Wondering what a gluten-free diet is?
This article will teach you everything about a gluten-free diet, its mechanisms, advantages, and disadvantages.
You will take a whiff of exemplary menus and become prepared for its effects. Let’s start with the basics by explaining the definition of grains and gluten.
If you wonder how to take care of your and others’ nutrition and compose professional menus, consider this. You will learn not only how to plan diets but also gain knowledge and skills needed to become healthier.
If the nutrition is in your area of interests and a thought of becoming a professional dietician have crossed your mind you should also check out how to become a dietitian.
Cereals and cereal products
Cereals and the products obtained from them are the basis of every human’s nutrition.
If you want to eat healthily, focus mainly on complex carbohydrates, because saccharides represent the highest percentage of our daily nutrient requirements.
Wholegrain products are high in fiber and are more valuable than highly processed foods (for example, crispy breakfast cereals-called instant meals).
Cereals contain micronutrients such as iron, selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, and the aforementioned fiber, which stimulates the intestines.
The type of carbohydrates and their content in food have a significant impact on our health. Excess or deficiency of carbohydrates in the diet increases the risk of developing diet-related diseases: diabetes, atherosclerosis, obesity and cancer.
However, you have to remember that before doing a functional training or any other high impact physical activity, you should avoid wholegrain products.
What is gluten?
The fruit of cereals is a caryopsis – a grain consisting of an endosperm, a germ and fruit-seed cover (husk). The germ is the most important part of the grain.
Gluten is a complex of proteins found in the embryo: wheat, rye, barley, oats, their derivatives and hybrid varieties (for example triticale). Gluten is a mixture of the vegetable proteins gliadin and glutenin.
It is gluten in the prepared dough for bread (or for the bottom of the pizza) that causes the structure to be viscoelastic (elastic, sticky, ductile).
Gluten binds fat with water, emulsifies and stabilizes. For many people, everyday life is unbearable without fresh, fragrant, gluten-free bread.
Bread is the basis of many breakfasts, and cereal products are the perfect idea for a healthy meal. Gluten is an excellent carrier of aromas, therefore, it is also added to spices for taste qualities.
Rye, also known as European grain (78.7% of production in Northern Europe), and wheat are the most popular crops. Apart from carbohydrates, wheat also contains up to 15% of protein, of which as much as 80% is gluten.
The question is: why is the protein naturally found in grain so controversial?
When does gluten become a problem?
Part of the population suffers from chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, nausea, headache, pain in the limbs, and ‘tired all the time’ syndrome.
The non-specific list of symptoms may include anemia, skin lesions (including AD) and diseases related to the nervous system.
The cause of these complaints may be some type of hypersensitivity or a gluten-related disease. Wheat grains contain the greatest amount of protein and even 20 allergens that can cause a food allergy.
If our body recognizes gluten as a toxin, a battle begins where the immune cells fight the enemy. Inflammation occurs, the effects of which may be mild (for example fatigue, flatulence) or severe (anemia, weight loss). Did you know that 6% of people in the world suffer from a condition related to gluten sensitivity?
There is a need to maximize yields and several other human expectations towards nature forced the genetic modification of food.
Environmental factors influence the development of modern diseases. However, the causes of it related to the body’s incorrect reaction to gluten are not fully understood.
Old wheat varieties such as einkorn, emmer or spelled with less gluten were thought to be safer for “gluten-free people”.
Unfortunately, people suffering from intolerances, allergies or celiac disease cannot consume derivatives of their products, because this amount of gluten is enough to cause undesirable symptoms.
A gluten-free diet has become fashionable. It has been publicized by marketing campaigns and promoted by artists. Gluten-free products draw attention as grocery stores, bakeries and eateries try to encourage customers to buy them.
This type of elimination diet is the subject of much scientific research and the cause of social debates that arouse much controversy among nutritionists.
