Today, gluten-free products are everywhere, and going gluten free is a hot topic. Grocery store shelves are packed with gluten-free products, restaurants label gluten-free menu items, and the media is full of articles on the subject, including the latest celebrities to adopt the trend. The overwhelming amount of new food labels and information can be confusing to anyone new to the gluten-free movement.

In this guide, we will take a look at the gluten-free diet, who can benefit from it and why people make the switch. We will also provide some tips for how to go gluten free and some sample recipes. Read on to find out if a gluten-free diet could be right for you and how to make the switch.

Why Are People Making the Change?

There is no doubt that gluten-free foods are gaining in popularity and availability, and the popular gluten-free diet is fueling the increase in new products and menu items. At the heart of these changes are those with an immune disease called celiac disease. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, people with celiac disease can not eat gluten because it damages their small intestine and may cause symptoms such as abdominal pain and irritability. For people with this disease, eating a gluten-free diet can heal damage to the small intestine and improve symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Today, testing for and diagnosing celiac disease is easier than ever, so more and more people are finding out they have the disorder, and awareness is increasing. Along with this awareness, many others are self-diagnosing and trying a gluten-free diet on their own. Some people also have gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy, which are different than celiac disease but may cause similar symptoms. Many people with these conditions find a gluten-free diet to be helpful too.

Many other people also report that a gluten-free diet is helping them to lose weight, although these claims have not been scientifically proven. It’s possible that these people are simply eating healthier overall, and this is the source of the weight loss. Regardless, stories like these are all over the media, prompting more people to try the trend for themselves and fueling the burgeoning gluten-free market.

Who Can Benefit From a Gluten-Free Diet?

While the gluten-free diet is very trendy right now, it’s important to note that many experts believe it is most helpful to those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities or allergies. Almost 30 percent of American adults are interested in cutting back gluten in their diets, believing this to be a healthy decision. However, only one percent of Americans are actually gluten intolerant. So, while celiac disease and gluten sensitivities are on the rise, they still represent a small portion of the population.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which dietary gluten can cause damage to the small intestine, leading to other health complications. When someone with celiac disease consumes foods containing gluten, their body reacts by mounting an immune response that attacks the villi — small projections lining the small intestines. This damage prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to numerous issues such as nutritional deficiencies, lactose intolerance, anemia and fertility issues as well as issues with the gall bladder and pancreas and neurological issues.

For these reasons, going gluten free is a medical necessity for those with celiac disease. It may also be beneficial for those with gluten intolerances or an allergy to a food that contains gluten. Many others have either self-diagnosed a gluten intolerance and report feeling better after cutting out gluten. Others have tried the trend and reported losing weight. However, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support this. In fact, many experts say that most people who do not have gluten sensitivities won’t see any benefit from a gluten-free diet, and some processed gluten-free foods have less fiber and nutrients than their counterparts. It’s important to talk to your doctor before making the change.

Benefits of Going Gluten Free

Gluten is the protein in wheat, but it can also be found in other grains like barley and rye. Although this protein causes adverse reactions in anyone with gluten sensitivities, for most people, it is not harmful. In fact, many whole-grain foods that contain gluten are nutrient-rich and considered very healthy.

When a gluten-free diet is done properly — with the right nutrients — it can provide many health benefits to those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Gluten can cause a host of digestive problems in a celiac patient, including bloating, gas, headaches, fatigue, “brain fog” and itchy skin. Left untreated, celiac disease can also lead to more serious complications like depression, osteoporosis, infertility and more.

After switching to a completely gluten-free diet, most people with gluten sensitivities report that their previous symptoms clear up within weeks. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the digestive issues and other health complications caused by consuming gluten generally improve with a gluten-free diet.

For those without gluten sensitivities, the benefits of switching to this diet are a little less clear. Some people report that they experienced relief from digestive problems or lost weight. There’s no harm in cutting gluten, as long as it’s done carefully to avoid missing out on key nutrients. Eating as many whole foods as possible is key — many processed gluten-free breads, pastas and other products have fewer nutrients and more fillers like sugar and fat. With a little research, however, a gluten-free diet can be perfectly healthy.

