A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.
A gluten-free diet is essential for managing signs and symptoms of celiac disease and other medical conditions associated with gluten. A gluten-free diet is, however, popular among people without gluten-related medical conditions. The claimed benefits of the diet are improved health, weight loss and increased energy.
Most clinical studies regarding gluten-free diets have been conducted with people who have celiac disease. Therefore, there is little clinical evidence about the health benefits of a gluten-free diet in the general population.
Removing gluten from your diet likely changes your overall intake of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Therefore, regardless of your reasons for following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to know how it can affect your overall nutritional needs.
Your doctor or a dietitian can help you make appropriate dietary choices to maintain a well-balanced diet.
The gluten-free diet is essential for managing the signs and symptoms of some medical conditions:
Celiac disease is a condition in which gluten triggers immune system activity that damages the lining of the small intestine. Over time this damage prevents the absorption of nutrients from food. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity causes some signs and symptoms associated with celiac disease — including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, «foggy brain,» rash or headache — even though there is no damage to the tissues of the small intestine. Studies show that the immune system plays a role, but the process isn’t well-understood.
Gluten ataxia, an autoimmune disorder, affects certain nerve tissues and causes problems with muscle control and voluntary muscle movement.
Wheat allergy, like other food allergies, is the result of the immune system mistaking gluten or some other protein found in wheat as a disease-causing agent, such as a virus or bacteria. The immune system creates an antibody to the protein, prompting an immune system response that may result in congestion, breathing difficulties and other symptoms.
Claims about the general health benefits of a gluten-free diet are the motivation for other people to avoid wheat and other grains with gluten. Very little clinical research has been conducted, however, about the benefits of the diet for people who do not have a gluten-related medical condition.
Following a gluten-free diet requires paying careful attention to both the ingredients of foods and their nutritional content.
Allowed fresh foods
Many naturally gluten-free foods can be a part of a healthy diet:
Fruits and vegetables
Beans, seeds and nuts in their natural, unprocessed forms
Lean, nonprocessed meats, fish and poultry
Most low-fat dairy products
Grains, starches or flours that you can include in a gluten-free diet include:
Corn and cornmeal
Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
Tapioca (cassava root)
Grains not allowed
Avoid all foods and drinks containing the following:
Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Oats (in some cases)
While oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated during production with wheat, barley or rye. Oats and oat products labeled gluten-free have not been cross-contaminated. Some people with celiac disease, however, cannot tolerate the gluten-free labeled oats.
Wheat terms to know
There are different varieties of wheat, all of which contain wheat gluten:
Wheat flours have different names based on how the wheat is milled or the flour is processed. All of the following flours have gluten:
Enriched flour with added vitamins and minerals
Farina, milled wheat usually used in hot cereals
Graham flour, a course whole-wheat flour
Self-rising flour, also called phosphate flour
Semolina, the part of milled wheat used in pasta and couscous
Gluten-free food labels
When you are buying processed foods, you need to read labels to determine if they contain gluten. Foods that contain wheat, barley, rye or triticale — or an ingredient derived from them — must be labeled with the name of the grain in the label’s content list.
Foods that are labeled gluten-free, according to the Food and Drug Administration rules, must have fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Foods with these labels may include: