A gluten intolerance is the body’s inability to digest or break down the gluten protein found in wheat and certain other grains. Gluten intolerance (also known as a gluten sensitivity) can range from a mild sensitivity to gluten to full-blown celiac disease.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 1 out of every 133 Americans has celiac disease. This is a severe autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten consumption that leads to damage in the small intestine.
Common foods that regularly contain ingredients with gluten include:
- seasonings and spice mixes
Wheat is one of the main staples of a Western diet and is public enemy No. 1 for those with a gluten intolerance.
In addition to pure wheat, all of its forms are also off-limits. This includes:
- wheat starch
- wheat bran
- wheat germ
- cracked wheat
- fu (common in Asian foods)
- graham flour
The list of gluten-containing grains doesn’t end at wheat. Other offenders are:
- oats (oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but are often processed in facilities that produce gluten-containing grains and may be contaminated)
- triticale and Mir (a cross between wheat and rye)
Gluten may also show up as an ingredient in:
The list of off-limit items may seem daunting at first. Thankfully, there are plenty of replacements on the menu. Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free, including:
- fruits and vegetables
- dairy products
- oils and vinegars
- lean beef
Many other grains and foods are gluten-free as well:
It may seem daunting to go gluten-free at first. But for many, the advantages far outweigh the inconvenience. The first step is to get rid of all the gluten-containing products in your kitchen and stock it with alternatives such as gluten-free breads, pasta, crackers, and cereals. For baking, use substitute flours. These can include:
Eating at restaurants can be particularly challenging if you have a gluten intolerance, but this doesn’t mean you can’t ever dine out. You should be able to dodge the gluten bullet if you stick with the same types of items you eat at home, such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables.
Foods to avoid in restaurants include fried foods, certain sauces, or anything that has been fried in the same pan with a gluten-containing food.
Celiac disease requires extra caution when eating out. Make sure that dietary restrictions are communicated to the chef in advance. Certain restaurants are almost certainly out of question for those on a gluten-free diet, including fast food restaurants, buffets, salad bars, and most bakeries. On the flipside, some establishments, such as vegetarian restaurants, cater to the gluten-free diet. Some restaurants also have dedicated gluten-free prep and cook areas, but calling ahead to confirm is always a good idea.
If you have celiac disease, being gluten-free is essential for your health. A gluten-free diet may seem too challenging to deal with, but with time — and a bit of effort — it can become second nature. If you can, start off gradually, so you can get used to going gluten-free. For example, you might try one completely gluten-free meal per day and gradually add more meals until gluten is completely out of your diet. Also, a gluten-free diet is easier if you shop at stores and eat at restaurants that cater to your dietary needs.
If you want to guarantee that your food is gluten-free, cooking from scratch is the easiest way to avoid gluten. Discuss any specific dietary considerations with a doctor or dietitian.