Common Misconceptions of Gluten-Free Living

As with any new diet trend, myths and misconceptions abound around going gluten free. Unfortunately, it’s these myths that draw even more attention, perpetuating the spread of incorrect information. Here are three of most common misconceptions about gluten-free living:

  1. Going gluten free leads to weight loss. Even though some people claim that they’ve lost weight on a gluten-free diet, the evidence is anecdotal at best, and the gluten-free lifestyle was never meant to be a weight loss plan. While it is absolutely possible to lose weight while on a gluten-free diet, cutting gluten alone doesn’t necessarily contribute to the weight loss. Eating processed gluten-free versions of foods like breads and pastas can actually be less healthy than the regular versions, so it’s important to eat nutritious whole foods, especially if weight loss is the goal.
  2. Gluten is bad for everyone. With all the hype around gluten-free diets, it can be easy to assume that gluten is the enemy for everyone. Gluten does wreak havoc for anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerances, but without these conditions, gluten is a perfectly healthy part of any diet. Gluten is found in whole grains and other healthy foods that are rich in nutrients like protein, fiber, B vitamins and probiotics.
  3. A small amount of gluten is okay for someone who is gluten intolerant. For anyone dealing with celiac disease and gluten intolerances, even a small amount of foods containing gluten can cause problems. It can be tempting to have just a taste of bread or a bite of pasta, but even small amounts can cause damage if you have celiac disease. For these people, it’s best to abstain completely and not just cut back on foods with gluten.

Tips for Going Gluten Free

If you’re ready to make the switch to the gluten-free lifestyle, it can be daunting to know what to eat and what to avoid. Here are some tips to help you make the transition:

  • Always read labels. When you’re cutting out all sources of gluten, you’ll have to get used to always reading nutrition labels before buying or eating, scanning for any gluten ingredients. Know which ingredients to avoid, as gluten may not always appear as an ingredient. Look for wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats and Kamut. You should also be aware that you may find gluten in unexpected places such as sauces and gravies, beers, candies and even some cosmetics, vitamins and supplements. With some practice, you’ll learn to avoid these products.
  • Load up on naturally gluten-free foods. Stick to fresh whole foods like fruits and vegetables, and you’ll still have a diet full of tasty, naturally healthy foods. Going gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t have any grains. Try naturally gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, millet and amaranth. Practice swapping in these grains in some of your favorite recipes.
  • Treat yourself with gluten-free substitutes. While most popular carbohydrates contain gluten — like breads, pastas and crackers — there are many alternative products on the market today for the gluten-free eater. Being gluten free doesn’t mean you have to miss out completely on your favorite foods. With so many products available, there are plenty to try. If you like to cook and bake at home, gluten-free recipes abound, so you can make your own fresh breads and pastas too.
  • Be mindful of cross-contamination. Whether at home or out at a restaurant, for anyone who is sensitive to gluten products, it’s helpful to be aware of possible sources of contamination. For example, even if a restaurant offers gluten-free varieties of breads or pizza doughs, they may share the same cutting boards, knives, toasters and ovens as regular products. Butter, sauces and other condiments may be contaminated by knives used for other food products. Keep your own kitchen clean, and ask lots of questions when dining out to avoid possible contamination.

Tips for Eating Gluten Free When Eating Out

You may have label reading and grocery shopping down to a science and have an impeccably clean kitchen, but eating at a friend’s house or restaurant can be a completely different story. Much of the food prep is out of your control, so you need to know what to look for and what to ask to ensure the food you eat is gluten free. Here are some tips for going gluten free and eating out:

  • Dine at certified restaurants. The Gluten Intolerance Group provides certification for restaurants that are committed to the gluten-free community. You can dine with confidence at these certified restaurants, knowing your food is safe. These restaurants must meet strict quality standards and go through regular check-ins. If there are no certified restaurants near you, look for restaurants that have gluten-free options on the menu. Before dining out, do your research online and look at menus before you go. Call ahead of time, during the restaurant’s non-busy hours, to clear up any questions.
  • Inform the waitstaff. Once you arrive at a restaurant, inform your server of your gluten intolerance and ask if they’re aware of what that involves. If they’re not, politely ask to speak with the manager or chef. Make sure that the staff understands that if you consume gluten, you will become very sick and that they know which ingredients contain gluten. Ask the staff any questions you have about the ingredients and menu items to make sure that they are suitable for your diet. Be polite and respectful of staff members — this is an opportunity to educate about the gluten-free lifestyle. Knowledgeable chefs may even be able to create a custom dish just for you.
  • Look for simple dishes. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of gluten-free foods and all of the “hidden” ingredients before dining out. When you are at a restaurant, look for menu items that are simple and fresh, avoiding breading, sauces and gravies. With practice, you will learn the common menu items that are safest for a gluten-free diet and how to avoid possible cross-contamination issues when dining out.
  • Have a backup plan. You should be prepared to order something that may not be your first choice, especially if you can’t quite determine the ingredients or there is a lack of gluten-free options. If your pre-dining research shows a lack of menu options, you can eat healthy snacks at home before going out or bring along gluten-free breads or pastas and ask the chef to use these items for your meal, instead of conventional breads and pastas. Be sure to request a clean pot be used for your pasta to avoid any cross-contamination.

