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How to go Gluten Free: Where to Start, and Why

Updated on January 13, 2012

If you find yourself mentally fogged, having trouble losing weight - especially around the midsection, and anxious for no reason, the trouble may not be your workload or your failure to complete the Britney Spears ab workout efficiently enough. The issue might just rest in that sandwich you had for lunch.

Gluten, the sticky protein composite found in the endosperm of grass-like grains such as wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and spelt, is found in the majority of the foods the uninformed consumer eats. Widely favorited foods like pizza, baked goods, and flour-battered fried foods contain gluten, as well as most processed foods in the supermarket today. It's prominence in the food industry is due to the efficiency and low cost of its processing, as well as the addictive properties it employs.

By itself, gluten and wheat products are harmless, but for those with Celiac Disease, Gluten-Sensitivity, and Wheat Allergies, this common ingredient is bad news. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction in which the proteins in gluten trigger the antibodies to attact the villi in the small intestine. Repeated exposure sets off a domino effect in the body resulting in serious health problems, also increasing the risk for colon cancer. Celiac Disease can be determined with a simple blood test. Gluten Intolerance, however, is more difficult to pinpoint. A person with Celiac-like symptoms may be presented with a negative bloodtest, while another soul may find themselves with more vague symptoms such as anxiety, depression, trouble losing weight, or lack of energy and mental clarity. According to Mark Hyman, M.D., Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy and neuropathy. It has also been linked to autism.

Personally, I suffered depression and anxiety with manifesting panic attacks for a majority of my life, but never thought to look to my beloved breadsticks and pasta as the source of my heartache. It wasn't until I hit a mental breakdown that something had to give, and someone suggested that I look to my diet. After extensive study at the University of Google, I decided to temporarily cut it out. The heartbreak that involved abstaining from my favorite foods was expected, but the disappearance of my panic attacks, lingering anxiety, and 20 lbs was not.

If you find yourself with diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, foul-smelling poop, anemia, depression, irritability, joint pain, mouth sores, muscle cramps, skin rashes, osteoporosis, or any of the aforementioned symptoms, you may be experiencing gluten intolerance. The easiest way to test this theory is to cut gluten out of your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel.

Decided to make the change? Here's where to start:

1. Say Goodbye to Eating Out, At Least Temporarily

Fast food is laden with bread and fried foods, which is a no-no for now when you're first starting out gluten-free. Later, when you've got the hang of things, eating at fast food restaurants will feel less like a battleground and more like a challenge to be accepted. If giving up fast food simply isn't doable in your fast paced life, there are many satisfying options on the road. Wendy's Chili, french fries, and baked potatoes are all gluten-free, and delicious. Applebee's Spinach and Artichoke dip is amazing, and served with only corn chips. French fries at many institutions are more of a grey area, as they are often cooked in the same fryers as the fried chicken and other foods, risking cross contamination. McDonalds is another grey spot, as their fries are sprayed with a beef flavoring containing gluten.

2. Take Stock of your Pantry

Take a look at the items in your pantry. Everything with Wheat, Barley, and Rye in the ingredients list is off limits. Luckily, the FDA requires food manufacturers to list the 5 common food allergens if they appear in their products. Also off limits: baked goods, bread, and pizza as you know it. While many people think that they will never again taste their favorite foods when they go gluten free, this is not true. Their favorite foods have simply evolved. Udi's products, Larabars, and SoyJoy bars are great places to start. Bisquick, Betty Crocker, and Annie's also makes great products to satisfy your cravings for fried food, pancakes, cakes and macaroni and cheese - gluten free.

3. Simple Foods Give Your Budget a Break

The people that struggle the most with going gluten free are the same people that rely mostly on processed foods to feed themselves and their family. Many of the healthiest foods for you, however, are naturally gluten free. As gluten-free breads and baked goods can tend to be expensive, the easiest way to eradicate wheat products from the diet is to simplify the foods you eat. Leafy greens, beans, nuts, potatoes, fruits and lean proteins are all naturally gluten free and ultimately better choices for you than the processed foods, regardless of the lack of wheat. Fiber is an important thing to remember as many people rely on breads to supply the fiber in their diet. Beans and leafy greens and salads are a simple swap to ensure you are getting the proper amount of fiber in your diet.

4. Finally, Do Your Own Research

As with any lifestyle change, it is important to arm yourself with a wealth of knowledge on the subject so you are able to form your own opinions and preferences. You have already taken the first step towards a healthier way of living. There is an endless supply of information on this subject, as more and more people discover their own gluten intolerance every day. This includes reference books, as well as cookbooks offering delicious gluten free recipes and baking methods. In addition, there is a wealth of resources and information on the internet, as well as forums of people just like you, where you can swap stories as well as find great gluten free replacements for your most loved foods.

I hope this was helpful for you, and you find yourself on the path to good health and peace of mind!


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    • profile image

      Karen Zeilman 6 years ago

      Nice article. But more importantly,you are a good writer. What you write is interesting. Write about lint tomorrow. You will still grow a following.

      Maybe it will reside in your belly button.

    • profile image

      white rabbit 6 years ago

      Agreed Karen. Most people don't even know that they might be allergic, or have a sensitivity to gluten. It's very hard to know if one dose when/if you've been normally eating it the majority of your life. I have a sensitivity to it, and its through articles like this that I found out that I did. The writers intent is all but superfluous. She brings awareness to the uncommon subject, and gives you tips on how to go gf. And yes, then says to do your own research... What's wrong with educating your self? When its something Thar can change your life... Can you do to little research? I think not. A very well written article mis. Keep up the good work, and don't listen to small minded, non common sense critics.

    • profile image

      Karen Zeilman 6 years ago

      I think the author's intent in the last instruction was to encourage self-education. It provides the basics, and then the tools you need to form your own opinions instead of being spoonfed every life instruction from a complete stranger's hub. It's a foot in the door into the world of gluten-free living, and it tells you where you can take your next steps.

    • profile image

      Anon 6 years ago

      Why write this hub in the first place if you're going to end with "Do your own research"

      That makes this hub useless