Thursday, January 7, 2016

Gluten-Free Living - How to Avoid the Traps

Traci Lawrence asks: How well do you know your body?  Are you able to figure out immediately if your mood and health have been affected by your last snack, or meal?  If so, you wouldn’t be alone.  Thankfully, in recent years, consumers have become more educated in health and nutrition.  That’s a huge benefit of the information age.
Savvy people are more aware that everything we put into our mouths can affect us.  They know what foods make them tired or sick.  Conversely, such individuals know what foods give them more energy.  One of the most well-known subjects under discussion is gluten. Simply put, this is a protein found mainly in rye, wheat, barley, and their derivatives.

Why is Gluten a Concern?
Some people cannot digest gluten well.  It may initiate immediate as well as long-term problems related to their intestinal system.  This condition is called gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity.  In addition, most sources agree that foods containing gluten are among the hardest to digest for anyone.  I’ll leave that debate to the experts.  It’s enough for me to know that my body cannot handle the substance.  I have a lifetime of health challenges to prove it.

In the 13 years since I have been diagnosed with the disorder, I have found that many people are unaware of the prevalence of gluten.  Close family friends are still unsure about how to decide what contains gluten.  Therefore, I thought it was time I wrote an article outlining the basics of how to look for it.

See, gluten is like sugar or salt; it’s in more foods and beverages than we realize.  Yet, so many people don’t check nutrition labels on packages, and they aren’t aware of the process of cooking certain foods.   They just buy the most inexpensive products, which are often the least healthy.  This is not a good trend.

Isn’t your health worth a little bit more money?  You can even keep the cost of eating gluten free down by not buying gourmet, or frozen, gluten-free prepared foods.  You can also make your own baked goods, including bread. Frankly, I still haven’t found a tasty bread mix.

Products That Contain Gluten.
One of the main ingredients in flour is wheat.  Flour and/or wheat are found in some, or all, of the following:

  •         Noodles
  •         Pastries
  •         Breads
  •         Baking mixes
  •         Sauces, seasonings, soups, and gravies
  •         Cereals
  •         Drinks (beer)
  •         Snacks (cookies, candy, crackers, and chips)
  •         Desserts (pies, ice cream, cakes)
  •         Breaded/coated meat, fish, and vegetables
  •         Hot dogs

Foods that Don’t Have Gluten.
Lately, consumers can find gluten-free processed foods at almost any store that sells food.  This includes a wide range from the list above. It’s important to check the package for the “gluten free” label. It signifies that the product contains less than 2% of gluten.  Of course, there are plenty of unprocessed foods without gluten. These include:

  •         Grilled or roasted meat and fish
  •         Fruits and vegetables
  •         Beans
  •         Rice and many other grains
  •         Dairy products
  •         Nuts

Please note: Dairy products contain lactose. People who cannot tolerate gluten often cannot digest lactose well, either.  However, some sufferers can eat lactose if they take a pill to help them digest it.

Here’s another point to ponder: All non-gluten flour and baking mixes are not made the same.  Ingredients differ widely because of the variety of gluten-free flours.  You’ll have more luck if you stick with well-known brands.  Others may include mixes of flour that leave an unappetizing aftertaste according to some people.  For example, I don’t like the taste of garbanzo-bean flour.  Please beware: the products may also contain a high amount of sugar.

The unusual taste applies to processed foods, too, but it’s more evident in the baking mixes.  Many of the processed products are made with rice flour, which has no unusual aftertaste.

How to Read Nutrition Labels.
Concerned shoppers can save themselves time if they stay away from most of the products listed in the “Products That Contain Gluten” section above.  They won’t even have to bother reading the labels.  However, please don’t avoid entire aisles just because gluten is so widely used.

Many stores mix at least some of their gluten-free products in with foods containing gluten. For instance, pasta products labeled as “gluten-free” are likely to be mixed in with the regular pasta. Just look for those exact words on the box.

It’s a little more complicated to read the actual nutrition labels on the sides of products containing gluten. Not all of them will use the word “gluten”.  The most prevalent labeling, in bold lettering, is “wheat”, or “may contain wheat”. 

That means you must use your own knowledge to determine if the chosen product includes a derivative of rye or barley, even if it doesn’t contain wheat. For instance, malt comes from barley. Malt is in malted milk balls (the candy), beer, and the malt flavoring we add to ice cream shakes to make them into “malts”.

More Red-Flags:
Two other possible red flags are “soup stock” or “soup base”, and “modified food starch”. Soup base, including dried bouillon cubes or powder, are usually made with flour because flour (i.e. wheat flour) is the standard thickener.  Gluten-free bouillon is also available in most stores. By the same token, modified food starch may contain gluten-based starch.

Here’s a good rule to buy groceries: if a gluten ingredient is listed as one of the top ingredients on a food label, don’t buy it. Ingredients are always listed in the order of most to least content.

How to Choose Gluten-Free at Restaurants.
Luckily, quite a few restaurants have gluten-free options. For those that do not, you’re usually safe sticking with these dishes:

  • Roasted or grilled meats, eggs and vegetables (unless the meat has been ground up and processed with wheat), 
  • Wild and shell fish such as salmon, black cod, grouper, herring, trout, sardines, shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, clams, oysters
  • Fowl, poultry, pork, beef, lamb, liver, bison, chicken, turkey, duck, ostrich, veal, wild game
  • Potatoes with a gluten-free sauce / seasoning
  • Fruit of all kinds and at all seasons
  • Rice, or another gluten-free grain, such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa

Avoid any sauces and breading!

You’d be surprised what wonders a skilled cook and the right seasoning can do with the right ingredients!  Gluten-free cooking seems overwhelming, distasteful, and extremely limiting to outsiders.  However, it is really quite liberating and confidence-building.  So many unhealthy choices are cut out right from the beginning. There’s no inner debate. Doesn’t our confidence soar every time we must commit to difficult decisions as well?  

I can tell you that, even after all these years, I feel so proud of myself when I bypass yummy baked goods.  My eyes are still in love with them, but my intestinal system knows they’re toxic—like a bad relationship.  That’s not true love, is it?
Is Restricting Your Diet Worth It?
Either we want to stay healthy, or we don’t.  It’s that simple.  During my lifetime, I have spent a fortune in time and money trying to stop the mess that gluten made in my body (although I didn’t know the cause until 13 years ago).  I can tell you from experience that you do want to stay healthy in order to have the quality of life you deserve.  Are you willing to do whatever it takes?

About the Author:
Traci Lawrence is a teacher, author, blogger, and freelance editor.  Traci lives in the southern area of the United States with her family.  She considers it her mission to spread positivity and self-empowerment through her writing.  Please visit her uplifting website at 
and view her book, Accept No Trash Talk: Overcoming the Odds


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