A Beginner’s Guide to Gluten-Free Diet: Foods to embrace and avoid

Many people worldwide adopt a gluten-free diet, either for medical reasons or by choice. But what is gluten? Where is it found? And what foods should you avoid on a gluten-free diet? In this article, we will answer these questions and guide you through the principles of a gluten-free diet. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know!

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye, pasta, and beer. Some foods naturally contain gluten; in others, it is added during processing. Although gluten is present in many foods, it can lead to various issues. More specifically, it is linked to celiac disease, requiring those who suffer from it to completely avoid gluten. However, celiac disease is not the only reason to eliminate gluten from your diet. Other health conditions advising a gluten-free diet include non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, and gluten ataxia.

What is a gluten-free diet?

A gluten-free diet excludes or limits the consumption of foods that contain gluten, like pasta and bread. However, not all foods containing carbohydrates also contain gluten. For example, potatoes, rice, and beans contain carbohydrates but not gluten. 

On the other hand, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds are gluten-free. That means the body can process them without causing symptoms like bloating or stomach pain!

What can you eat on a gluten-free diet?

Foods you are allowed to consume on a gluten-free diet are:

Gluten-free diet: What to avoid

Foods to avoid include:

  • Bread
  • Croutons
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Pizza
  • Candies
  • Pasta
  • Mayonnaise
  • Soups
  • Mustard
  • French fries
  • Imitation meat
  • Beer
  • Pies
  • Sauces
  • Desserts
  • Cold cuts with starch
  • Processed spices
  • Phyllo dough
  • Creamy cheeses
  • Hot chocolate
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Processed meat

Can you follow a gluten-free diet if you don’t have celiac disease?

Eliminating gluten from your diet may pose the risk of overlooking essential sources of nutritious whole grains, fiber, and micronutrients!

Whole grains play a significant role in reducing cholesterol levels and regulating blood sugar. Moreover, many gluten-containing foods have essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. So, unless you have celiac disease or another health condition requiring you to cut gluten from your diet, you shouldn’t follow a gluten-free diet.

The importance of meal planning

If you follow a gluten-free diet, it’s important to plan your meals. This way, you will know exactly what to buy and what meals to prepare, reducing the chances of consuming processed food that may contain gluten. So, a good idea is to dedicate time over the weekend to create a shopping list and a weekly meal plan. This ensures your diet is complete and varied, with ready-made meals and snacks at home!

Useful tips for meal planning

  • Find inspiration in cookbooks and food blogs.
  • Make a list of the ingredients you are going to need. Make sure they are all gluten-free!
  • Browse your counters to find the ingredients you already have and make a shopping list for the rest.
  • Don’t be hungry when you go grocery shopping.
  • Buy gluten-free and seasonal ingredients.
  • Prepare 2-3 easy meals on the weekend and store them in the fridge. Also, keep some in the refrigerator for those days you don’t have time to cook.
  • Keep your meals simple, so it can be easier to prepare them.
  • Chop vegetables and fruits and store them in the fridge. This way, you can snack on them whenever you want, without washing, peeling, and chopping them.

How to lose weight on a gluten-free diet?

‘Can you lose weight on a gluten-free diet?’, that’s a common question. 

As mentioned, a gluten-free diet is advised for health conditions like celiac disease. Although weight loss shouldn’t be the primary goal, if recommended, focus on foods like:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Rice
  • Carob
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Bran
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Tapioca
  • Lentils

Why is it important to read food labels?

On a gluten-free diet, reading labels is crucial due to potential cross-contamination during manufacturing. So, you should stay away from the following ingredients:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Self-rising flour
  • Oats
  • Bran
  • Wild wheat
  • Flour with added vitamins and minerals
  • Graham flour
  • Semolina

Starting a gluten-free diet: How to ensure you’re getting all nutrients?

A gluten-free diet may lead to deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, and calcium. To avoid them, you should consume nutrient-rich foods or consider supplements under your doctor’s advice. To ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need on a gluten-free diet:

  • Increase fiber intake with fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  • Add color to your plate with vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
  • Avoid overcooking vegetables to retain nutrients; lightly sauté or steam them.
  • Opt for whole foods over processed ones.

What to avoid when eating out?

Eating out on a gluten-free diet can be challenging because it’s difficult to know if all the ingredients in your plate are gluten-free. So, you should always inquire with the waiter or chef about gluten-free options or adjustments to avoid accidental gluten consumption. Don’t hesitate to call ahead to check a restaurant’s gluten-free options and ensure that gluten-free food is prepared separately to prevent cross-contamination!

Gluten-free meal ideas

Here are some delicious recipes you can try if you follow a gluten-free diet:

So, this is all you need to know about eliminating gluten from your diet. The most important thing to remember though, is that you need to consult a healthcare professional before you embark on a gluten-free diet!