If you're considering a gluten-free diet, whether for health reasons or as a lifestyle choice, there are a few things you should know to get started. In this post, we'll cover the basics of gluten-free eating, including what gluten is, why some people avoid it, and what foods to avoid. We'll also provide some practical tips for eating out, avoiding cross-contamination, and living gluten-free beyond just your diet. Let's dive in!
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It gives bread and other baked goods their chewy texture and helps bind ingredients together. While gluten is harmless for most people, it can cause problems for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects about 1% of the population. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and other health problems. Gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is a less severe condition in which people experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, but without the immune system response.
What Foods Contain Gluten?
Foods that contain gluten include:
Wheat-based products, such as bread, pasta, and couscous
Barley-based products, such as malted barley, beer, and some types of vinegar
Rye-based products, such as rye bread and crackers
Other grains, such as spelt, kamut, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye)
Gluten can also be found in many processed foods, such as sauces, dressings, and seasonings. It's important to check food labels carefully and look for gluten-free certification or a gluten-free claim on the packaging.
When starting a gluten-free diet, it can be helpful to find substitutes for the foods you typically eat. Here are some gluten-free alternatives to consider:
Gluten-free bread, pasta, and crackers
Gluten-free flours, such as almond flour, coconut flour, or rice flour
Gluten-free grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and millet
Gluten-free baking ingredients, such as xanthan gum or guar gum, to help with texture and binding
Eating Out Gluten-Free:
Eating out can be challenging when following a gluten-free diet, as many restaurants may not have gluten-free options or may not understand the importance of avoiding cross-contamination. Here are some tips to help you eat out gluten-free:
Research restaurants beforehand and look for those with gluten-free options or accommodations
Communicate with the server and chef about your dietary needs and ask questions about menu items
Ask for modifications, such as a gluten-free bun or sauce on the side
Bring gluten-free snacks in case of limited options or unexpected delays
Here are some restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina, that offer gluten-free options:
Husk - Offers a gluten-free menu upon request, with dishes like fried chicken and grilled quail.
The Obstinate Daughter - Serves gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes.
Butcher & Bee - Offers gluten-free bread and a variety of gluten-free menu options.
The Park Cafe - Has gluten-free options for breakfast, brunch, and lunch.
Five Loaves Cafe - Offers gluten-free bread and a variety of gluten-free menu options.
The Daily - Serves gluten-free baked goods and breakfast options.
Xiao Bao Biscuit - Offers gluten-free options for their Asian-inspired dishes.
Wild Common - Offers a gluten-free menu with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients.
Verde - Serves gluten-free salads and bowls.
Basic Kitchen - Offers gluten-free options for their healthy bowls and dishes.
Here are some restaurants in Summerville, South Carolina, that offer gluten-free options:
Five Loaves Cafe - Offers gluten-free bread and a variety of gluten-free menu options, including salads, soups, and entrees.
Coastal Coffee Roasters - Serves gluten-free pastries and baked goods along with coffee and tea.
Graze - Offers gluten-free options for their sandwiches, salads, and bowls.
Homegrown Brewhouse - Serves gluten-free beer and cider, as well as gluten-free menu options like burgers and wings.
Icehouse - Offers gluten-free pizza and salads.
Pad Thai 1 - Has a dedicated gluten-free menu with options like curries, stir-fries, and noodle dishes.
Southern Roots - Offers gluten-free menu options for brunch, lunch, and dinner, including dishes like shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles.
Swig & Swine - Serves gluten-free barbecue and sides, as well as gluten-free beer and cider.
Tropical Grille - Offers gluten-free bowls and wraps with a Caribbean twist.
Wasabi of Summerville - Has a separate gluten-free menu with sushi rolls, sashimi, and other Japanese dishes.
Even small amounts of gluten can cause problems for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It's important to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen to prevent accidental exposure. Here are some tips to help you avoid cross-contamination:
Use separate utensils and cooking surfaces for gluten-free foods
Avoid shared condiments and toppings that may have come into contact with gluten
Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly before preparing gluten-free foods
Consider using separate toasters, cutting boards, and other kitchen tools for gluten-free foods
Gluten-Free Living Beyond Diet:
Living a gluten-free lifestyle goes beyond just avoiding gluten-containing foods. Here are some other areas to consider:
Personal care products: Many personal care products, such as shampoo, lotion, and makeup, may contain gluten. Look for gluten-free options or avoid products with ingredients like wheat or barley.
Medications: Some medications and supplements may contain gluten as a binding agent. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your dietary needs and ask if there are gluten-free alternatives available.
Social situations: It can be challenging to navigate social situations when you have dietary restrictions. Be proactive and communicate with friends and family about your needs. Consider bringing a gluten-free dish to share or hosting a gathering where you have more control over the menu.
Emotional well-being: Starting a gluten-free diet can be a big adjustment, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed or frustrated at times. Reach out to support groups or a mental health professional if you need help coping with the emotional aspects of the transition.
It's important to note that a gluten-free diet is not recommended for everyone. Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet is necessary or beneficial. In fact, some gluten-free products may be higher in sugar or fat and lower in fiber and nutrients than their gluten-containing counterparts. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.
A gluten-free diet can be a healthy and necessary choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. However, it's essential to educate yourself about the diet and be proactive in avoiding cross-contamination and finding safe food options when eating out. It's also important to consider the emotional and social aspects of living gluten-free and to seek support if needed. By taking these steps, you can successfully live a gluten-free lifestyle and enjoy a wide variety of delicious and nutritious foods.