Becoming Gluten Free

The very first step to overcoming any digestive or gut health disorder is to remove foods that are irritating or triggering the condition. Number 1 on that list is gluten. Gluten is a pro-inflammatory food and an irritant to the digestive system. Let's have a peek at the top 3 reasons why you may need to avoid gluten if you want to fix your gut:

1. Overconsumption: Any food that is over-consumed will eventually trigger a sensitivity reaction. (wheat - the leading source of gluten is consumed by North Americans morning, noon, and night. (pancakes or breakfast cereals, sandwiches or pasta, buns, breads, rolls, cookies, cakes etc.) Think about it, you probably don't eat steamed broccoli for breakfast, followed by a broccoli salad for lunch, with more broccoli again at dinner do you? I didn't think so.

2. Wheat - the leading glutinous grain has been heavily modified from the original plant. Plants normally take many, many years to evolve or change and we've come along and done this very rapidly. Because of this rapid change, our immune systems have trouble recognizing the protein. Our bodies have not had the required time to evolve with the plant.

3. Wheat is a heavily sprayed crop. It is sprayed with glyphosate during the growing season and often sprayed again right before harvest because it makes the crop "bolt" or "go to seed" and therefore increases yields. Glyphosate works by destroying the digestive system of insects. The theory is that by ingesting small amounts of residue again and again over time, this does the same to us. Also, glyphosate has recently been deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization's IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer).

When you first transition to gluten free, it can be super hard to know exactly what you’re able to eat.

Avoiding things with wheat is obvious but it can be a lot more challenging than this. Barley, rye and spelt are also likely to cause problems. Luckily, there are tons of alternatives that are naturally free from gluten, including quinoa, buckwheat and rice.

Oats are more of a gray area though. They don’t contain gluten but they can easily come into contact with it through cross contamination. A general rule of thumb? Assume that oats are a no-no unless they specifically state that they’re gluten free. This takes away any risk that they’ve come into contact with gluten.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meats, dairy and fish are naturally gluten free so it makes sense to have them as a large part of your diet.

There are tons of gluten free products available these days, although they often contain a fair amount of fat, sugar and salt. In some cases, they can be a lot like regular junk food.

And a quick word about foods and drinks that are going to be off limits or need to be swapped for a gluten free version. Common sources of gluten include wheat flour, bread, cakes, pastries, cookies, pizza, pasta and crackers. More surprisingly, beer, sausages, sauces and soy sauce often contain gluten so if these are favorites of yours, look for gluten free alternatives!

Make sure hidden gluten doesn’t derail you

When it comes to gluten, some of the culprits are obvious but others can be a lot sneakier. This is sometimes down to food labeling, and you’ll often see gluten as ingredients such as vegetable protein, emulsifiers, dextrins, stabilizers, starches, modified food starch or hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

This can be a huge problem if you’re celiac as even a tiny bit of gluten can trigger symptoms. And it’s not much fun if you’re intolerant to gluten either.

You might be super surprised to know about some of the foods and drinks that contain gluten. Let’s talk briefly about a few of them:

● Potato chips - Not so much the potato chips themselves but it’s super common for their seasonings to contain wheat starch or malt vinegar

● French fries - They’re often coated in wheat

● Granola bars - They’re often made from oats that may have come into contact with gluten and aren’t certified as gluten free

● Salad dressings and marinades - They often contain malt vinegar, soy sauce or flour

● Processed soups and sauces - They often use flour as a thickener

● Hot chocolates - Cross contamination with gluten can be a problem with some prepackaged cocoa drinks

Get into the habit of checking food labels thoroughly before you buy so you know exactly what you’ll be consuming.

Don’t forget about any medications you’re on (including supplements). Gluten is often used as a binder and medications can be a surprising source of gluten that many people aren’t aware of.

Gluten free baking

Lots of gluten free products are pretty unhealthy and you may prefer to make your own versions of cakes, cookies and other sweet treats so that you can have better control about what you’re eating.

There are tons of gluten free flours that are suitable for baking … to the extent that it can be confusing to know which to use. Let’s talk briefly about some of your options and what they work best for.

Rice flour: As the name suggests, rice flour involves grinding white or brown rice into a fine powder. This usually has a pretty neutral taste but that said, you’re probably going to want to use other gluten free flours alongside it (either in a gluten free flour blend or by blending your own) to get a different texture.

Buckwheat flour: Using buckwheat flour gives a nuttier taste and texture to your baking.

Oat flour: For a chewier or crumblier texture, oat flour is a good bet. It doesn’t work so well in things that need to rise but it can be a great choice for cookies.

Coconut flour: As you might expect, coconut flour lends a distinctive flavor to anything it’s used in. This is why it’s often blended with other gluten free flours to make things more neutral.

Top tips for eating out when you go gluten free

When you’re avoiding gluten, eating out can be super challenging. Here’s some good news though: you don’t need to lower your expectations just because you’re not eating gluten and you don’t need to say no to eating out either.

Being super prepared is key. When you’re trying to decide where to eat out, see if you can find menus online. This gives you a much better idea of what you’ll be able to eat or if the restaurant will be able to accommodate you as a gluten free diner. Can’t see anything online? Give them a quick call to get the score. You’ll often find that they will cater for you, even if they don’t specifically confirm this on the website. This is particularly true if you’re celiac and

When you’re deciding what to order, don’t be afraid to ask the waiting staff about ingredients if it’s not clear on the menu. When you’re first moving onto a gluten free diet, it can feel like a massive challenge to get clued up on what you can and can’t eat.

Don’t forget about hidden sources of gluten such as soups, sauces and sausages. They may not be made from gluten containing ingredients for the most part but they’ll often include some degree of gluten as a thickener or binder. Fries can also be a problem if they’re coated in wheat or similar. If you’re not sure from the menu, ask a few questions before you order so you don’t accidentally consume gluten.

Until next time!