A gluten free diet is simple once you figure out exactly what to avoid, and then what to include.
The good news is that there are only four grains that need to be avoided.
The bad news is that one of the four villainous grains is wheat, which unfortunately is ubiquitous in our foods.
The other good news is that in the past few years there's been great attention paid to gluten sensitivities as a food allergy. Food companies, restaurants and society in general are beginning to pay attention, because customers like you are taking control of their health!
Sure gluten free diets are not mainstream yet, but the term is becoming a lot more familiar than it was even a decade ago, thanks to increased media attention.
A gluten free diet is usually recommended to people with celiac disease. A lot of people who have not necesarily been diagnosed with celiac are gluten intolerant or have a gluten sensitivity.
Intolerance to gluten can range from mild to severe symptoms, so while some people will react to even the smallest trace amount of gluten in their food, others are a bit more tolerant.
Once you go on a gluten free diet, you may worry that you're going to have to give up eating breads and pastries. Not necessarily so. I still enjoy lots of gluten free baked goods, albeit with caution for maintaining a healthy nutrient intake balance.
Gluten, pronounced glOO-ten, is a protein found in certain grains - it's the glue (literally) that gives most flour dough that characteristic stickiness and elasticity.
This is the quality that makes these flours the most useful for just about anything that needs to be stuck together -- from play-dough to chapati to pastries.
1. Wheat - sometimes wheat ingredients will be listed in its various other names. So look out for the following wheat alter egos: durum, semolina, graham flour, bulgur, kamut, spelt. These are just wheat dressed in sheep skin.
The unfortunately named buckwheat -- used in baking etc -- is NOT related to wheat and is a gluten free product.
Please be sure to check the ingredients of everything you buy -- if it isn't labeled "gluten free", then find out why. You'll be surprised how much food companies use wheat in just about anything and everything they package.
2. Barley -- Sometimes you will see this labeled as malt, malt flavoring etc. The term "malt" itself isn't synonymous with barley. However, barley is the most commonly malted grain. So if you see the term "malt" anywhere, you can bet money barley was the victim.
This grain may not be as ubiquitous in our foods as wheat, but it's still used in lots of products, such as veggie burgers, tempeh, granola etc. Once again, if you're not sure, look for the label just to be safe.
Most beer is made using barley malt and/or wheat. Products such as Milo and Ovaltine are also made with malt. Also note that malted milk is not just innocent milk, it's mixed with barley and wheat.
3. Rye -- Although not as commonly used as wheat and barley, rye is yet nother grain that must be avoided in a gluten free diet.
Pumpernickel bread is the most famous example of a product that uses rye flour as its main ingredient. Althouh rye is rarely used as a stand alone flour in baking these days, it can be found in alcoholic beverages, and is also used as an additive in breads and other foods.
4. Triticale - so, wheat and rye mated, and they produced Triticale - fancy name, but is actually a wheat and rye hybrid.
Although triticale is mostly used in fodder for animals, it can be found in some packaged human foods.
The scientific name for wheat family is "triticum", so as a rule beware of anything that has triticum 'this or that' listed in its ingredients.
Other grains such as oats may be contaminated with gluten, so exercise your personal judgement there.
A quick note: when you go grocery shopping, or to eat out, don't put too much credence in asking the attendants if products are gluten free or not. If it's not labeled as such, they're likely just guessing.
After reading the above, I bet your question probably is, so what the heck then can you eat ?
This site is your guide for all the questions related to gluten sensitivities. Plus I've put together a list of gluten free foods and grains for starters, so that you're well versed as to how to go about shopping for your gluten free meals.
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