Why do I follow a gluten free diet?
When I was younger, I had a fast metabolism allowing me to eat bowls of pasta and ice-cream, and not gain a pound. Being an athlete also helped. 🙂 That was all up until high school when one memorable day I had the sharpest stomach pains of my life. I felt bloated, and extremely full after only eating a small amount. I had NO clue what was wrong with me and figured it would go away. NOPE! This was the beginning of a loooong and painful road. From then on I struggled with fatigue, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, stomach pains, severe constipation, indigestion, a puffy face, secondary hypothyroidism and all of its symptoms, high cortisol, inflammation, and more…even leading me to have to quit my beloved soccer team my senior year of high school and having to leave a Study Abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa two weeks early in college. I had times that I read about gluten sensitivity/celiac disease and my symptoms lined up. I tried cutting gluten out of my diet off and on, but had a hard time sticking to it because I did not know if it was for sure the problem. It took 5 years to find out I had a severe gluten intolerance via a stool test.
Ever since cutting gluten completely out of my diet, these are the things that changed:
- no more debilitating fatigue ( I had to quit my soccer team, missed lots of school, and could sleep 14 hours still feeling absolutely exhausted the next day)
- puffy face gone (my face bloated up like a balloon! this made me so uncomfortable and made me hate the way i looked)
- stomach aches, reflux, bloating, and constipation all disappeared (this was a constant daily struggle…i once was constipated for over a week!! talk about misery…my stomach would always bloat to the size of a pregnant woman’s belly after a meal no matter how large or how small)
- lost the extra 5 lbs gained
- mood improved
- clearer skin
- bloating/water retention no more
- leg cramps/charlie horses disappeared
- no more hands tingling/falling asleep often
Overall, I feel like a weight has been lifted and I can live my life again! I constantly struggled with eating and knowing it would just make me feel horrible. Since I went gluten free, I can eat well and not have any symptoms afterwards! It really is a miracle. I have since completed 2 half marathons, graduated college, and I am now working full-time as a nutritionist.
Want to know the differences in Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity/Intolerance? Click here.
I want to share my story to help reach out to others who are struggling just as I was. Even if you don’t have Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance IS a problem and cutting out gluten can help you feel SO.MUCH.BETTER.
You may not be able to see a difference in the photos, but I know there was a HUGE difference, not just in how I looked but how I felt!
Gluten is the protein found in wheat that binds wheat products together. Gluten is in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (b/c they are likely contaminated when cross-processed). ANY product that contains any of these 4 ingredients on the label contains gluten and should be completely avoided.
**Other hidden terms for gluten to look out for are malt (made from barley) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (it often contains wheat).
Gluten is found in:
- cake/baked goods/muffins/pastries
- hamburger/hotdog buns
- breaded fish/chicken/etc.
- soy sauce
- some prepared salad dressings
- imitation crab
- some soups
- certain sauces
- oats (oats are harvested and manufactured closely with wheat so therefore always most likely contaminated with gluten)
So what exactly can I eat?!?!
The following are naturally gluten free foods:
- ALL fresh fruits
- ALL fresh vegetables (including potatoes!)
- lean meats
- nuts and seeds
- rice (white or brown)
- gluten free grains/flour (see below)
- rice crackers
- wine/liquor (some people have problems with vodka as it distilled from grain…but I can tolerate it fine. Something worth looking into for those with Celiac disease!)
- chips made from rice/potato/quinoa
- condiments like ketchup/mustard/hot sauce
- olive oil/almond oil/canola oil/etc
The following are GRAINS or STARCHES that are free of gluten (commonly makeup the gluten-free flours you can get at the store):
- buckwheat groats
- nut flours
Here is the latest complete list of all safe food ingredients in the US and Canada that are gluten free
Here is the latest complete list of all UNSAFE food ingredients in the US and Canada that contain gluten.
Take note: When reading labels, WHEAT-FREE is not the same as GLUTEN-FREE. Look for the “Certified Gluten Free” label to be sure a product is gluten free. When unsure about a food product, you can always contact the company and ask whether their product contains gluten or not.
Great Gluten-Free Resources:
- Mayo Clinic’s Celiac Disease Blog
- The Gluten Intolerance Group
- Going Out Gluten Free
- Foodgawker: Gluten Free Recipes
- Celiac Central
- GlutenFreeLiving Magazine
MYTH OR FACT?
