What is Gluten-Free

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A gluten-free diet consists of eating only foods that do not contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and malts. In layman's terms, gluten binds grain products together and makes dough sticky. ("Gluten" is Latin for glue.)

People commonly turn to a gluten-free diet for health reasons--a gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects anywhere between 1 in 105 people to 1 in 1,750 people in the United States.

gluten-free-meals.JPGHere you'll find the basics of forming a gluten-free diet, medical benefits, tips to supplement a gluten-free diet, and some recipes at the end for your first gluten-free day.

The Basics

1. No Means No. No foods that contain wheat, barley, rye, malts or triticale (a hybrid of what and rye.)

2. Always Check Labels: Just because a product appears to not have wheat, barley, rye or malt doesn't mean it doesn't contain gluten. Starches or extracts from those grains are used in many foods.

Furthermore, there has been some controversy over "Gluten-Free" labels. It's best to check the ingredients yourself, confer with gluten-free resources and make a decision right for you about the product.

3. No More Bread, No More Pasta: Gluten-free diets nearly outlaw bread and pasta as you know it. The foods used in producing bread and pasta have historically all contained gluten--this includes white, wheat and grain breads and pastas, pizza, buns, baguettes, you name it.

It helps to know bread alternatives. Whole Foods, Julian Bakery, Schar and Udi's are popular gluten-free brands that most grocery stores hold. For pasta, Annie's Organic has tons of gluten-free pasta as well as Heartland, Sam Mills and Whole Foods.

4. Alter Your Breakfast: Because most cereals have wheat starch or gluten products, those looking for alternatives can find rice and corn based cereals, yogurts, meats or fruits.

5. Last Call: Most beer contains barley, malt and many contain wheat. Some popular gluten-free beer brands include Brunehaut and Green's.

* Other common foods you'll need to avoid or check: cake, candies, cookies, French fries, salad dressings and soups. *

6. Don't Be Afraid to Eat: Use this as an opportunity to try new foods and recipes and get creative with your meals. Also, many restaurants provide gluten-free alternatives on their menus--just talk to your waiter to be sure. And let your friends in on the fun by hosting gluten-free dinner parties.


Supplementing a Gluten-Free Diet

According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, those who go on a gluten-free diet may lose valuable vitamins like A, B1, B12, D, K, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Riboflavin and more.

The group suggests talking to a doctor about vitamin supplements or finding foods rich in those nutrients to supplement the loss. Oysters, liver and seeds are all incredibly high in Vitamin A, Riboflavin, Zinc and Calcium.

Find what supplements--food or vitamins--work best for you and your doctor.

A Note About Oats

Oats, although not proven to contain gluten, can be contaminated with gluten products during production and harvesting. Research suggests that gluten-intolerant and gluten-sensitive people should be cautious about oat products and should understand their own limits.

Medical Benefits

There is currently no medical evidence to suggest a gluten-free diet substantially improves the health of a person not suffering from celiac disease, according to health research group Livestrong.

Furthermore, there is no evidence to confirm or deny a widespread belief that gluten-free diets can alleviate or cure autism, according to The Cochrane Library, a health research facility.

A Typical Gluten-Free Day of Meals

Eating a gluten-free day of meals does not mean eating boring food. Try out these recipes then start creating your own!

Breakfast: Start off the day with a fruit smoothie and a plate of gluten-free turkey sausage and eggs. Remember to check the label on the sausage for any gluten additives. Get creative with the fruit smoothie and supplement your Vitamin A and C levels.

Lunch: Try a fresh bean and chicken salad. Toss fresh spinach with white beans, grilled chicken, fresh green vegetables like cucumber, zucchini or celery and add a tart cheese like blue, brie or ricotta. Top it off with olive oil and vinegar.

Dinner: Have a healthy, full dinner with grilled lemon tuna (add a little black pepper and garlic) and simmer in a skillet. As a side, hollow out a zucchini, fill it with a safe grain like quinoa and tomatoes, peppers and your favorite gluten-free seasonings and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Dessert: Celebrate a day of gluten-free eating with a gluten-free dessert! How about raspberry or orange sorbet with gluten-free whipped cream and semi-sweet chocolate morsels?