In recent years, following a gluten free diet has become very ‘in vogue’. This has led to a surge of information coming from all angles on how to go gluten free. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten free diet is the only treatment.
Going gluten free doesn’t need to be a chore. Let’s talk about 10 top tips for following a gluten free diet.
Here are our 10 tips for following a gluten-free diet:
- 1. Keep an eye on cross contamination
- 2. Eat more fiber: grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes
- 3. Eat enough dairy: milk, yogurt and cheese
- 4. Monitor lactose intolerance
- 5. Eat enough vitamin d
- 6. Incorporate pure oats into your diet
- 7. Monitor soft drinks and alcohol
- 8. Don’t deprive yourself of sweet treats
- 9. Check soup and sauces
- 10. Eat more haem iron: lean meats, chicken and fish
1. Keep an eye on cross contamination
One of the most important things to remember when following a gluten free diet is the risk of cross contamination, which often might be out of your control.
Contamination can cause just as much damage to your gut as knowingly eating gluten containing foods.
Some simple measures to reduce your risk are:
- Do not share a toaster
- Have your own chopping board and breadboard
- Keep your food separate to everyone else's
- Have your own butter, jam and spreads
- Do not fry your food in the same oil used for gluten containing foods.
- Inform restaurant managers or chefs that you are a Coeliac if eating out. This will prevent cross contamination of your meal in their kitchen.
In sum: The only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet, however this shouldn't impact your enjoyment of food.
2. Eat more fiber: grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes
Fiber is very essential to maintain good bowel health, which is particularly important for those with celiac disease.
Eating enough fiber when following a gluten-free diet can sometimes be difficult, as it can mean cutting out a lot of our usual sources of fibre. Wheat, barley, spelt and rye all need to be excluded from the diet.
Main sources of these include, bread, cereals, pastas crackers. The good thing is, there are now many gluten free options for all of these foods, and learning how to read food labels will make living with your gluten free diet a lot easier.
Fiber is found in basically all plant foods however, so there are easy ways to increase your intake. Include gluten free grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, millet and corn in the diet. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake as the outer skin are high in insoluble fibres. The insoluble fibre, is what adds bulk to our stool and keeps our bowels regular. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas, canalini, pinto and kidney beans are also a great source of fibre. Adding nuts and seeds to the diet such as almonds, pistachios, flax, sunflour, sesame and chia seeds, will also help increase fibre and maintain healthy gut function.
In sum: Eat more fiber, it will help stimulate the digestive system which is generally affected affected by celiac disease. Fiber-rich foods are good for your overall health.
3. Eat enough dairy: milk, yogurt and cheese
Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones. Due to the nature of celiac disease, the risk of osteoporosis is higher, particularly for those diagnosed later in life, due to chronic malabsorption of calcium.
Following a strict gluten free diet which will heal the gut and increase the absorption of calcium sources in the diet, to keep those bones healthy. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are the richest sources of calcium in the diet.
You should ideally be aiming for at least 5 portions of dairy a day to meet the increased requirements. Calcium is also found in other foods such as peas, beans, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and cabbage, tinned fish such as sardines or salmon.
However, these are poorer sources, as you’d need to eat large amounts to get enough calcium. Ways to easily increase your calcium intake include, having a glass of milk with your dinner, a glass of calcium enriched 100% orange juice at breakfast, a match box portion of cheese with lunch, a yogurt and fruit for dessert, and using green leafy vegetables as a meal filler wherever possible. If you do not eat dairy,make sure to include dairy alternatives such as calcium enriched milk alternatives eg. soy or rice milk, soya yogurt, tofu and tinned sardines.
In sum: Eat calcium-rich food products to build strong and healthy bone as a defence strategy against osteoporosis.
4. Monitor lactose intolerance
In addition to absorption nutrients, your gut is also responsible for producing enzymes which are needed to help digest food.
Lactase is the enzyme that digests lactose, the sugar that is naturally found in dairy products.
Some people will newly diagnosed celiac disease, will also report that they cannot tolerate dairy. Once you’ve been following a strict gluten-free diet and given your gut time to heal, lactose intolerance should resolve because your gut produces enough lactase enzymes to properly digest lactose again.
The majority of those who experience lactose intolerance can consume a moderate amount of lactose at one time without experiencing symptoms. Often a trial and error approach is required to how much lactose you can tolerate. Ways to improve your tolerance of lactose include, drinking a small glass of milk with a meal, having a yogurt that includes active bacterial cultures. Including swiss, mozzarella or cheddar cheese in the diet, which contain very low levels of lactose, and take a probiotic twice a day eg a probiotic drink.
In sum: Monitor how you feel after eating dairy products. Over time, once your body has gotten used to a gluten-free diet, your tolerance for lactose should build back up again.
5. Eat enough vitamin D
As discussed, people with celiac disease are at an increased risk of malabsorption of key nutrients such as calcium. Calcium and vitamin D work hand in hand however. The gut cannot absorb calcium unless there is enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, which the body produces when exposed to the sun. Between the summer months 15-30 minutes of sunshine on the face and arms with no sunscreen, should be enough for our bodies to make enough of the vitamin. It is also found naturally in oily fish e.g. sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout; eggs and liver.
