Adopting a gluten-free lifestyle means living without bread, pasta, and pizza. It sounded crazy to me ten years ago when I was told to cut gluten from my diet. I wasn’t a big bread eater and mainly ate rye bread and whole-wheat pasta, if at all. However, the thought of going gluten-free was rather daunting.
This has now become my lifestyle, and there is not a day I look back or think of changing my mind. My energy, vibrancy, and overall health have changed remarkably. My hair is thicker, my skin is healthier, my nails are stronger, and I hardly ever get the flu!
I had to adopt a gluten-free diet for health reasons. But why would you want to consider adopting a gluten-free diet and what exactly does this mean? How does it affect your life? How does it affect your body? And can you still dine out or cook delicious meals?
I’ll answer all of these questions below.
Why Would You Adopt A Gluten-Free Diet?
People follow a gluten-free lifestyle for many reasons, including health, intolerances, or allergies. Here are some examples:
- Gluten intolerance: If you have a gluten intolerance, your body battles to digest the gluten protein, causing digestive problems such as gassiness, abdominal pain, or diarrhoea.
- Celiac disease: This is an auto-immune disease that involves an immune response to the protein gluten. Eating gluten causes damage to the small intestine and results in unfavourable symptoms. The immune system is over-reactive to the antibodies that form in response to gluten.
- Wheat allergy: With a wheat allergy, the immune system overreacts to wheat, causing symptoms that are serious and possibly life-threatening.
- Gluten sensitivity: This is an umbrella term used to describe an allergy or an intolerance to gluten.
No matter what category you fall in to, the intervention is the same – stay away from wheat and gluten! But how would you know if you’re suffering from gluten intolerance and when you should switch to a gluten-free diet?
Common Symptoms Of Gluten Intolerance
There can be many different symptoms of gluten intolerance but the most common ones include:
- Diarrhoea, constipation, or smelly faeces
- Frequent abdominal pain
- Lack of energy and feeling tired
- Skin problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Unexplained weight loss
- Iron-deficiency anaemia
- Joint & muscle pain or leg & arm numbness
Of course, simply having some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you are intolerant to gluten. As a first step, you can try to change your diet and cut out gluten-heavy meals, especially if you tend to consume many gluten-heavy dishes. If this changes the way you feel, then you may be on to something. To confirm a diagnosis, though, it’s best to see your doctor or health care practitioner.
As you’ll see in the next section, it is only necessary to cut out gluten if you have an adverse reaction to it.
How Does Gluten Affect Your Body If You Have An Intolerance?
In order to understand why a gluten-free diet helps to reset your body if you suffer from gluten sensitivity, it is important to first understand what happens in your body when you eat gluten. So let’s take a step back to understand the process:
- The intestinal wall acts as a barrier, protecting the body from food particles. Tight junctions help to maintain the integrity of this wall, blocking large and harmful particles from passing into the bloodstream.
- Zonulin is a hormone that can cause gaps in the tight junctions, allowing larger molecules to pass into the bloodstream.
- Gluten digestion upregulates zonulin, resulting in larger gaps in the tight junctions and a compromised gut wall.
- Low calcium is also linked to larger gaps in these tight junctions, as a deficiency will cause gaps to open until a calcium balance is restored.
- When gluten is ingested and not properly digested, the larger and undigested particles are allowed through the tight junctions and into the bloodstream. The body recognises this as foreign and signals the immune system to attack. This can result in a number of different inflammatory signs and symptoms.
- By following a gluten-free diet and ensuring optimal nutrition for repair, the lining of the gut wall can repair itself and the body can go back to a healthy being.
Adopting A Gluten-Free Diet
If you’re struggling with the symptoms of gluten intolerance or have a confirmed diagnosis, it is pertinent that you adopt a gluten-free diet as soon as possible. With the auto-immune celiac disease, for example, not adopting a gluten-free diet can even be fatal.
Following a gluten-free diet means avoiding all food that contains the protein gluten. This includes wheat, oats (oats can be gluten-free), barley, rye, and malt. It may sound difficult, but it is actually one of the easiest diets to follow. Going gluten-free certainly doesn’t mean eating cardboard crackers and bowls of cabbage. There are so many heart-warming and delicious home-made meals to explore. I should know – I make them every day!
If you’re looking for inspiration, you can try these original gluten-free recipes:
- Espresso chocolate chip muffins
- Homemade granola
- Muffin frittata
- Moroccan beef burger
- Beetroot wild rice
- Linseed bread
And if you like eating out? Don’t despair: Many restaurants also offer great gluten-free options. As long as you know what to look out for, you’ll know exactly which meals you can and cannot indulge in.
Odd Foods Where Gluten Hides
After some time, you’ll start to become familiar with where gluten lies, but even then it can still trip you up. Here are some odd foods where gluten may hide:
- Coffee (some instant coffee brands)
- Sauces and gravies
- Spice mixes (flour and breadcrumbs can be used as a bulking agent)
- Spreads such as Marmite and Bovril
- Crisps (sometimes the flavouring contains gluten)
- Roasted potatoes (often dusted with flour before roasting)
- Curry (often thickened/bulked up with flour)
- Pasta sauces
- Grilled fish (often dusted with flour before cooking)
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Certain chocolate bars (always look under allergens before buying)
- Alcohol, like vodka
Definitely look out for these and always make sure you read the allergens list on any food product. Even though it may seem challenging at first, you’ll undoubtedly quickly get the hang of your new gluten-free diet. And your health and body will thank you for it. I can only attest to the wonderful benefits I’ve felt living gluten-free, and I wish you the very best for your journey ahead.
Written by Drue Birch
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