There are numerous reasons to adopt a gluten-free diet. Among those who necessarily must adhere to a strict diet free of gluten are sufferers of celiac disease and of dermatitis herpetiformis. Some doctors believe that a gluten-free diet may also be beneficial to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders, as well as autism spectrum disorders, and even ADHD.
Generally, the mixture of proteins known as gluten is found in all products derived from wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Professional opinions vary on whether oats can be tolerated by patients, but the Celiac Society sternly advises against their inclusion in a gluten free diet. In individuals with celiac and other autoimmune diseases, when this protein comes in contact with the small intestines, it causes a physical reaction that often includes discomfort, cramping, weight loss, bloating, and nutritional deficiencies. This occurs because the gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. By removing gluten from the diet, the small intestine has the opportunity to heal!
So, when one is diagnosed with celiac disease or another disorder that requires the elimination of gluten from the diet, the natural first question is, what food should be avoided? Removing gluten from the diet is not an easy task. Grains are used to prepare many foods, and it can be difficult to tell from the name of a food if it contains gluten. For some individuals, even the smallest amount of gluten can cause them to get ill, and so they cannot even eat food that has been prepared on a surface which has been prior exposed to gluten. First of all, all breads and pastas, and anything containing wheat, rye and barely are ruled out (although there are now gluten free breads and pasta made from rice and other safe grains available at health food stores). Avoiding these grains can lead to a shortage of necessary protein in a diet. Luckily, there are alternative sources of protein that gluten-free foods will list as ingredients. In can be difficult, especially in this country, to track down gluten-free foods that are accurately labeled, although with the increasing popularity of health food stores it is becoming easier and easier to find well-labeled gluten free products of all kinds, from pies to muffins.
The most frequent substitutes for protein are:
- tapioca (which comes from the cassava plant)
- various types of bean, soybean, and nut flours, including fermented soy products such as tofu
The following, though less frequently found, can also be used as alternative sources of starch and grains:
- sorghum (jowar)
- sweet potato
Also, despite its incriminating name, pure buckwheat is not related to wheat. But be careful, since many commercial buckwheat flours are in fact mixtures of buckwheat and normal wheat flours, and therefore not acceptable for inclusion on a list of gluten free foods.
At one time it was thought that oats contained gluten, but actually, it is just that they are generally processed in facilities that process gluten. To be safe, it is best only to eat products containing oats if they are specifically labeled as being safe for a gluten free diet.
Since so many processed foods contain gluten, the safest way to maintain a gluten free diet is to prepare the majority of your food from scratch, unless it is specifically made for individuals following a gluten free diet. Fortunately, as people become more aware of the issues caused by gluten, more and more gluten-free recipes for everything under the sun are being developed. Even delicious desserts, such as chocolate cakes, brownies and cookies, can be made gluten free with just a little bit of knowledge. So, if it is necessary for you to follow a gluten free diet, don’t be discouraged. With just a little adjustment, you will find that you won’t have to give up on any of your favorite foods! Have a look at the rest of our articles for some amazing and inspiring gluten free dessert recipes that are sure to satisfy any palate.