Dear Diabetes: What is a gluten-free diet?
In the simplest terms, a gluten-free diet is one that contains no wheat, rye, or barley, the three grains that contain the protein gluten. Avoiding these grains – and all of the processed foods that contain them – isn’t always simple, however. Doing so can mean reading food labels scrupulously, resisting your grandma’s famous lasagna and, even on your birthday, enjoying cake from your favorite bakery.
The good news is that nature has given us a treasure trove of gluten-free foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, milk, most meats, poultry, fish, and eggs are all naturally gluten-free. There are plenty of gluten-free grains, too, including quinoa, rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, and uncontaminated oats (oats itself is gluten-free, but is often mixed with wheat, rye, or barley in the growing field or processing facility).
What to Watch For
For anyone who would like to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet, reading food labels is critical, because gluten is in many foods that may surprise you. Among the many processed foods that frequently contain hidden sources of gluten are: soy sauce, salad dressings, seasonings, licorice, deli meats, most imitation bacon products, bouillon cubes and broth, rice mixes, self-basting turkey, vitamin supplements, and even many medications.
The following words indicate the presence of wheat: durum flour, farina, graham flour, semolina, and these foods are usually made with barley: beer, ale, malt, malt vinegar, malted beverages.
Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, shared some of her favorite tips for healthful eating without gluten:
Keep Nutrients on the Menu
Because many gluten-free products are made with processed starches such as white rice, tapioca, and cornstarch, they may be low in iron, fiber, and B vitamins. This makes it more important than ever to eat nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. When choosing processed foods, look for those that have been enriched with vitamins and minerals and are a good source of fiber.
Find Satisfying Alternatives
You shouldn’t think you may have to give up your favorite foods. There are tasty gluten-free baked goods, breads, cereals, pasta, and more. Seek out brands that are fiber-rich, and, as always, remember to count the carbohydrates in your meal plan.
Seek Out Appealing Recipes
Look for nutritious recipes that are designed to incorporate gluten-free alternatives since it can be hard to convert a traditional recipe. These days, there are lots of blogs and cookbooks that focus on great gluten-free cooking.
A few additional tips: For home cooks, going gluten-free may require more pantry space. Because wheat flour performs multiple functions in a dish, you’ll probably need a variety of starches to replace it. A gluten-free muffin recipe, for example, might require a combination of white rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch.
In addition, if not all members of the household are eating gluten-free, you’ll need to work diligently to avoid cross-contamination. Buy condiments in squeeze bottles to keep knives with crumbs out, and use separate utensils, cutting boards, and toasters. Finally, mark gluten-free foods and ingredients with bright labels to avoid confusion.
One final note: once you find delicious and nutritious gluten-free products, stick with them, but continue to read labels in case the manufacturers change their ingredients.
For more stories in the Dear Diabetes series, visit The DX archive.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience