Because of health problems caused by coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, many people need to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is a substance found in wheat, barley, rye and some types of oats. Even a little gluten can cause problems for sensitive individuals, so consider hidden ingredients and cross-contamination. Numerous whole foods don't contain gluten, and despite wheat's historical place as a mainstay in Western diets, it is possible to avoid all products that contain the grain. And cravings and feelings of deprivation can be addressed by the ever-increasing number of gluten-free products available.
What to Eat
The following foods are all gluten free: plain meats, poultry, fish, rice, corn, tofu, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, quinoa, buckwheat, tapioca, amaranth, teff, chia, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sprouts, chips, popcorn, rice cakes, wine, many dairy products and oats that are labelled gluten free.
When shopping it is very important to read labels. For example, corn tortillas, rice cereals and many other products on grocery shelves are theoretically free of glutens, but some brands add malt flavouring or monosodium glutamate (MSG), both of which will sidetrack a gluten-free diet.
Fortunately, many manufacturers now state on the labels of their foods whether the product contains gluten.
What to Avoid
Eliminate wheat and all wheat products. In addition, bread, pasta, crackers and other products that contain barley, rye, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), spelt, farina, couscous, durum, bulgar, semolina and graham are off limits when it comes to a gluten-free diet.
Avoid processed foods with fillers, flavours, and preservatives that contain gluten. This can be difficult unless the label specifically mentions wheat or barley. Terms such as modified food starch may be either corn or wheat. Natural flavours, spices, carmellose sodium and other ingredients are suspect. Beware of grain vinegar, which may be stated on a label of pickles or mustard as simply vinegar. If it says "distilled vinegar," it is safe to use.
Unless a restaurant has a dedicated gluten-free menu, assume that foods share oil and utensils used in preparation. Most sauces, batters, seasonings and soups contain gluten. Call the restaurant ahead of time and explain the situation so that servers aren't caught unprepared. Search online for restaurants that serve gluten-free pizza and unseasoned french fries, for instance, and ask for salad with dressing on the side. Even some amusement parks offer gluten-free options. In theatres, schools and work cafeterias, however, packing your own snacks is the best way to avoid trouble. When visiting a friend's house or attending large family gatherings, it might be wise to bring a dish to share.
Even regular supermarkets are stocking some packaged mixes and manufactured products for the increasing number of customers on a special diet. Cookies, crackers, cakes and even bread are no longer forbidden foods---although prices may be high and tastes vary, so don't fill your shopping trolley the first time around. Whole Foods and other "health-minded" grocery stores, along with Internet outlets, offer the best selection.
Support groups for people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance can be found in many communities or online. And families should support gluten-free members of their households for practical reasons as well as emotional ones. A toaster used for wheat bread cannot be used for gluten-free bread because contamination will occur. The inflammation and damage that gluten can cause is not worth being lazy or careless.
Finally, variety is the spice of life, so be adventurous and try new foods or old foods made new ways, such as pasta made from rice. With plenty of company and things to eat, being gluten-free doesn't need to be a difficult road to hoe.
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