complexity of gluten free flours. You may have tried a few commercial blends, had a few baking flops or strange tasting results and decided the whole thing was a waste of taste. Hold on, though. I have good news.
You can make it simple.
Gluten free bakers agree that making your own flour blend is the key to success. Once you get to know the ins and outs of each type of flour and starch, you will quickly and effortless throw together a blend that’s perfect for what you’re making. That’s the beauty of gluten free baking — you get to customize the flours and end up with an even better recipes than wheat flour would have given you!
The 10 Most Common Gluten Free Flours
- Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot is a starch from the root of a few tropical plants. It is ground into a fine powder is best used as a thickener. It’s tasteless and colorless, making it particularly effective in thickening up sauces. It can also be added to baked goods to give chewiness.
- Brown Rice Flour
Great for making gnocci, brown rice flour has a nutty, wholesome flavor. The whole grain (including the bran) is milled, which also adds nutritional content. Also a good flour to use in cakes, breads and pancakes.
- White Rice Flour
The best on-its-own replacement for all purpose wheat flour, white rice flour is manufactured by removing the bran and milling the rice into a fine powder. There are multiple grades of fineness to white rice flour – stick to “extra fine” or “fine” for baking. It’s great for flaky baked goods with fine textures like pastries, and adds a good crumb to cakes. To replace directly for all purpose wheat flour, measure it by weight rather than cup or tablespoon.
- Tapioca Flour
To create tapioca flour, starch is extracted from the cassava plant and dried. Adding tapioca flour (sometimes called tapioca starch or tapioca powder) to baked goods gives them a chewy texture — great for breads. Also good to thicken sauces and bind together patties and hamburgers. It is sometimes used as a substitute for arrowroot powder.
- Buckwheat Flour
Buckwheat flour has a distinct taste that is delicious in breads and pancakes, but can be overwhelming in cakes if not blended with other less tasty flours such as white rice flour. Great for savory bakes such as muffins, pie crusts and in carrot cake.
- Potato Starch
The humble potato produces this very powerful starch that effortlessly thickens up sauces and binds baked goods together. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like potato once cooked.
- Chickpea Flour
Chickpea flour is generally not used in bakes, but makes for an incredible replacement for wheat flour when it comes to fried savory dishes.
- Sorghum Flour
Sorghum is one of the world’s “ancient grains”. Its flour is nutty like buckwheat flour, and contains as much protein as quinoa. Using too much in a recipe will dry out the end result, but adding it to cake will give a soft texture to the end product.
- Millet Flour
If you’re looking to get a crispy coating on pan-fried meat or fish, look no further than millet flour. It also adds a soft texture to cakes and can be used as a substitute (or alongside) sorghum flour.
- Almond Flour
Almond flour is not to be confused with almond meal. Though both are commonly used in gluten free cooking, almond flour is more finely ground and is made from blanched almonds — almond meal is coarse and from unpeeled, whole almonds (you will be able to see flecks of the almond skin in the meal). You can use them interchangeably for the most part, but a light and fluffy cake like a sponge, will need almond flour — and it really does give an incredibly fluffy texture!
Keep in mind that any and all of these naturally gluten free foods are at risk of being contaminated during the growing, harvesting, processing and manufacturing processes.
That’s not to mention the possibility of cross contamination that happens in the home kitchen…
STAY SAFE WITH THESE 8 GLUTEN-FREE FOOD SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS [Back to Top]
Following a gluten free diet is a huge lifestyle change for many people, especially if you have been eating a standard Western diet that is big on bread, pasta and bagels! Aside from the massive diet changes, some lifestyle changes may also be necessary.
We’ve just talked about how gluten is almost everywhere — even in shampoo! But once you have all of the certified gluten-free products and foods, you’re all set of a life without gluten and smooth sailing into endless autoimmune remission, right?
It’s not that simple…
People with celiac disease need to be particularly vigilant against gluten contamination as even one crumb of bread from a chopping board contains enough gluten to trigger an autoimmune attack and cause destruction to their small intestine and microvilli. Yep, one crumb!
That means that sharing a kitchen with someone who still eats gluten is going to need some serious managing. Here are some basic food safety considerations to prevent gluten cross contamination:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling foods that contain gluten, or touching any surface that they have touched.
