Gluten-Free Diet: Everything You Need to Know

With the rising demand for cleaner eating and healthier living, many are changing how they choose and consume food. One of the most obvious changes people make is a shift towards fresh produce, organic fruits and vegetables, and gluten-free products.

The Gluten-Free Diet

Many have become particularly leery of gluten. They’re learning new ways to prepare traditional dishes, finding substitute ingredients, and closely inspecting labels on food items for the sake of keeping their family’s diet gluten-free.

Going gluten-free has merit. Some people are sensitive to gluten. There’s also the very serious matter of celiac disease. These are what’s primarily driving the gluten-free trend. Even people who are not sensitive to gluten are opting for a gluten-free diet for its potential wellness benefits.

Which Foods Have Gluten?

Gluten is a prolamin protein fraction found in wheat, barley, and rye grains. The gluten fraction in wheat is called gliadin. It is called hordein in barley and secalin in the rye.

How about oats? There is some controversy over oats being labeled gluten-free. Oats have avenin, a gluten-like prolamin protein. Some say avenin is a gluten protein, while others claim it is similar to gluten but not gluten.

Wheat, rye, and barley have about 40% of the prolamin protein, while oats have only about 15%. Thus, some people who have celiac disease are not sensitive to oats.

This begs the question: Can oats be labeled gluten-free? At the moment, it’s not clear, hence the controversy.

Why Avoid Gluten?

Celiac disease is a clear reason to avoid gluten. Others also claim gluten sensitivity, manifested through bloating and a general feeling of ill health.

There is also a reported association between gluten and behavior. This is why some parents, especially parents of children with special needs, strive to keep their children’s diet gluten-free.

Gluten is also believed to wreak havoc in the gut.

The gluten-free diet has taken a life of its own. Many people who have made the change are testifying how going gluten-free has improved their health, behavior, mood, and outlook. Consequently, those who don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are following suit, choosing to eliminate gluten from their diet.

Going Gluten-Free: Adults

It is not clear how much of the testimonials on the effectiveness of the gluten-free diet may be attributed to gluten elimination which is due to a placebo effect. That said, it is true that people who go gluten-free report experiencing health benefits.

As people steer clear of gluten, they may naturally end up consuming less sugar and carbs and eating more fruits and vegetables. This may be an unintended side effect of going gluten-free, but it’s a desirable one.

As mentioned earlier, the gluten-free diet is also part of a general cleaner eating trend. Those avoiding gluten also typically make other improvements to their diet, such as opting to shop at the best organic supermarket near them.

Indeed, while it may be unclear whether the health benefits reported by people on a gluten-free diet spring from avoiding gluten or from some other dietary changes, the fact remains that it wouldn’t hurt most adults to cut down on carbs and gluten-rich products.

Going Gluten-Free: Children

What’s good for the goose may not be good for the gosling. Many pediatricians and nutrition experts caution parents against imposing a gluten-free diet on children who are not sensitive to protein.

However, if your children are sensitive to gluten, you have no choice but to make the change.

What are the challenges of transitioning children into a gluten-free diet, and how do you resolve them?

1. Nutrients

Gluten-rich grains contain many vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber. Many whole-wheat products like bread, cereal, and pasta are also considered healthy foods for kids.

It will take more effort to find and prepare alternative nutrient sources when you remove gluten-rich food from your diet. However, it’s not impossible.

For instance, your children can consume the following (and their derivative products) in place of wheat, barley, and rye:

  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Flax
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot

In place of wheat flour, you can substitute flour made from rice, soy, potato, beans, corn, and cassava root (e.g., cassava flour and tapioca flour).

It would be great to have a ready source of gluten-free alternatives, like a bakery that sells gluten-free bread and a supermarket that sells authentic gluten-free cereals, flours, and other food products.

2.     Calories

Growing kids need healthy calories. Avoiding wheat can significantly reduce children’s caloric intake, so extra vigilance is necessary to ensure children will have enough calories for growth.

One of the ways parents can do this is by increasing their children’s intake of nutritious, calorie-dense, gluten-free foods such as the following:

  • Nuts: peanuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts, pistachios
  • Meat and fish (avoid processed meat and fish products that may contain gluten)
  • Milk (make sure they don’t have flavorings and additives that may not be gluten-free)
  • Unprocessed cheese (processed cheese may contain gluten)
  • Avocado
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds

3.     Arsenic

Rice is the most common alternative to wheat. Unfortunately, rice can have high arsenic content.

However, you can minimize the arsenic content of rice by rinsing it several times before cooking. Another alternative is to cook it like pasta, boiling one part rice in six parts water and draining the extra liquid afterward.

Gluten-Free Vigilance

As with anything concerning health, it’s best to consult a doctor. Talk to yours before making any decisions about dietary changes.

While going gluten-free can be just the change an adult needs, it may not be the best move for children. However, suppose you must shift your children to a gluten-free diet because of gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, or some other medical condition that gluten can worsen or trigger. In that case, it can be done with effort, mindfulness, and vigilance. It would help if you were particularly careful about products making gluten-free claims. Gluten-free doesn’t only mean having no wheat, rye, barley, or grains with gluten content. It also means the product was produced and prepared in a completely gluten-free environment

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