“Gluten Free” has become a buzzword in the past few years when talking about food and nutrition—but what exactly does it mean?
Let’s start with defining gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains like barley and rye. Oats are often included in this list due to the chance of being cross-contaminated with gluten during growing, harvesting, and processing. Gluten-free foods do not contain any of these grains, and they have strict processing standards to avoid contamination.
So why do some people go gluten-free? A gluten free diet must be followed by individuals with Celiac Disease. Their bodies actually launch an immune attack against the gluten, which results in damage to the lining of their small intestine which in turn can affect absorption of essential nutrients. Celiac Disease must be diagnosed by a physician. People with Celiac Disease have to follow a gluten free diet for life and are often under the supervision of medical professionals. Some individuals without Celiac Disease do not like how gluten makes them feel, so they choose to exclude it from their diets.
Those who avoid gluten-containing foods can still have an overall healthy diet, but they may have to make the extra effort to ensure they are getting all essential nutrients. Whole grains, which are rich in B vitamins and iron, are often entirely excluded from gluten free diets. However, not all grains contain gluten. Brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, corn, buckwheat, and millet are a few examples of gluten-free grains that are full of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals that are essential for health. Beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are other whole food sources of these nutrients.
If you choose to follow a gluten-free diet, consider speaking with a Registered Dietitian to ensure you are including a variety of nutritious foods.
Nikki DeAngelis is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Glanbia Performance Nutrition who serves as the nutrition expert for thinkThin®.