You may see products at the market labeled “gluten-free” these days — or maybe a friend’s doctor asked them to cut gluten from their diet. The concept of gluten and gluten-free foods can get really confusing –- here are some basic tips to help you make sense of what it all means.
Don’t: Think gluten is bad (unless your doctor tells you it’s a no-no)
Do: Get to know gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It can also be found in products that are processed in the same facility as these foods. Many processed foods and certain brands of tomato paste and chicken broth also have it. Soy sauce contains gluten, but Tamari is a similar product that doesn’t. Tamari makes fabulous salad dressing For a list of gluten-free foods, check out this “safe list.”
While most gluten won’t hurt you, some people suffer from Celiac Disease, an auto-immune condition, and can’t digest gluten properly. Continuing to eat gluten can cause intestinal damage and other health problems for those that suffer from the disease. Read more about the issues surrounding gluten and health in this New York Times article.
Don’t: Confuse “wheat-free” and “gluten-free”
Do: Check the ingredients
If you’re trying to avoid gluten, beware of cross-contamination — many cereals and grain products that aren’t made with wheat may be exposed during processing. Wheat-free foods can also contain gluten from ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and some forms of “natural flavoring.” Here is a list of other unsafe ingredients.
Don’t: Give up bread
Do: Discover gluten-free options
Waffles, breads and other baked goods are available for a gluten-free diet –- the trick is finding brands that you like. Pamela’s and Food For Life products have gotten rave reviews. You can also experiment in your kitchen with gluten-free bread and muffin recipes. These recipes often contain xanthan gum (a thickening agent), potato and rice flours and gluten-free baking mixes.
Don’t: Eat large portions gluten-free foods
Do: Pay attention to servings sizes
Many gluten-free baked goods and snack foods are higher in calories than the gluten-filled versions so pay attention to labels.
Don’t: Go to a restaurant unprepared
Do: Talk to your server about ingredients on the menu
Meats and fish are often dredged in flour and sauces can be thickened with gluten foods. But there’s good news — many restaurants are adding gluten-free dishes to their menus; places such as the chain P.F. Chang’s have a separate gluten-free menu. Glutenfreerestaurants.org lists restaurants with gluten-free options near you.