It is added to foods such as fat spreads fortified with vitamin D, fortified milk, and fortified yogurt. A daily supplement should be strongly considered for those who are not exposed to much sun, who have darker skin which will not absorb as readily, and those whose dietary levels are insufficient. In the winter months , all adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement
6. Incorporate pure oats into your diet
Oats are cheap, versatile, and one of the best ways to start you day. Their consumption comes with a long list of benefits which include a slow and steady release of energy, keeping you fuller for longer, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and lowering cholesterol.
Oats are often harvested and manufactured by the same equipment used for wheat, barley and rye, therefore are not safe for celiacs.
Pure oats have been processed in a different way to ensure no cross contamination occurs in the manufacturing process. They are safe for celiacs to consume as are classified as ‘gluten free’.
There have been studies however to show that there may be a small sub portion of celiacs who will react to pure oats. Some will become symptomatic when they consume oats, others will not see any symptoms, however will have raised antibodies, and possible damage to the gut.
If you are a newly diagnosed celiac and want to consume oats, do not start eating oats until your antibodies have returned to normal post diagnosis, and make sure you receive regular follow ups with your doctor to monitor your tolerance.
In sum: The majority of those with celiac disease will be able to consume oats with no issues, and pure oats are a great source of slow release energy.
7. Monitor soft drinks and alcohol
Luckily most soft drinks are naturally gluten free. Watch out for drinks that may have hidden ingredients, and avoid any barley or cloudy fizzy drinks. Stick to 100% fruit juices. Be careful of sport drinks and protein shakes as not all flavours will be gluten free. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to ensure its suitable for you.
When it comes to going out and enjoying a few drinks, make sure you are choosing a gluten free option.
Any alcoholic drinks that have been made from a brewing process, are typically not gluten free.
Examples include: Ale, beer, stout and lager
If the alcohol has been made by a distilling process, then it is likely to be gluten free and safe to consume. Eg. Spirts, wine, cider, sherry and port.
In sum: Know your limits, drink sensibly, and choose gluten free.
8. Don’t deprive yourself of sweet treats
Just because you have celiac disease doesn’t mean you can’t eat the things you love! Although anything from the top shelf of the food pyramid should be eaten in moderation, it’s important to know if your treat is gluten free or not.
The majority of the big brands in the candy world such as nestle, herseys, cadburys and reeses have a huge selection of chocolate and sweets which are suitable for those who cannot take gluten.
Look out for the ‘gluten free’ logo on packaging. Joining a celiac society is a great way of having access to really helpful resources. They provide up to date lists of all foods and drinks which are deemed gluten free and safe to consume. Speak to your doctor or dietitian on how to join one of these societies, and have all the information you need when out doing your gluten free food shop, at your fingertips.
In sum: Enjoy yourself! There is no reason that you shouldn't get to enjoy a sweet treat when you want. If you have celiac disease, it just means you need to be a little bit more careful with your choices, but it doesn't mean you need to deprive yourself.
9. Check soup and sauces
There are many food items that may contain gluten, often in hidden or unexpected ways. Always read the label of any food product you buy if “gluten-free” is not on the label.
Look out for ingredients such as wheat starch, modified wheat starch, wheat germ, malt, malt extract. Many soups and sauces use wheat flour as a thickener. Labels all need to be carefully checked when shopping for packet soups and sauces, gravies, soy sauce, ketchups, mayonnaise, salad dressings,chutneys, stuffing mixes, and stock cubes.
In sum: Try to eat fresh home made food where possible. Use tins of tomatoes, adding herbs and spices, salt and pepper and vinegars to make sauces from scratch.
10. Eat more haem iron: lean meats, chicken and fish
Those with celiac disease have a higher risk of iron deficiency than people without the disease.
This is due to the fact that the celiac disease itself can cause malabsorption of important iron from an already restricted diet.
The best way to tackle this is to make sure your diet is full of whole foods that are naturally gluten free.
There are two types of iron in food. Haem iron and non haem iron. Haem iron is only found in meat, chicken and fish, and is easily absorbed. Non haem iron is found in plant foods such as beans, lentils, spinach and broccoli, however it is not well absorbed by the body.
To increase the absorption of both haem and non haem iron, try to have a vitamin C rich source at the same time eg a glass of orange juice, a kiwi, chopped bell peppers or tomatoes. If you are vegetarian and don’t eat meat, you should talk to your doctor about B12 supplementation, as you will be at risk of deficiency.
It is important to be aware of red meat portion sizes, as there is a connection between cardiovascular disease and a high intake of red meat. Monitor your portion sizes to reap the best health benefits from your meat intake.
In sum: Aim to eat more lean protein. Chicken and fish are great sources of haem iron.
There is a lot to learn, and it can seem daunting at first, but taking the time to learn how to read food labels and understanding what's actually in your food, is the first step in taking control of a disease that does not need to take over your life.
Written by Niamh Brosnan R.D | Edited by Hannah Kingston