A gluten-free diet is associated with health, and a gluten-full diet with a lack thereof. It all started with a medical condition called coeliac disease. Is gluten our enemy or friend?
Gluten-free diet – for whom?
Nutrition, in the case of various types of nutritional intolerances, consists in applying an elimination diet, for example, a gluten-free diet. Diagnosing intolerance, distinguishing it from allergies, hypersensitivity, or diet-related disease – is sometimes very difficult. Elimination is used to recognize the body’s reaction to the lack of a specific ingredient in the menu.
Following an elimination diet should be monitored by your doctor, and its use should result from medical indications. Self-undertaking of dietary restrictions may cause difficulties in diagnosing and a source of deficiencies in the body.
A gluten-free diet is aimed at people who need to exclude this ingredient from their daily diet.
The availability of gluten-free products makes it easier to provide the body with the nutrients. A gluten-free diet is not tasteless – dishes can be delicious, rich in a variety of ingredients and, above all, healthy.
Genetic disorders require adherence to the recommendations of a gluten-free diet practically throughout life. Periodic intolerances may force a temporary change in habits (gluten withdrawal) until symptoms from the gastrointestinal tract disappear.
Gluten can be found in many foods, including:
- flour and bread: wheat, rye and of the “old” wheat varieties: spelt, emmer, einkorn;
- pasta: plain wheat, durum wheat, coarse-grained durum wheat flour – semolina (contains gluten, is tolerated by some people with allergies);
- flakes: spelt, oat, corn (with the addition of barley malt or flour contaminated with gluten);
- groats: barley, pearl barley, semolina;
- spices, including ketchup, mayonnaise, concentrates, sauces;
- dairy products: yoghurt, cheese, cream;
- meat and meat products: cold cuts, minced meat (including packaged meat);
- fish preserves;
- sweets: cakes, biscuits, chocolates, candies, lollipops, ice cream;
- beverages, including alcoholic ones: instant coffee containing grain coffee, beer;
- dried fruits.
Gluten-free products – designation
The European Licensing System is a program aiming to mark safe gluten-free products with a common, well-recognized symbol throughout Europe of the crossed ear.
For the product to be marked as “gluten-free”, it must be tested in an accredited laboratory. Thus, the allowable amount of gluten in the product is 20 ppm (maximum).
- rice (white, brown), rice flakes, rice starch;
- corn, corn starch;
- millet (millet groats), buckwheat (buckwheat groats);
- amaranth, quinoa, sorghum;
- locust bean (carob);
- walnut and nut flour;
- cassava, tapioca (starch);
- soybean, lentils, beans, and peas;
- potatoes (potato starch), sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes);
- dairy products: milk, natural yoghurt, kefir, buttermilk, cream, cheese;
- fats: butter, olive oil, vegetable oil;
- meat and fish (unprocessed);
- fruits and vegetables;
- spices: cooking soda, salt, pepper, herbs, wine and apple vinegar, gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free baking powder;
- beverages: tea, coffee, fruit juices, mineral waters, compotes, herbal infusions, pure alcohols;
- sugar and sweets: jams, honey, kissel and puddings made of potato flour (other gluten-free sweets).
Gluten-free diet – why you should use it
Diseases whose common denominator is “the gluten problem” are caused, among others, by the malabsorption syndrome. The group of gluten-dependent diseases (autoimmune glutenopathies) are:
- coeliac disease,
- gluten allergy,
- Dühring’s disease,
- gluten sensitivity.
A state of malaise, which is not short term, leads to the development of a disease entity with specific symptoms and course. Malabsorption syndrome is a syndrome of:
- abnormal digestion,
- abnormal bowel motility,
- clinical symptoms arising from the above disorders.
A harmful substance that has been introduced into the body through food (gluten) can have devastating health effects for the disease-stricken person.
Malabsorption syndrome can occur at any age, and the most common symptoms are:
- coeliac disease,
- lactose intolerance and allergy to cow’s milk protein,
- secondary absorption syndrome.
