What is a Gluten-Free Diet?
In the simplest terms, a gluten-free diet is a diet that does not contain gluten.
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), as well as in products made from those grains. All-purpose flour, graham flour and semolina – and foods such as breads, pasta and crackers that mare made from these ingredients – are examples of such products.
Gluten is the substance in bread dough that that allows bread to rise. It provides structure and texture to goods such as cakes, breakfast cereals and macaroni.
Why Follow a Gluten-Free Diet?
For most people, eating gluten-containing foods doesn’t pose a problem. Individuals with celiac disease, however, must avoid gluten entirely, as it triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine and leads to a number of serious health problems.
In recent years, many people have switched to gluten-free diets, even if they’re not officially diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, because they feel it benefits their health.
No matter what your reason for following the diet, it’s important to know some basics for healthy and successful gluten-free living.
How to Get Started on a Gluten-Free Diet
What can you eat on a gluten-free diet? Happily, quite a lot! To learn about your options, first become an educated label reader.
Step 1: Look for products with “gluten-free” on the label. The FDA has strict guidelines governing the use of “gluten-free” on packaging, so anything with that label should be safe. If a label does not state “gluten-free,” assume that the product does contain gluten until you’ve conducted a thorough inspection.
Note that some naturally gluten-free foods – such as oats – may be processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing grains, introducing the possibility of cross contamination. Look for gluten-free certification for oats and other foods that may be processed in factories.
Keep in mind, too, that gluten-free labeling is not a requirement for all foods. There are many perfectly safe gluten-free items that do not state “gluten-free” on the label.
One more reminder: “wheat-free” doesn’t necessarily mean gluten-free!
Step 2: Be sure to read full ingredients lists, keeping an eye out for primary gluten sources (wheat, rye, Triticale, barley, oats) and less-familiar ones like malt, oats, textured vegetable protein and yeast extract.
A good rule of thumb is to not buy something if you don't recognize ingredients on the label. Jot down any unfamiliar ingredients and do some research before purchasing.
Gluten-Free Food Shopping Tips:
Here’s some great news: Whole, raw, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish or seafood are almost always gluten-free. Just remember – if it has a label, read it! If any seasonings have been added (for example, broth injected into chicken breasts or spices added to meat), the label must list the ingredients.
While the majority of dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, are gluten-free, label reading is still a must. Flavored milks, flavored yogurts and other processed dairy items may contain gluten.
As you navigate the rest of the grocery store, be sure to keep checking labels. Luckily, a wide variety of gluten-free snacks, frozen treats and baked goods are now available and marked “gluten-free” for easy shopping. You’ll also find a variety of affordable gluten-free staples, such as Pillsbury® Gluten-Free Flour Blend and Kroger® Gluten-Free Yellow Corn Tortillas.
Gluten-Free Eating Tips:
Gluten-free cooking isn’t hard, but it may take some getting used to at first. For example, a recipe may call for all-purpose flour; so you’ll need to find a suitable gluten-free substitute. For guidance, check out some gluten-free cookbooks at your local library. You can also browse websites for gluten-free recipes and creative hacks (like how to thicken soup without flour or how to make a gluten-free pie crust!).
In addition to whole fruits and vegetables, pre-packed snacks like Simple Truth™ Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and Kroger® Gluten-Free Extra Thin Crust Four Cheese Pizza are easy pleasers – for both adults and kids. For a special treat, top toasted gluten-free bread with peanut butter, sliced strawberries and a drizzle of honey.
Looking for an easy-on-the-wallet, fast-to-the table dinner? Ladle gluten-free spaghetti sauce over cooked Simple Truth Organic™ Gluten-Free Linguine, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and serve with a green salad. Or, try “brinner” (breakfast for dinner!). Whip up some fluffy pancakes using Simple Truth Organic™ Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Mix or a similar product and serve with butter, syrup, crispy bacon and orange juice.
You may be wondering: is a gluten-free diet safe? For some followers, a gluten-free diet is medically necessary. Others may follow it because eating gluten-free feels beneficial to them. As when making any significant dietary change, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider to see if a gluten-free diet is right for you.