Chances are, you probably know someone who is on a gluten-free diet. They are either on a gluten-free diet because they have to be due to disease or sensitivity, or they have chosen to go gluten free as a dietary lifestyle choice.
Going gluten free can be a rough transition just like any other new diet, but it isn’t all that complicated. The majority of the foods you are eating now can still be eaten on a gluten free diet, as long as you know what you are doing.
If you are thinking about going gluten free, or your doctor has told you that you need to do so, here is a beginner’s guide to what the gluten free-diet is, why there is such a thing as a gluten-free diet and how you can make a gluten-free diet work for you.
Gluten-Free Diet Review
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes foods containing a protein called gluten. Gluten exists naturally in foods that contain wheat, barley and/or rye. Going gluten free is a necessity in cases of celiac disease, which occurs when the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, making proper digestion difficult.
People with celiac disease experience inflammation of the small intestine, so for them, going on a gluten free diet relieves signs and symptoms and allows them to live mostly free of extreme discomfort and other complications while avoiding severe damage to their digestive systems.
Those who experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease when they eat gluten, but do not have celiac disease, have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity might benefit from cutting back on gluten, but for people with celiac disease, it is a necessity, not an option.
Gluten Free Diet Plan Basics and Rules
Which foods to avoid
Anything containing wheat, barley and/or rye, including:
- Cakes and pies
- Cookies and crackers
- Processed meats
- Salad dressings
- Salad dressings
Unless specifically labeled gluten free, these foods should always be avoided.
Many, but not all grains, are off limits. Compared to many other diets out there, though, this one eliminates far fewer types of foods from your diet. Before you start mourning over your terminated relationship with pizza and breadsticks, know that there are plenty of options out there for you to choose from – much more so now than there were even five years ago.
Foods that have healthy gluten-free options available
Going out to eat at restaurants is one of many things that will become more difficult once you decide to cut gluten from your diet for good.
You will be able to find gluten-free alternatives to some of your favorite foods in many grocery and health food stores. Just be careful that you are using these as part of a healthy diet and not simply replacing foods that contain gluten with unhealthy alternatives.
- Gluten-free pasta
- Gluten-free flour and bread
- Gluten-free cereals
You can make your own pastas and breads using gluten-free flour. This is only one example of how cooking at home can make a gluten-free diet much healthier and more rewarding.
Foods you can substitute at home for those that contain gluten
One of the hardest things about going gluten free, at first, is accepting that many of the foods that used to be easy to make are either inaccessible or will have to be made from scratch in different ways than you are used to. For some, this is a challenge they are willing to accept. For others, it is a hurdle they will have to slowly learn to climb over again and again.
You are going to have to get creative when cooking meals for yourself (which you will be doing a lot of, since there won’t be gluten-free options at every single store or restaurant you visit, though they are becoming more and more common).
This is a lot simpler, and a lot more fun, than it looks. You can make pasta out of vegetables, pizza crusts out of cauliflower. You can make homemade soup with rice instead of noodles, and use safe foods like chicken and vegetables to create many different combinations of meals so you do not get bored with what you are eating. You can find gluten-free cookbooks online to help you get started.
Do you need to take supplements while on a gluten-free diet?
Most likely, yes. For those with celiac disease, supplementation is necessary because it is often difficult to absorb many of the nutrients consumed while eating due to inflammation of the small intestine and other complications. Those without celiac disease and gluten sensitivity may also become deficient in the following nutrients:
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
You can replenish these lost nutrients by taking supplements. You will want to review your specific diet with a trained professional (registered dietitian) so they can help you choose which supplements are right for you individually.
Menu and Meal Planning
Many of the suggestions you will find online for what to eat when you are gluten free are simply gluten-free versions of unhealthy foods, like cookies, cereals and other desserts. One of your goals going gluten free should be to come up with new and creative ways to eat healthy meals that don’t include foods with wheat, rye or barley in them. The sample menu below features recipe and food suggestions, as well as snacks, that are healthy and exciting.