Coeliac disease – an autoimmune disease
People born with certain genetic predispositions and relatives of sick people are at risk of developing coeliac disease. The essence of this disease’s treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet.
The autoimmune disease has negative consequences. After consuming gluten products, the immune system recognizes the ingredient as a toxin that needs to be killed. It comes to a situation when our body – which should be an ally in the fight against a potential disease – becomes an enemy.
Coeliac disease is a disease characterized by autoimmune cellular processes. The errors that arise in the communication of the immune system mean that the lymphocytes that take care of our immunity daily contribute to the development of morphological changes. What’s the effect? Damage and atrophy of the intestinal villi. The cause? Gluten.
Because of the changes, the tightness of intercellular connections is reduced, and the permeability of the intestinal barrier increases. The consequence of coeliac disease is a disturbance in the metabolism of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients essential for health.
Coeliac disease: how to recognize it?
Coeliac disease is a visceral disease that relates to symptoms not only of the digestive system, but also of other internal organs, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
A laboratory test used to diagnose and monitor disease helps to diagnose coeliac disease by confirming specific IgA or IgG antibodies against:
- tissue transglutaminase (tTG)
- smooth muscle endomysium (EmA),
- deaminated gliadin peptides (DGP).
In the diagnostic process of coeliac disease there is also used a genetic testing for the presence or absence of antigens – these are HLA-DQ2 or DQ8 histocompatibility antigens. A very important test is gastroscopy, the result of which in the form of an image (the condition of the intestinal mucosa) and a sample allows to exclude or confirm the disease.
1 in 133 Americans suffer from coeliac disease (approximately 1% of the population) and 83% of them are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other medical conditions.
Coeliac disease symptoms:
- chronic diarrhea and abdominal pain,
- symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome,
- malnutrition, anemia, weight loss, growth failure,
- herpetiform dermatitis, mouth ulcers,
- nervous system symptoms,
- other symptoms, such as epilepsy, migraine, depression, muscle weakness, and impaired coordination.
The only cure for people suffering from coeliac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet in which it is not allowed to eat any wheat, barley, rye and oat products. You should also avoid products potentially contaminated with gluten in the technological process.
Gluten allergy is a condition that is often confused with coeliac disease. A food allergy to wheat involves one or more proteins (albumin, gluten, gliadin, globulin), and a gluten allergy is caused by only one specific allergen. If an allergy is confirmed, the basic principle of treatment is to introduce a gluten-free diet.
Gluten allergy – symptoms:
- diarrhea, vomiting,
- skin changes (atopic dermatitis, urticaria),
- runny nose (watery),
- swelling or itching of the mouth, throat,
- anaphylactic shock.
Dühring’s disease is called herpetic dermatitis or cutaneous coeliac disease because it causes characteristic lumps and/or blisters that are usually very itchy. It includes the face, elbows, knees, buttocks and the area of the aitchbone.
Dühring’s disease symptoms, as a skin and intestinal syndrome, come down to skin eruptions and pruritus, and to a lesser extent, intestinal disorders. A family history of coeliac disease increases the risk of Dühring’s disease among the relatives.
Dühring’s disease symptoms:
- burning of seemingly benign skin lesions (scratches, scabs),
- symptoms of malabsorption syndrome,
- dental enamel defects (up to 50% of adults with Dühring’s disease).
The exclusion of coeliac disease, Dühring’s disease and gluten allergy, with the simultaneous persistence of undesirable symptoms after consuming a gluten product, shows the appearance of gluten sensitivity. There are no pathological changes in the intestinal villi of the sick people.
Gluten sensitivity – symptoms:
- Stomach ache, headache,
- rash, eczema,
- constant tiredness, weakness,
- diarrhea, flatulence, constipation,
- numbness and pain in the limbs,
- nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in the esophagus,
Gluten-free diet – effects: facts and myths
Among people struggling with gluten-related diseases, a gluten-free diet is simply an integral part of the therapy, and the patients follow strict guidelines throughout their life.
