Gluten is a complex form of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and malt. For those of us with celiac disease, it destroys the villi that covers the surface area of our small intestines so that we cannot digest or absorb nutrients properly. This can result in a miriad of symptoms such as weight loss or gain, hormonal imbalance, osteoporosis, infertility, joint pain, and the list goes on and on. A gluten free lifestyle is imperative to our health. There is NO room for cheating with celiac disease and we do have to say goodbye to some of our most beloved foods (for me, it was Sicilian pizza!). There are others who do not have celiac disease but do have a gluten sensitivity and feel better overall when eliminating gluten from their diet. Whatever the case is for you, I would like to share some tips that have made me successful in living a healthy gluten free lifestyle.
MY NUMBER ONE RULE FOR CHECKING IF A PRODUCT IS TRULY GLUTEN FREE IS TO ALWAYS CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST. A cereal box may say “gluten free” in large bold colorful print on the front but as soon as you turn the box around to look at the ingredients, there is a little asterisk followed by, “manufactured on equipment that processes wheat.” WHAT?!?! These products are definitely not safe for those of us with celiac disease. Yes, it is very misleading but I have learned not to get too excited when I see the gluten free label until I have checked the small print.
Many products do not state whether or not they are gluten free so you have to know what exactly you are looking for. Again, you start by looking at the ingredient list! For some products, the obvious words “wheat” and “gluten” may not appear on the list, however, gluten may still be present. I found this fantastic list of ingredients online as a great reference (http://strengthandsunshine.com/what-to-avoid-with-celiac-disease/).
The “RED FLAGS” definitely contain gluten so if any of these ingredients are listed, that particular product is not safe to eat.
The “YELLOW FLAGS” are the tricky ones. These include ingredients which may or may not contain gluten. This happens more often than not so I first look at the company’s website and check if they have a gluten free list. If they do not, then I call or e-mail the company and ask.
While you are checking the ingredients, take a look at those nutrition facts! You will find that the label “gluten free” does not always mean healthier. In fact, many gluten free products are equivalent or often higher in calories than their wheat containing counterparts. Take a look at the comparisons below. Not only could the gluten free option be worse for your health, but it can cost you more money!
Lastly, it can certainly be a challenge when eating out if the gluten free lifestyle is new to you. In this area, more and more restaurants are aware of what a gluten free meal requires and take the precautionary measures needed. On the other hand, there have been times when I felt the server did not fully understand what gluten free meant so I asked to speak to the chef. With how prevalent the gluten free diet is becoming, chances are the chef can happily accomidate your needs so don’t be afraid to be bold and ask questions.
Happy Healthy Gluten Free Living!!!