If you are dining at a friend’s house or attending a holiday party, offer to bring a dish so that you know you’ll have at least one gluten-free option to eat when you get there. You can also talk to the host in advance of the event about your sensitivities. They may be able to accommodate your dietary requests or at least provide you with the recipes, so you know what ingredients will be used and which dishes are safe for you to eat.

Whether dining at a restaurant or a private event, be assertive with your questions but also be courteous, explain your diet politely and do not assume that others will fully understand or cater to your specifications. If there’s any doubt as to hidden ingredients, just go without and eat something else or eat at home later.

Gluten-Free Cooking Swaps

When you’re cooking at home, don’t despair over losing your favorite breads, pastas, crackers and other ingredients. There are so many easy and creative swaps to keep you satisfied with delicious meals. Here are just a few of our favorite ideas for gluten-free cooking:

  • Homemade baked goods: Try making your own breads, pastas, tortillas and more from gluten-free flours and ingredients. Of course, you can buy gluten-free versions of these products at the grocery store, but making your own means you can experiment and find the mix of gluten-free flours and ingredients that best fit your preferences.
  • Lettuce as buns and wraps: Leaves of lettuce can stand in for bread, buns and tortillas in lots of different dishes, serving as a healthy, natural alternative. Try using lettuce to replace buns for burgers, bread for sandwiches and taco shells.
  • Vegetable noodles: While there are some gluten-free pastas on the market that you can try, why not use naturally gluten-free veggies for an easy and healthy swap? Use a spiral cutter on veggies like zucchini and carrots, or use roasted spaghetti squash in place of regular noodles. Top any of these with your favorite gluten-free sauces and toppings.
  • Homemade dressings and condiments: Conventional versions of salad dressings, dips and other condiments are a common source of MSG and other hidden gluten ingredients. Learning to make your own helps you ensure that your condiments are gluten free. Of course, gluten-free versions of these products are available at stores, but they often contain preservatives and artificial ingredients.
  • Coconut aminos: Soy sauce is another condiment with hidden gluten ingredients. Coconut aminos, on the other hand, are not only gluten free but also lower on the glycemic index and lower in sodium. The sauce tastes very similar to regular soy sauce and is full of raw enzymes and has more amino acids than soy sauce. It’s a super healthy swap for any recipe calling for soy sauce.
  • Use gluten-free oils: Most cooking oils are naturally gluten free. However, cross-contamination can be a problem as can flavored oils that may have gluten ingredients and additives. Be sure to use high-quality oils, labeled as gluten free for the safest cooking. The premium oils from La Tourangelle are all gluten free and are also free of chemicals, BPA and GMOs.

When you’re out shopping for groceries, a plethora of gluten-free products await, and many brands use healthy, alternative whole grains. You can still enjoy breads, crackers, cereals, pastas and more if you know what ingredients to look for.

Recommended Gluten-Free Recipes

On a gluten-free diet, you can still make plenty of delicious recipes. With the increase in popularity of this diet today, there are many gluten-free cookbooks available, and a quick internet search reveals thousands of recipes to try. Whether you are a foodie who loves to try challenging recipes, or just want some quick and easy ideas, you’re sure to find something to try.

Try these three delicious and easy recipes:

  • Summer berry salad: This delicious salad has all the fresh flavors of summer — use whatever mix of berries you have on hand. A classic balsamic vinaigrette from La Tourangelle rounds out the flavors with organic olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar.
  • Roasted salmon sheet pan dinner: With everything in one pan, this recipe is quick and easy — and doesn’t dirty a lot of dishes. Featuring harvest-fresh vegetables like fennel, green beans and ripe cherry tomatoes and topped with lemon and basil, this recipe is full of fresh flavor. The basil flavor is taken up a notch with the use of basil-infused oil too.
  • Chicken sheet pan dinner: Another one-pan recipe, this dinner takes its cues from the classic flavors of fall, using squash, kale and cranberries. This recipe uses both grapeseed oil and walnut oil for cooking as well as a walnut vinaigrette to finish off the meal and add delicious, rich flavors.

Check out all of the delicious recipes and ideas at La Tourangelle. Their certified gluten-free artisan oils add a delicious touch to any recipe, elevating the flavors of your meal.