- Gluten-free pancakes (made with eggs, banana and Greek yogurt)
- Cottage cheese and fruit (strawberries, blueberries)
- Chopped hard cooked egg with avocado
- Celery with nut butter
- Homemade chips or french fries
- Carrots with honey mustard dip
- Zucchini fritters
- Fruit salad
- Deviled eggs
- Banana with peanut or nut butter
Grocery Shopping List
Here is a list of suggested gluten-free-friendly foods you can purchase at your local grocery store as you try out a gluten-free diet. Try to avoid gluten-free snack foods as much as possible and purchase whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, as often as you can.
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Gluten free flours such as potato flour or corn flour
- Almond milk
- Nuts and seeds
- Frozen green beans, peas
Does the Gluten-Free Diet Work?
Is there evidence that going gluten free if you are not intolerant has any health benefits? No. In fact, many experts recommend those who do not have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity should not go gluten free unless they are knowledgeable enough about how to do it correctly and have met with a nutrition expert to go over a specific diet and supplement plan.
Foods that contain gluten, such as whole grains, are foods recommended by the USDA because they contain essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. So if you decide to go gluten free and end up cutting out grains without knowing how to add those nutrients back into your diet, your long term health will probably suffer.
Also, note that above we mentioned ‘healthy’ gluten-free options you can add into your diet. Does this mean products that are gluten free are unhealthy? Yes; many of them are. Foods that normally contain gluten are often highly processed in order to remove the gluten, which also removes most of the nutrients from those foods. So if you think going gluten free will help you eliminate processed foods from your diet, you aren’t wrong – but you need to learn to make smart choices when shopping.
Reviews and Weight Loss Results
While many people approach a gluten-free diet out of necessity, many make the transition flawlessly and have amazing results to show for their efforts. Go ahead, see for yourself.
“I’ve been gluten free since Thanksgiving of 2002. Not a fun time to make the switch… Thanksgiving! And let me tell you… gf options in 2002- HA! Disgusting. Honestly, I think the lack of options when I first went gf is what helped me realize the best route is to just eat clean.
Before I went gluten free, my weight was always around 130. It did get up to 140 when I was gluten free but I was visiting Cuba and eating a lot of beans and rice. I weigh about 116 now. That has been gradual and I owe a lot of it from not substituting with a lot of packaged gluten free foods and using the portion fix system I use in my Busy Girl’s Fitness Challenges. It’s all clean-not packaged or processed foods but in the right portions. So, rice or potatoes, although gluten free… you need to know the portion size! Same with fats and any of the food groups.
I used to cry over not being able to eat bread and bagels… when I’d be super stressed- I felt like I was living a curse. Now I could care less. 15 years is a long time to get used to it! The most difficult part for sure is eating at restaurants and at people’s houses because I feel like such a prima donna and I know there are tons of hidden glutens and preservatives used in the marinades and ingredients.
If you’re considering the diet, don’t eat gluten free because it’s a trend and don’t expect to feel better if you are just swapping regular bread for gf bread. If you really have an intolerance or celiacs, you’ll probably feel crummy with the processed foods, no matter if they have gluten or not. Don’t stop tweaking your diet until you feel like a well oiled machine. Eating shouldn’t hurt. I’m now gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and almost totally refined sugar free. Vegetables are your friend!!!! Take daily probiotics… focus on healing, not finding loopholes in a diet. For anyone wanting to go gluten free or eliminate normal allergen culprits in a programmatic and healthy way, I have several programs that can help with that and if you’d like to join one of my Busy Girl’s Fitness Challenges (losingitwithsamandash.com/ busygirlfitnesschallenge) I will not only give you the tools you need but I’ll be your personal coach to give you feedback on whether what you’re going through or considering is normal or what your next step should be towards holistic wellness. Your body is not broken! It just might take longer to figure out. ”
“I have been living a gluten free (and dairy free lifestyle) since March 2015! I also am on a low food map diet for my health, which is eating foods that are easier to digest.
Since March of 2015, which was the heaviest I ever weighted, I have lost over 60 pounds. My weight has been fluctuating since I am on steroids for Chron’s Disease ( I just gained 10 pounds out of the blue in this last week). I went from a size 14/16 to an 8, which I’m super happy about!
The easier part of my diet is that it actually made me feel better!! It’s shocking how cutting out gluten and dairy can instantly make you feel better (it also helps that I have a gluten intolerance and I’m lactose intolerant). The hardest thing about my diet was eating out, especially with friends. I used to love getting jumbo slice pizza after hitting up the bars and drinking beer. I will admit at first it is hard to see your friends eat and drink what you can’t have it, but after a while, I got used to it.