- Buy a new set of “gluten free” kitchen utensils. Keep these utensils in their own drawer and wash them separately to the utensils which regularly touch gluten. Avoid sharing pots, plates and cutting boards where possible.
- Thoroughly clean anything that gluten-containing food has touched. That means chopping boards, knives, kitchen utensils, and appliances. Sponges, dish towels and oven mitts also need to be washed regularly, or (even better) not shared at all.
- Invest in a new toaster for gluten-free bread only. Plaster a huge “NO GLUTEN” sticker on the side! Bread is particularly high in gluten, and gluten-free bread is particularly sticky and susceptible to cross contamination. Alternatively, you can put your gluten-free bread in toaster bags to protect them against contamination from gluten crumbs.
- Discard oil that has been used to fry gluten containing foods (for example, schnitzels, grilled cheese sandwiches, battered fish), and use fresh oil for gluten-free foods. Even though the temperature of heated oil should be hot enough to denature gluten proteins, it doesn’t work that way — otherwise it would be safe to eat fried gluten food!
- Buy your own condiments, especially the ones you use for toast. Butter, jelly, jam and peanut butter are particularly susceptible to gathering crumbs from glutenous bread and passing those crumbs over to gluten-free bread. Also consider the possibility of contamination in condiments like mustard, honey, chili sauce, coconut oil, nut butter, tahini and anything else you stick a utensil into to get it out of the jar!
- Discard water used to cook pasta and clean the pot thoroughly before filling with clean, fresh water to cook gluten-free pasta. Use a strainer just for gluten free pasta – the holes in most strainers are small enough for gluten to stick to even when the strainer has been washed.
- Designate a gluten-free area of the kitchen in which to keep your own utensils, chopping boards and food. This area should including a bench surface that only foods that are gluten free can be placed on. It might sound a bit pedantic, but using these kitchen safety tips can save a life!
There’s plenty you can do in your own kitchen to improve your safety, but what about outside the house?
GUARANTEE A GLUTEN FREE MEAL WHILE EATING OUT WITH THESE 3 EASY STEPS [Back to Top]
Going gluten free doesn’t have to lead to the end of your social life. There are many amazing, exclusively gluten-free restaurants in most cities across the US and Canada, and throughout Europe and Australia.
If you end up somewhere without a gluten free option, here are your best bets:
- Do research ahead of time. Check out the restaurant’s menu online and see if they have any designated gluten free options. Customer reviews are also a good source of information on how friendly chefs can be to making changes for dietary restrictions.
- Call ahead if you have any questions about the menu. One question could be about cross contamination — for example, is the gluten-free battered fish cooked in separate oil to the crumbed fish? For the best response, call when you know the restaurant isn’t busy — you might be able to speak directly to the chef and make special arrangements for your meal!
- Once you’re at the restaurant, try to order last at your table so that your request is remembered by the server.
Certain cuisines are more likely to have gluten-free options. Italian doesn’t exactly come to mind when considering a gluten-free dinner on the town. Then again, you never know — with such an increase in celiac disease and gluten intolerance, many restaurants are offering gluten-free alternatives to their traditional, gluten-heavy dishes.
Err on the side of caution and look for these cuisines with the following considerations:
- Eating gluten free Thai
- Thai cuisine is a favorite haven for many gluten sensitive people.
- Pad thai is gluten free, as are most noodles dishes — generally all noodles used will be made from 100% rice flour. One exception is pad see ew which contains gluten in the form of soy sauce.
- Wun-sen noodles are made from mung bean starch, and are also gluten free. You will generally find these in very authentic Thai restaurants (or when you go to Thailand!)
- Bamii noodles are egg noodles and usually contain wheat flour so are not gluten free.
- Some curries may contain gluten as a thickener and some stir fries contain soy sauce – always ask for clarification.
- Some fried starters such as spring rolls and curry puffs use wheat flour in the batter, so go for tofu skewers with peanut sauce or a salad.
- Eating gluten free Indian
- Spice blends used at Indian restaurants are generally authentic and gluten-free.
- Most Indian dishes are gluten free.
- Uppama (dumplings), naan, roti, chapati, poori and paratha (breads) contain gluten and are off-limits.
- Sauces may use glutenous flours as a thickener but usually not — ask if they use wheat flour.
