Unless you’ve successfully managed to live off grid for the last 50 years, you’ve probably heard about gluten and had friends of family members who eat gluten free. There can be serious reasons to avoid gluten in one’s eating, but knowing if you’re one of those people may be confusing.
Keep reading if you want to know the WHY and some practical HOW for eating gluten free, how that might be beneficial, and how to practically transition to gluten free in your home and while eating out.
While not everyone HAS to avoid gluten in their diet, it certainly can be important and beneficial for those with Celiac’s, other autoimmune conditions, leaky gut or gut permeability, other chronic conditions, certain reasons for infertility, and identified food sensitivity to wheat/gluten.
Due to the protein structure of gluten, it can weaken/irritate the intestinal lining and cause inflammation in those who are sensitive. The intestinal lining is important for the proper function of the immune system and proper immune function is key for fertility. It’s estimated that up to 13% of the population has non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
For women with some autoimmune conditions, avoiding gluten has been shown to reduce antibody levels (such as thyroid antibodies) which in turn helps improve fertility, including reducing the risk of miscarriage. When looking at the complications that Natural Killer or NK cells have on fertility, recurrent miscarriage, and failed embryo implantation during IVF, gliadin (a part of gluten protein) has been linked to an increase in NK cells and their activity.
It may not be the ONE thing that improves your fertility, but given the possible benefits, it can be worth trying for many women. Avoiding gluten for fertility and focusing on foods that are naturally gluten free (protein, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, etc.) also means avoiding lots of processed foods like white bread, cookies, and packaged snacks that don’t provide the nutrients that a robust reproductive system needs to function well. Some women may not be sensitive to the gluten protein, but instead are seeing positive benefits from the reduction in processed food and increased focus on nutrient dense fertility super foods.
How to Tell If Gluten Free is Better For YOU
If you’re not sure if gluten affects you, commit to trying it for 3-4 weeks and note the changes you have in the following areas:
- abdominal pain
- fatigue, especially after meals
- joint pain, etc.
- mental clarity
- reduced cravings for bread, pasta, and other wheat based products
- regular bowel movements
- skin health
- smelly stool
- stool is well formed—no constipation or diarrhea
- waking up energized
If you’ve already committed to a gluten free diet and lifestyle, take time to make regular check-ins, maybe monthly, on the products in your kitchen and life to make sure none of them contain ingredients you’re trying to avoid.
How to Start a Gluten Free Trial or Lifestyle
Start with Eliminating
When it comes to avoidance, out of sight, out of mind seems to work better than leaving tempting foods lying around. This can be especially true if you aren’t sure if eating gluten free actually makes you feel any different (some people can struggle to notice changes in how they feel!). It can also be challenging if your whole family is not eating a gluten free diet.
For those 3-4 weeks, maybe you can get your family members on board with also avoiding gluten and they can see if it makes an impact on their health. Show them the list above and ask them to monitor their symptoms in those categories.
If your family is not on board with throwing gluten containing foods out, try getting a box and placing gluten containing foods into that box for the time being. Place it somewhere in your home where you may not be tempted by the foods, but other family members can access them when needed. This could be in a closet, above the fridge, etc.
Here’s a list for finding some of the more well-known and lesser-known sources of gluten in the diet and what alternatives to use and where to find them:
- Wheat protein/hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Wheat starch/hydrolyzed wheat starch
- Wheat flour/bread flour/bleached flour
- Bulgur: A form of wheat
- Farina: Made from wheat
- Couscous: Made from wheat
- Pasta: Made from wheat unless otherwise indicated
- Malt: Made from barley
- Kamut (a kind of wheat)
- Fu (dried gluten product in some Asian dishes)
- Oats (do not naturally contain gluten but significant cross contamination has been shown in shipping, processing, and harvesting, so look for gluten free oats)
- Seitan: Made from wheat gluten and commonly used in vegetarian meals
- Wheat or barley grass: Can be cross-contaminated
- Wheat germ oil or extract: Can be cross-contaminated
May Contain Gluten
These ingredients can be the most annoying, since they may or may not contain gluten. Many of them can be avoided though by implementing a diet that focuses more on whole foods like veggies, fruit, and protein. You’ll need to check with the manufacturer to find out for certain whether or not a food that includes one or more of these ingredients are safe on a gluten-free diet:
- Artificial flavor/artificial flavoring: Can come from barley
- Caramel color: Now considered a safe ingredient, but if you’re in doubt, check with the manufacturer
- Dextrin and maltodextrin: Both sometimes made from wheat
- Flavorings: May contain wheat fillers
- Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Modified food starch
- Modified starch/modified food starch: Can come from several sources, including wheat
- Natural flavor/natural flavoring: Can come from barley
- Seasonings: May contain wheat fillers
- Vegetable protein/hydrolyzed vegetable protein: Can come from wheat, corn or soy
- Vegetable starch: May contain wheat fillers
Places that gluten hides in your kitchen (and some alternatives)
- Beef Bouillon—find a gluten free one
- Beer—there are gluten free kinds, but you can also avoid for fertility/health
- Breaded fish or other meat
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Chewing gum
- Chicken and Beef Stock or broth—make sure you find a gluten free one
- Chicken Bouillon—find a gluten free one
- Fish sticks
- Flour tortillas—corn, cassava, almond tortillas
- French Fries
- Hoisin Sauce—make your own with coconut aminos!
- Hot Dogs
- Imitation bacon bits
- Imitation Seafood
- Malt milkshakes—coconut cream based desserts
- Panko breadcrumbs—gluten free breadcrumbs or almond/coconut breading
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, marinades and gravies
- Sausages or deli meat
- Seasonings—check for gluten free
- Some chocolate bars
- Some flavored coffees and teas
- Some ground spices
- Some medications
- Soy sauce—swap for coconut aminos
- Tomato sauces
- Vitamins and Supplements
A Note on Gluten Free Dining Out/Take Out
Depending on the severity of your intolerance, you may notice if dishes in restaurants are cross contaminated. You can reduce that risk by choosing 100% gluten free facilities but those are rare and not always close to us. Here are some tips for eating out:
- Many Asian restaurants will swap soy sauce for tamari sauce (still soy but no gluten, just ask them what they use)
- Thai curries (just always double check and ask; also dairy free if they use coconut)
- Some restaurants put pancake batter in their eggs and omelets. Always ask
- Fried foods are often fried in the same oil as wheat breaded foods and can become cross contaminated. Some restaurants have a separate fryer that is gluten free. You can always ask! Or skip the fried foods 😉
If you’re committed, the Find Me Gluten Free App can be helpful in navigating eating out.
Have you tried eating gluten free? What did you think of the result? Any noticeable changes in your health? Let me know below if you’d like to share!