To anyone that is interested in being gluten (and dairy) free my strongest advice is that it’s always hard at first to cut out things that you love, but it gets easier as time goes on. I used to love eating the cheesiest of pizzas and big bowls of pasta, but there’s always a gluten free version out there! Pinterest has been a great help for finding recipes of food I would never expect or have dreamed of to be gluten or dairy-free.”
Before and After Success Stories
“I have been gluten free for just over 15 months.
I have lost about 10 pounds from changing my diet. I suffer from IBS, and gluten is a definite trigger for my symptoms. Being gluten free keeps my digestion healthy and pain free.
At first the most difficult part at first was beer, but now I cannot tolerate beer for other reasons, so it doesn’t bother me. The easiest part was having lots of alternatives to shop for or cook with. I really enjoy cooking, so for me it was an exciting challenge to come up with gluten free (and dairy free) meals.
I definitely believe that eating gluten free is worth a try for everyone. The side effects of gluten in American food is terrible, due to all the additive chemicals and preservatives added during the processing. Not only is it an inflammatory food, but the acidic factor and neurological side effects to the body are quite scary. I 100% believe in being proactive in your health, and it all starts with food.”
“I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease back in 2012 at the age of 18. Going gluten free was a huge struggle for me since I was a freshmen in college and was not fully aware of what did and did not have gluten (or what gluten was for that matter). So with that being said, I would “cheat” every other day, which led to weight gain (40 lbs to be exact) and having a lot of health problems. Those health problems were high cholesterol, high body fat, high triglycerides & hypoglycemia. After graduating college this past May, I decided it was time to take care of my body, educate myself on what gluten was, what had gluten, and the danger of not following a gluten free diet when having Celiac Disease, but overall I just told myself I am too young to be having so many health problems.
In June 2016, I was weighing 180 lbs with a 38% body fat. I became a member of LA Fitness and decided to start working out. In late August, early September I approached one of the personal trainers at the gym and he measured my body fat at which time I was weighing 170 lbs, with a 32% body fat. Today I am weighing 160 lbs with 30% body fat, so in total since I started I have lost 20 lbs and lost 8% body fat. Aside from weight loss, I have lowered my cholesterol and I have a lot more energy than I used to have compared to when I was still eating gluten.
The most difficult part about the diet was craving something that had gluten and not knowing how to make it gluten free! I had to adapt to eating things that I would have never eaten before like kale, chia seeds and flax seeds in order to get the necessary fiber in my daily intakes. Also grocery shopping was a challenge because not only did I have to learn how to read labels but I had to face the reality of how expensive healthy food is (because you will not lose weight on a gluten free diet, if you are buying/eating products like cookies/brownies/muffins that say Gluten Free on them). Another thing that was very difficult for me was pushing myself to go to the gym, having that self motivation, at least for the first month. I can’t say that there was an easy side to this, if not I’d be lying. Celiac Disease is not just going gluten free how many people think it is, it is a lot harder than that. I got depressed, I got moody and stressed, but if there is an “easy” side to this I would call it “fun side” instead of easy. I’ve had fun experimenting and challenging myself in the kitchen, coming up with new recipes and am constantly learning new ways to eat certain foods.
Gluten free diets are not just for people who have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Many people follow a gluten free diet for weight loss purposes. That is not my case but even though I did not use the gluten free diet for weight loss purposes, I have lost 20 lbs by not eating gluten and exercising and have seen other people that do not have Celiac Disease lose weight on the gluten free diet. For everyone out there that is just being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and feels like it is the end of the world; it really isn’t. Yes, it will be tough but if you educate yourself, research, ask, and have a support group, you will be able to get through it and it will get to a point where you will not remember that gluten exists!”
Going gluten free, regardless of your motivation, is hard at first. Many of the foods you once loved are now out of reach. In time, though, you will learn how to adapt. You will figure out that going gluten free can be a healthy range of choices as long as you are mindful of what you are actually eating. Enjoy it – and try to learn to have fun with it.
Still not sure if going gluten free is right for you? Check out this article for more on the topic.