Going gluten-free? Here's what you need to know - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Going gluten-free? Here's what you need to know

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Susan Okonkowski from Blue Cross Blue Shielf of Michigan has been eating gluten-free for many years. She offers up the following tips and information that you need to know if you're planning on changing your diet.

What does it mean to be gluten-free?
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes gluten, which is a protein composite found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

Why are so many people going gluten-free? What are the benefits/risks?
A gluten-free diet is necessary to treat individuals with celiac disease and those with gluten intolerance. Gluten can cause inflammation in the small intestine, abdominal bloating, malabsorption of vitamins, skin rash, and joint pain of individuals who have celiac disease or are intolerant. Eating a gluten-free diet helps these individuals control their signs and symptoms and prevent complications.

Today many people decide to try a gluten-free diet even without a diagnosis - some may believe going gluten-free may help them lose weight or improve other health condition(s), but I would caution going gluten-free unless you need to or are fully prepared to

The appeal of weight loss draws many people to the gluten-free diet craze. Gluten itself is not "bad" for you and many healthy whole-grain complex carbohydrate foods contain gluten.

Claims of boosted energy are common among people who have cut gluten out of their diet but if you do not have sensitivity to gluten, you may not notice a significant boost in energy. Cutting gluten from your diet means getting rid of many foods that make up a daily source of nutritional value, which can be unhealthy for an average person. Foods containing gluten are high in B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, fiber and calcium.  To make up for the loss of nutrients, adding other foods will be necessary which can help increase energy levels and potentially help with weight loss.  Individuals that cut out processed carbohydrates and replace with fresh foods are naturally going to feel a bit better from the change.

What can you eat and/or supplement in your diet to make up for the loss of nutrients that come in foods normally containing gluten?
Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
Quinoa
Brown rice
Sweet Potatoes and Baby Red potatoes
Fresh eggs
Lean meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
Fresh Fruits
Green leafy vegetables
Most low-fat dairy products

What foods should you avoid?
Avoid the following foods unless they're labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy or another gluten-free grain:
Beer
Breads
Cakes and pies
Candies
Cereals
Cookies and crackers
Croutons
French fries
Imitation meat or seafood
Matzo
Pastas
Processed luncheon meats
Salad dressings
Sauces, including soy sauce
Seasoned rice mixes
Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
Self-basting poultry
Soups and soup bases
Vegetables in sauce

Certain grains, such as oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and processing stages of production. For this reason, doctors and dietitians generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free.

How should one start a gluten-free diet - Top 5 Things?
It's a good idea to first consult your physician or dietitian.

Clean Out Your Kitchen: Before you can start the gluten-free diet, you need to clean out your kitchen and get rid of everything you no longer can eat. Dispose of all baking mixes, segregate or give away other gluten-containing products, and buy yourself some new condiments. Since it's possible to get symptoms from the tiniest morsel of gluten, you'll need new kitchen appliances that may have traces of gluten on them.

Start With Fresh Produce and Lean Meats: Limit your diet to unprocessed foods at first. Fresh fruits and vegetables don't contain gluten, nor do lean meat, poultry and fish products. Eat as simply as you can, using only fresh herbs, salt and pepper to season your foods. Try grains such as corn-based and quinoa in moderation, and don't introduce packaged foods - including those labeled "gluten-free" - until you have a better feel for the diet and how it affects your system.  You still need complex carbohydrates in your diet and brown rice, sweet potatoes, and quinoa are healthy gluten-free foods to consume.  

Expand to Include Gluten-Free Labeled Products: Once you've mastered the basics, foods clearly labeled "gluten-free" represent the best way to start expanding your gluten-free diet.

Learn to Read Food Labels: To really expand your diet - and to figure out which of your old favorites you might be able to include - you'll need to learn to find gluten on food labels. In fact, you'll probably become a bit of a detective, learning to search for the meaning of various terms you'll find on different products. You'll also get quite an education on the different ingredients that make up processed foods. Just remember: Manufacturers can label something "gluten-free," but food labeling laws do not require disclosure of gluten-containing ingredients on food labels. If something has no obvious gluten ingredients listed, but doesn't carry a "gluten-free" label, it might contain barley or rye, or be subject to gluten cross-contamination at the food processing facility. In addition, keep in mind that wheat-free does not equal gluten-free, so don't be fooled by foods labeled "wheat-free" - they're probably not safe.

How can you detect healthy gluten-free products out there (some items are filled with unhealthy ingredients even though they are gluten-free)?
Demonstrate with the products what to look for on labels.
Always look at the ingredients and nutrition labels for gluten free products as they are not necessarily all that healthy.

GOOD GLUTEN FREE FOODS:
Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Mix (Also made in a dedicated gluten free facility)
Food Should Taste Good Sweet Potato chips (Natural and Certified Gluten free)
KIND snack bars (all natural and gluten free)

BAD GLUTEN FREE FOODS
Udi's Gluten Free granola (high sugar and fat in the product)
Glutino gluten free yogurt covered pretzels (high in saturated fat & sugar)
Post Fruity Pebbles (Look at the ingredients- BHA, artificial colors and flavors)

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