You’re Gluten-Free – Now what?
If you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
You may find yourself wondering – what can I eat? Or thinking – that sounds complicated. . .
You may also wonder if you’ll turn in to one of those “health nuts”, or if your dietary restriction will leave you lacking or deficient in something.
You might think – shopping is going to take forever, and what if I forget my glasses? Am I going to spend all my time reading ingredient lists or wondering if I can safely eat something?
Am I going to be stuck breaking the bank for bricks of dry crumbly bread or tasteless cardboard? You might wonder what you’ll be able to have for breakfast. Cereal… you might think longingly. What about granola bars or toast?
You might think your life is ruined and that you want to cry. Or wonder what you’ll do when you’re on vacation or out with friends. You might also think – I don’t want to be a bother. That’s OK. Don’t get disheartened.
You might finally start to feel a whole bunch better – and it might not be as hard as you think.
You might finally get to the bottom of symptoms that have been plaguing you for years. And, think of all the energy it takes to deal with these symptoms. You can now use that energy on different things. Freedom!
Gluten-free products are much more clearly labelled than they’ve been in the past. They’re also much more readily available, and their texture has improved. More people are aware of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity now. It might not be as hard as you think.
You may find that once you start paying attention to how what you eat makes you feel physically and emotionally it’s easier stay gluten-free.
Keep in mind that symptoms can show up 1-3 days after you’ve eaten the gluten. Linking the gluten-related pain or symptoms you feel when eating these foods can be an important step.
You might realize that you accidentally ate gluten, and now you’re going to feel sick for a couple of days; and that sucks! But think of it like a learning opportunity. At least you’re aware of it now!
When you’re first going gluten free
Just know that it can be difficult, and you will get better at it over time. Mindset and perspective are important. Learning about gluten, and planning when you’re on the road or away from home can also be important.
Be gentle with yourself. Aim for progress, not perfection. I’ve been gluten free for almost six years now, and there will still be times where I slip up and feel the gluten-pain. Reading ingredient lists, mindset, enlisting the support of friends and family, and listening to your body are all key. And, just know I have had patients say, “That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.” after going gluten-free.
Gluten-free products are much more readily available now than they’ve been in the past. Products are also usually labeled as “gluten-free”, “contains wheat” or “contains gluten”. The texture of gluten-free products has also improved. Also, more people are aware of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity now.
Gluten is found in several grains
These include: wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt, and kamut. Oats are often contaminated with gluten. Other names for these include but are not limited to: wheat and oat bran, graham, wheat germ, bulgur, durum, and semolina.
Some people with gluten-sensitivity find that wheat will bother them, whereas other grains do not. Some grains or grain varieties contain more gluten than others. Some people may find they can tolerate small amounts of gluten, where others may not.
If you have Celiac disease, it’s very important that you follow a gluten-free diet regardless of the symptoms you feel to avoid long term health consequences. However, there are lots of gluten-free options.
It’s important to read ingredient lists and ask restaurant staff about gluten-free options
There are many foods that contain gluten or are contaminated with gluten. So, it’s important to read ingredient lists or ask restaurant staff about gluten-free options and food preparation.
It’s important to read food labels every time you shop and look for ingredients that may contain gluten, or a statement like “contains wheat” or “contains gluten” or “gluten-free” . Know that unfortunately, ingredients can change without notice, even on foods that you have bought before. Make reading food labels a habit. And, if you’re unsure about an ingredient, call the company and ask questions.
When it comes to restaurants, have they checked with their suppliers about which products may contain gluten and which ones don’t? Are there opportunities for cross-contamination? For example, do restaurant staff use the same toaster for regular bread and gluten-free bread? Are there other opportunities for cross-contamination like deep fryers, scoops at the bulk food store, or not changing gloves or cleaning food preparation surfaces after handling bread?
It’s important to listen to your body
It’s also important to listen to your body. If you know how gluten affects you, you can start to recognize when you might have inadvertently eaten some gluten and figure out the source. Keep in mind that a reaction to eating gluten can take up to 1-3 days after eating the food to appear.
If you are gluten-free you need to make sure you’re getting enough fiber; especially soluble fiber. Many gluten-free foods are made with refined flours and starches which are low in fiber. Foods with high amounts of soluble fiber include: blueberries, pears, okra, eggplant, mushrooms, ground flaxseed, and psyllium. For more information on fiber and the gluten-free diet visit Eat Right Ontario.
Following a gluten-free diet can be an interesting way to learn more about what’s in our food
We can learn to eat higher quality foods that have fewer ingredients. Foods that are less processed, or closer to nature often offer us more nutritional value than foods that are processed. But just because a product is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider for direct and individualized advice before making any changes.
Social impact of going gluten free
Eating is a social experience so don’t let your gluten sensitivity or the fact that you have celiac get in the way of your social life. People are more aware of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity than ever before. The Canadian Celiac Association has some great resources on navigating social situations. http://www.celiac.ca/ Look under Gluten-Free – Social Situations.