1. Gluten-free is a weight loss diet.
MYTH! Some people think gluten-free is the latest fad diet to shed some extra pounds. This is a complete misconception! People who truly require to be on a gluten-free diet sometimes actually gain weight, because they finally are absorbing foods and nutrients again. Weight loss is a common symptom of Celiac Disease, so when those afflicted finally get gluten out of their diets, they tend to return to a healthier weight. The reason some people do lose weight on a gluten free diet is because they can’t eat processed cookies, crackers, microwavable dinners, desserts, pies, fast food, fried chicken, bagels, pasta, rolls, muffins, pizza, etc… due to the gluten. SO, if those who follow a GF diet eat more fruits and veggies that are naturally free of gluten then yes, they tend to lose weight now that they aren’t eating as much sugar, processed and salty foods, and refined carbs. However, many gluten-free replacement products (i.e. pizza, crusts, cookies, etc) tend to actually be HIGHER in calories or fat than their gluten counterpart because they have to add in more fillers (flavorings, eggs, binders, fat, etc) to replace the lack of gluten. If someone is trying to lose weight but does not medically need to be gluten-free, they should just focus on eating less processed/pre-packaged foods and sticking with foods as close to nature as possible: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
A gluten-free cookie is STILL a cookie…
2. Eating gluten free is much more expensive.
MYTH! This totally depends on how much foods you buy, whether you buy organic or not, and what you are eating! Fresh foods like apples, brown rice, beans, etc tend to be super cheap! The more expensive foods would be fancy juices, organic foods, already cut/pre-sliced fruits, etc. Shop local and in season, and only buy gluten-free products that you really want or need. You don’t have to shop only in the fancy healthy section of grocery stores to find gluten-free foods! Corn tortillas….$1 or less for a bag. Gluten-free does NOT necessarily mean more expensive! Stock up on staples like brown rice, eggs, low-fat yogurt, corn tortillas, whole fruits and veggies, and nuts and seeds. No need to buy the $10 box of quinoa when you can buy a $4 bag of brown rice (they are still both a nutritious gluten-free whole grain). You just gotta shop around and compare prices.
3. Celiac Disease is different from a Wheat allergy.
FACT! Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, whereas a Wheat Allergy is an allergic response to wheat (which contains gluten), but not the whole gluten category, and its symptoms include rashes, hives, and even anaphylactic shock. There is no destruction to the body tissues like with Celiac Disease and the symptoms are different.
4. You can’t eat out on a gluten free diet.
MYTH! You absolutely can enjoy a meal out safely on a gluten-free diet. There are many restaurants nowadays that have menu items listed as gluten free, as well as naturally gluten free foods you can order. Sauteed veggies, plain baked chicken, salads without croutons or fried onions, etc should be safe, steak (without any weird sauces), fresh fruit, omelets, etc are all great options that are naturally gluten free. When unsure, always speak with your waiter or the owner of the restaurant. Go online before heading out to eat and look up their menu to see what your options may be. Don’t be afraid to speak up! It is totally okay to ask what’s in a dish, to get a dish without a sauce, to ask for things on the sides, etc. Even fast-food chains have healthy gluten-free options like the grilled nuggets and fresh fries at chik fil a, grilled chicken sandwich without the bread at Wendy’s, and gluten-free pizza is now available at multiple pizza chain restaurants. Just speak up, ask, and do your research! 🙂
5. You must use gluten-free shampoo and cosmetics, too.
MYTH! It has been shown that since gluten is only a problem once INSIDE our bodies, there is absolutely no need to change out soaps, shampoos, detergents, etc to gluten-free. ONLY products that may potentially get ingested like lipbalm should maybe be gluten free. Shampoo, lotions, etc do not go through your skin and should not cause you any problems whatsoever.
6. You can have zero symptoms and still have Celiac Disease.
Some people (although very few) show NO symptoms at all and may not feel any different, as sometimes symptoms slightly come about, making the person not totally aware of them. As Celiac Disease is genetic, get yourself tested if anyone in your family has the disease even if you show no symptoms.
7. There are no complications to Celiac Disease, only the uncomfortable symptoms and having to cut out gluten for the rest of your life.
MYTH! Unfortunately, there are long-term complications if Celiac Disease is left untreated and the person continues to eat gluten. Some of these complications include infertility,malnutrition, decreased calcium absorption/osteoporosis, lactose intolerance, cancer, depression/anxiety, increased risk for schizophrenia, and short stature. SO, get yourself tested if you have symptoms or anyone in your family has Celiac Disease!