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Chances Are, You Don’t Have Celiac: 5 Ways To Eat Gluten-Free When You Have A Gluten Sensitivity

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Before you start, read our (entertaining) rant on gluten and the gluten-free craze that’s been blowing up lately. I personally went gluten-free long before the recent fanaticism. So part of me really does appreciate how foods are being labeled better and how more gluten-free options are available at restaurants.

But part of me also secretly despises all of you gluten-free freaks. Not because you’re gluten-free. But because gluten-free has gone from being a treatment for celiacs to an insane and overhyped cure-all. Seriously – <1% of people have celiac 1, yet 18% of adults now buy gluten-free products. Illnesses ranging from chronic ear infections to autism have claimed to get better with a gluten-free diet. Simply put, there’s a lot of hype, but the research isn’t quite there yet. Going gluten-free isn’t going to miraculously clear your sinuses or help you lose 30 pounds.

There is, however, a giant silver lining to all of this. For those of you who don’t have celiac disease or a major gluten intolerance, but still feel better when cutting out gluten, you might have what’s called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Note how I said ‘might’ – a lot of people jump to conclusions and self diagnose when it comes to stomach related problems such as this. To get a clear result as to whether someone has an intolerance for something like gluten, undergoing a simple gluten intolerance test, for example, will help reach a conclusion.

Although having a gluten-free diet won’t do you any harm if you don’t have celiac disease or NCGS, it won’t fix the underlying issues and as such you will still suffer from the same symptoms. If you do have symptoms of celiac disease then consult a certified gastroenterologist who could help to diagnose you properly. NCGS is purported to be six to 10 times more common than celiac disease, which could very well explain why so many people are going gluten-free. And just like celiac, research indicates that going on a gluten-free diet can help NCGS patients in the same way that it helps celiac patients.

Regardless of whether or not you have a full-blown anaphylactic allergy, celiac disease, or NCGS, going gluten-free will take some time, patience, and mental conditioning. Besides finding alternatives for your favorite gluten-based foods like bread and pasta, you’re also going to have to continually educate yourself about the diet to ensure you’re getting a variety of foods and not missing out on any key nutrients.

Here are 5 ways to smooth the transition.

1. Don’t Instantly Gravitate To ‘Gluten-Free Products’

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I know you might get excited when you see gluten-free cookies or pretzels at the grocery store. But there’s no need to instantly replace all of your favorites with gluten-free products.

If you’re ultimately cutting out gluten in an attempt to lose weight, gluten-free products have just as many, if not more calories than their non-GF counterparts – meaning you won’t create a caloric deficit to initiate weight loss. But even if getting lean isn’t your primary goal, often these gluten-free products have a ton of additives and preservatives that you should think twice about before consuming.

Or they’re just not healthy whatsoever – I’m looking at you gluten-free frosting and brownie mix.

2. Accept That Your Attitude Towards Food is Going to Change.

Maybe you’re not the kind of person who constantly scrutinizes food labels or plans out your macronutrients on a daily basis. Going gluten-free is without a doubt going to change your attitude towards food. And you know what? That’s totally okay.

Most people aren’t overly conscious when it comes down to what we eat. We simply open the fridge or pantry and pull out whatever looks good. But if you’re adopting a gluten-free diet, you’re going to have to think a little more intently about the kinds of meals you prepare. Realize that it’s okay to be a little obsessed in the beginning. From a psychological perspective, true behavior modification ultimately comes down to awareness. If you’re aware about which foods do and don’t have gluten in them, that’s a great start to staying gluten-free (more on this in a second).

3. Channel Your Inner Ancient Grain God (or Goddess)

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Image: Tasty Kitchen

In case you didn’t know, the wheat you eat (or try not to eat) today isn’t the same wheat from 1,000 or even 500 years ago. Although there are documented cases of celiac disease as early as 250 A.D., evidence shows that genetically modifying wheat crops has increased their gluten content over the years, which could explain the rise in gluten allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.

The good news is that while wheat might be undergoing a genetic makeover, grains like amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat haven’t been messed with all that much. Look into ancient grains as a simple and naturally gluten-free alternative to wheat. Rice and GF oats are great common options, too.

4. Get Educated To Get Inspired

There’s a lot of mindless internet chatter out there about which foods are and aren’t gluten free. Ultimately, if you’re going gluten free, you need to take the initiative to educate yourself on which foods are okay to eat. You could even contact a gluten practioner for some advice if you need to. I’ve created a simple, no nonsense list of which grains/carbs you can eat freely and which ones you need to steer clear from:

Gluten-Free Grains and Other Carbs:

  • Rice (white, brown, wild, black, etc.)
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats – technically they don’t have gluten, but you still need to watch for cross-contamination during manufacturing. To be safe, always buy oats that are labeled gluten-free.
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Montina
  • Corn
  • Potatoes (all varieties)
  • Beans (chickpeas, black beans, etc)

Grains that DO Have Gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Farrow
  • Durum
  • Semolina
  • Bulgur
  • Triticale

Check out the National Whole Grains Council for more information on gluten-free grains.

5. There Are Plenty of Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Out There

Remember that there are plenty of naturally gluten-free foods out there that aren’t necessarily grains. White, red, and sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin C and a great naturally gluten-free carb option. For pasta dishes, try using spaghetti squash or riced cauliflower instead of relying on store bought gluten-free pastas. If you’re making lasagna, there are a ton of gluten-free recipes that replace the noodles with thinly sliced zucchini.

Veggies, fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats are all naturally gluten-free, too. Shift some of your carb consumption to any of these (leaner) options.

Wrap Up

Going gluten-free isn’t a death sentence. Sure, it’ll take some tweaking of your eating habits. But as long as you educate yourself (and get a little creative in the kitchen) eating a gluten-free diet is a safe, healthy, and viable option if you suffer from celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or some other sort of gluten sensitivity.

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  1. Lean It UP – A Little Gluten Reality Check – What Is Gluten, And Why The Hell Are You Even Eating Gluten-Free? [Video] []
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