During recent years, going gluten-free has gained popularity. If you had asked someone a decade ago for a gluten-free food, you might have received a funny look. Now, it’s almost as common as asking to substitute fries for a salad!
But do you need to be gluten-free? After all, you might feel fear and anxiety around giving up comfort foods like pasta and bread at your favorite restaurant or traditional dishes you grew up with. Your best friend or mother might dismiss gluten-free as nonsense or the latest fad.
Let’s back up: What’s so bad about gluten? After all, it’s a protein found in wheat products that give foods like cakes and muffins elasticity and structure.
For one, the type of wheat grown in this country is sprayed with glyphosate. This harmful pesticide contributes to gut-microbe imbalances that create gluten sensitivities and contribute to various gut-related diseases or disorders. (1)
Gluten is also a major player in activating zonulin, a molecule in gut cells that controls gut cell wall permeability, triggering intestinal hyperpermeability (2) or leaky gut. With leaky gut, things not intended to slip through your gut wall (like partially digested food proteins) do, ending up in your bloodstream. That triggers gut and systemic inflammation.
Even if you don’t have a gluten allergy or celiac disease, you can still be sensitive. Intolerance to gluten can contribute to nutrient malabsorption, diarrhea, bloating, and even changes in mood.
To fix these and other issues, you need to pull gluten out of your diet for three to four weeks (and maybe longer or even permanently). If your symptoms improve (and they often do with my patients), you’ll know gluten is the culprit.
While going gluten-free can be challenging, it can also be tremendously helpful if you want to improve gut health. I want to make the process easier with these five strategies.
Step 1: Read Labels
You know most baked goods contain it, but gluten also hides in foods you might not suspect. This can be frustrating if you feel symptomatic but swear you’ve eliminated the most obvious culprits. This list of gluten-containing foods can help you better target sneaky sources. (3)
- Gluten Containing Grains: wheat, rye, kamut, malt, brewer’s yeast, oats, triticale, farro, bulgur, durum, spelt, semolina
- Sneaky gluten Sources include soy sauce, gravies, deli meat, honey hams, salad dressing, canned soup, spices, mayonnaise, mustard, instant tea, and coffee
Step 2: Remove Temptation
Clear your kitchen of all gluten-containing foods. If you know it’s there, you’re more likely to grab it.
Temptation goes beyond the household. Quite often, the hardest time to stay on track is when you’re out with friends, at a restaurant, or on vacation. Sorry, no hall passes here: You need to completely eliminate gluten.
When you’re away from home, pack healthy snacks like nuts and seeds. When you dine out, keep it simple. Check out the menu ahead of time or choose a place that honors gluten-free choices.
Opt for meat or fish and veggies. Keep dressings and sauces on the side. Try olive oil and lemon for additional flavor. Enjoy the food and company! Focus more on the conversation, eating mindfully and appreciating healthy food.
Step 3: Stock Your Pantry with Alternatives
Now that the pantry is cleared out and you understand what not to buy, you’ll want to build a repertoire of delicious gluten-free alternatives. Those include healthy protein- and fat-rich snacks around like nuts and seeds. You can even make a low-sugar trail mix with coconut flakes.
You’ll also want to keep gluten-free flours on hand. My favorites include:
- Almond flour
- Buckwheat flour
- Cassava flour
- Wild rice & brown rice
Step 4: Focus on Whole Foods
Going gluten-free does not mean indulging in gluten-free cookies, pasta, bread, and bagels!
Instead, focus on whole foods like quality meats, fish, tons of leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and small amounts of low-sugar fruit. Going gluten-free is a great way to shift into more nourishing foods, optimizing gut health and overall well-being.
Some great ways to make eating whole foods more enjoyable include spiralized zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, and lettuce wraps. You won’t miss the processed stuff when you start realizing how good you feel!
Step 5: Avoid Cross-Contamination
Your pantry is stocked with delicious alternatives and your nutrient-rich meals feel satisfying. Everything is smooth sailing until you accidentally “get glutenized” and feel the effects. How could this have happened?
This might be the trickiest part of going gluten-free. Cross-contamination can definitely cause issues with even the tiniest amounts of gluten.
At home, consider replacing commonly used items like a toaster oven and wooden spoons. When eating out, don’t eat anything fried, since the fryer often contains gluten residues from other fried foods. Let the restaurant know you’re gluten-free. Even go as far as telling them you have a gluten allergy, so they are more careful about cross-contamination.
Like I mentioned earlier with dining out, keep it simple. If you’re going somewhere that serves gluten-loaded options, be sure to also take an enzyme that helps break it down in the body. I recommend Gluten Defense, a comprehensive digestive enzyme that helps break down food and supports a healthy gut.
Follow these steps and you’ll minimize the hassle while getting the gut-healing and many other benefits of going gluten-free!
If you’re gluten-free, what strategy would you add here to stay on course? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite gluten-free Happy Gut-approved recipes.
½ cup buckwheat flour
1 cup organic frozen blueberries
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut flakes
1 tbs almond butter
¾ cup almond milk
- On the stove top, over medium heat add almond milk. Then add buckwheat flour. Stir for 1-2 minutes.
- Mix in berries, until they reheat and create a sauce.
- Stir in cinnamon, almond butter, and vanilla extract.
- Top with coconut flakes and enjoy.
- Mesnage, R., & Antoniou, M. N. (2017). Facts and Fallacies in the Debate on Glyphosate Toxicity. Frontiers in Public Health, 5, 316.
- Fasano, A. (2012). Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1258(1), 25–33. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06538.x
- “What Is Cross Contamination? .” Gluten Free Society, www.glutenfreesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/Gluten-Cross-Contamination.pdf.