What are the effects of a gluten-free diet? Primarily, a better mood and fewer side effects.
In many cases, the unknowing (or intentional) consumption of gluten-containing products can cause serious health complications, such as intestinal damage.
Antibiotic therapy, concomitant intolerance or chronic diarrhea may lead to periodic gluten intolerance.
Introducing a gluten-free diet until the intestinal mucosa regenerates will contribute to the reconstruction of the intestinal villi and full recovery.
Diseases such as coeliac disease or Dühring’s syndrome require eating only products marked as gluten-free.
Other potentially gluten-free foods may have become contaminated with gluten during the manufacturing process (for example during processing). In the case of illness, excluding an ingredient from the diet is a restriction, not a choice.
It is recommended to follow a gluten-free diet in therapies supporting the treatment of other diseases.
After prior medical consultation, unambiguous medical indications and with the exclusion of another coeliac disease, the diet is used in listed below diseases:
- autoimmune thyroiditis – Hashimoto’s disease,
- irritable bowel syndrome,
- type I diabetes,
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA),
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The effect of introducing a gluten-free diet is to ease the conditions typical for a given disease. Although there are no conclusive studies confirming this thesis, people who follow medical recommendations notice an overall improvement in their health.
Losing unnecessary kilos
The prevailing view among many people is that a gluten-free diet contributes to weight loss. Nothing could be more wrong. Of course, every positive change of or in the diet leads to equally beneficial end effects, for example, an improved well-being.
Having control over the consumption of the right amount of nutrients, introducing regularity and focusing on healthier food preparation, we shape correct eating habits.
Thus, a gluten-free diet does not yield weight loss, but a balanced, safe gluten-free diet changes your eating behavior – and this can cause healthy (if desired) weight loss.
Gluten is bad
If you are a healthy person, you don’t have to worry about the harmfulness of gluten products. Why? Because gluten does not harm healthy people.
A well-planned and balanced gluten-free diet is not bad. However, the risk is to follow an elimination diet, which may cause nutrient deficiencies.
Nutrient deficiencies in a gluten-free diet
Following the trend, the availability of gluten-free products, aggressive marketing or the need to change their lifestyle, part of society follows a gluten-free diet. This may have a negative effect on your health if you do it without the help of your doctor.
An unbalanced diet leads to a deficiency of nutrients, a source of which are wholegrain products from gluten cereals.
It is primarily dietary fiber, which protects against constipation, reduces the caloric energy of the diet and gives you a sense of satiety.
In addition, it is observed that implementing a gluten-free diet may cause excessive consumption of other dietary components (saturated fats, salt, sugar, highly refined products), the excess of which contributes to the development of diseases such as obesity or hypertension.
If you are not sure weather you should avoid or eliminate gluten from your diet, you might contact a professional dietician. It’s not always the cheapest solution, but considering long and difficult studies it should not be a surprise how much does a dietitian earn.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a gluten-free diet
Both men and women, when following a gluten-free diet, face vitamin and mineral deficiencies as the most common side effect.
Among them there are B vitamins (mainly B9 and B12), vitamin D and calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium. Improperly composed diets lead to serious health problems.
Gluten-free diet – recipes
The structure of the menus for a gluten-free diet is based on a list of products from two categories:
- allowable – for example, fresh milk, natural yoghurt, unprocessed white cheese, gluten-free bread, or
- prohibited – for example, dairy products with the addition of cereals, milk drinks with barley malt or coffee granules.
Based on this distinction, products are selected and then meals are prepared considering their regularity and appropriate thermal processing techniques.
This kind of nutrition knowledge is often included not only in diet courses but also in learning paths that teach you how to become a personal trainer.
Gluten-free diet menu no. 1: for a child
- natural cocoa with milk (with sugar),
- sandwiches: gluten-free bread with good quality ham,
- lettuce leaves,
- an apple.
- sandwiches: gluten-free bread with cottage cheese and cream
- orange juice
- tomato soup
- soya pasta
- fish stewed in vegetables
- beetroot salad
- rice pudding and cottage cheese
- vegetable salad with cream
Gluten-free diet menu no. 2: for an adult
- sandwich: amaranth bread with fruit mousse (for example wild strawberry)
- millet cream,
- dried dates,
- buckwheat flakes,
- fruit juice.
- oriental Tom Yam soup,
- rice noodles,
- tiger prawns or chicken breasts,
- peppers stuffed with brown rice,
- rice pudding with cinnamon and vanilla.
- beet carpaccio,
- feta cheese
- Italian nuts.
Gluten-free diet menu no. 3
- corn porridge with milk,
- herbal tea.
- gluten-free yogurt,
- rice waffles,
- fennel and tomato stew,
- crispy turkey cutlets,
- mix of lettuces with cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar,
- carrot cake,
- sandwich: oatmeal bread,
- gluten-free sandwich cheese,
Gluten-free diet—recipes and gluten-free products
Sweet and gluten-free
Fruit cake with nuts and raisins
- 2 eggs
- 4 dags of butter
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 14 g of corn flour (or mixed with potato)
- 3 tablespoons of milk
- 2 level teaspoons of gluten-free baking powder
- vanilla sugar
- dried fruits: 3 g of raisins, 3 g of dried plums, 1 tablespoon of almond flakes
- grease (to grease the mold)
- corn grits (to pour into the mold)
Cream butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and egg yolks. Beat the egg whites. Combine the grated mass with the foam. Add sifted flour with baking powder, then the milk and dried fruit. Mix the whole thing together. Put it into a greased form (sprinkled with semolina). Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes.
Source: Helena Ciborowska, Anna Rudnicka, Dietetics – nutrition of a healthy and sick person.
Gluten-free dish for lunch
- amaranth portion,
- 1 large eggplant,
- 1 large onion,
- 2 large tomatoes,
- 1 tablespoon pine or walnut nuts,
- 2 cloves of garlic,
- 5 grains of allspice,
- 1 small bunch of parsley,
- half a lemon juice,
- salt and pepper.
Cut the eggplant lengthwise and hollow it out. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Fry the chopped onion in olive oil. After browning, add the hollow eggplant part, peeled and chopped tomatoes, pressed garlic, peanuts, and allspice, salt and pepper. After about 15 minutes, add parsley and lemon juice. Stew the ingredients until thick. Wash the eggplant with salt, stuff it, and put it in an oven-proof dish. Pour in a glass of water and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Serve with a portion of cooked amaranth.
Source: Health without secrets – asthma, allergies, celiac disease. Symptoms, treatment, JOT Publishing House.
Recipes for a special occasion with gluten-free products
- 250 g of finely ground buckwheat flour,
- 500 ml of lukewarm water or half and half with milk,
- 2 eggs,
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter or olive oil,
- 2/3 teaspoon of salt,
- frying fat.
- 1 egg and 1 slice of ham (up to 1 pancake),
- grated Gruyere cheese,
- spinach sprouts or leaves,
- salt and pepper.
Mix buckwheat flour, salt, eggs, melted butter and water to a smooth dough. Set aside in the refrigerator for 1–2 hours. Spread the fat on a hot frying pan. Mix the dough.
Slowly pour in the dough, which should spread evenly over the pans. Form thin pancakes. You don’t have to fry them on both sides.
Now add the ham strips and grated cheese. Insert an egg in the center and cover it with a few spinach leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and fry over medium heat.
Do not put in too much filling. Fold the edges of the pancake inwards over the filling, leaving the yolk visible in the center. When egg white is solid (after about 2–4 minutes), serve finished pancake on a plate.
It tastes best when served warm and immediately. The ingredients are enough to prepare 10–12 pancakes.