- For safe entrees and starters, papadums, dosas and rice are all gluten free.
- Some Indian desserts contain gluten, including peni (similar to donuts) and chiroti (rice pudding but contains wheat flour). Rasmalai and gulab jamun are gluten-free Indian desserts to try.
- Eating gluten free Mexican
- Tortilla chips are, by definition, made of cron and should therefore be gluten free and safe to eat, right? Unfortunately not. A lot of tortilla chips contain wheat flour! If the restaurant uses a commercial brand, ask to see the packet or ask for the name and look it up on your phone. If they are homemade chips, you will need to speak with the chef to find out if they’re gluten free.
- Burritos contain gluten, but burrito bowls are a good option instead. They contain all the fillings of burrito, but without the wheat flour tortilla.
- Taco shells might be gluten free, but again ask if they are 100% corn and if they are fried in the same oil as anything else that might contain gluten. Same goes with fajitas.
- Eating gluten free Vietnamese
- Bahn mi contains bread and therefore it also contains a lot of gluten.
- Pho is usually a great gluten free option. Some places might use gluten in the soup stock but that’s pretty unlikely. Pho Sate is also gluten free – just a spicy version of pho. (It’s pronounced fuh, by the way!)
- More other soups and curries are generally gluten free as well.
- Goi coun, or rice paper rolls, are a great gluten free option.
- Avoid seitan in all its disguises — it might be labeled as mi cang, mi can, wheat meat, faux-meat or similar. Remember – seitan is 100% gluten!
- Avoid anything fried as it will probably have been battered in something containing gluten, or at least fried in the same fryer as something else that has.
- Banh xeo is a coconut and rice flour crepe, and is usually gluten free.
I bet you’re thinking, that’s all well and good but sometimes planning ahead isn’t always option. Impromptu lunches with friends, family vacations, and work functions can pop up out of nowhere and leave no option of doing extensive restuarant research.
There’s a way to get your hands on a delicious gluten free meal, no matter where you go.
CHARM YOUR WAY TO A GLUTEN FREE MEAL WITH THESE 6 STEPS [Back to Top]
If you find yourself in a restaurant without any indication of gluten free dishes, you may still be able to negotiate a meal that you can eat:
- Ask the server if they are familiar with gluten. If not, ask if you can speak to the chef and then ask them the same question.
- Be upfront about your condition. Tell the server or chef that you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. A lot of servers and chefs are aware of the dietary restrictions involved, and may ask clarifying questions such as, “Can you eat soy sauce?”. Don’t be offended if they don’t know exactly what you need to avoid – they’re not nutritionists and most people don’t know squat about gluten until they have to cut it out of their diets!
- Negotiate a meal. Either pick something from the menu that is as close to gluten-free and ask for amendments, or ask for a simple dish that meets your dietary restrictions. You may need to order something pretty bland like rice with steamed vegetables and a piece of meat, hold the sauce. Not very enticing, but better than nothing! Then again, you might be surprised what a creative chef can come up with on the spot.
- Be prepared to pay extra. A busy kitchen doesn’t like changes or special orders, and they may charge you more to compensate. If they don’t (and even if they do) charge you more, consider leaving a big tip — it might inspire them to put a gluten free option on the menu. Some cafes charge extra for gluten free bread as a standard, check the bottom of the menu for details!
- Don’t be embarrassed to send it back. If you receive a meal that seems suspiciously gluten-y, politely ask the server to check with the kitchen if you got the meal that was meant for you. You can push the questioning and clarify your concerns, or simply send the meal back.
- Explain to your dinner companions what is going on. Whether you’re eating with work colleagues, unknowing family or old friends, it’s worth being upfront and clear about what you’re doing and why. There’s nothing shameful about celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
CAUTION: If you have celiac disease, it may be best to avoid eating anything at a restaurant that isn’t 100% gluten free as cross contamination is rife in commercial kitchens. There are exceptions — if the restaurant advertises gluten-free options on their menu, you might be in luck. Just be sure to ask about their kitchen system and if they have anything in place to prevent cross contamination issues. If you’re not 100% convinced, don’t risk it, and politely ask for some water — it’s better to be safe than sorry!
No matter where you are, it’s completely possible to maintain a delicious and nutritious gluten free diet.