What is Gluten?
     Gluten is a protein found in some grains, such as Wheat, Barley, Rye and Triticale.  Other variations of wheat like spelt, kamut, farro and durum, and products such as bulgur and semolina, also contain gluten.  Made of two smaller proteins “gliadin” and “glutenin,” gluten is what makes wheat-based products soft and stretchy.
Gluten can be extracted from grains and is used in many other foods such as imitation meat and as fillers and stabilizers.  It is even used in cosmetics!

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
Celiac Disease is an auto-immune condition in which the body is triggered to attack itself whenever gluten is ingested.  Celiac Disease tends to run in families, and is diagnosed with blood work or a small intestine biopsy.  Symptoms of celiac disease can be located in the gut OR elsewhere in the body, and can range from fatigue to severe malnutrition.  Celiac disease can begin at any age.
Gluten Sensitivity, on the other hand, is less well defined and has no single diagnostic lab.  In my practice, someone is gluten sensitive when they feel healthier avoiding gluten than eating it.  Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can be as or more severe than celiac disease, or quite mild.  There are various tests that can be done to screen for gluten sensitivity such as an ELISA blood test, the Carrol test, EAV testing, muscle testing, and saliva or stool testing for antibodies.  The gold standard, however, is a period of elimination followed by a period of reintroduction, with careful monitoring of symptoms throughout.

Avoiding Gluten
People with celiac disease must avoid all sources of gluten at all times.  These people can even get sick from cooking with a wooden spoon that months previously was used to make wheat-based gravy!  People with celiac disease need to avoid all gluten containing grains as well as all hidden sources of gluten.  On the other hand, people with gluten sensitivity may be as severely reactive as people with celiac disease, or may be able to tolerate hidden sources of gluten.  Some may even be able to eat the meat out of a sandwich or take the croutons off their salad and be OK.  Sensitivity varies across a very wide spectrum.  You will have to see what works for you.
A Note on this:  Most often, a basic elimination challenge involves avoiding all obvious sources of gluten.  Sometimes people who are gluten sensitive do an elimination trial period followed by reintroduction and do not notice any changes.  In these people, the elimination diet either needs to be longer, or more strict:  they may be so sensitive that they were still being triggered by hidden sources of gluten, or so severely impaired that the body needs more time to heal.

Eating Gluten Free
Though it may seem daunting at first, the fact is that there are many, many more foods that are gluten FREE than gluten containing.  That is to say, if you make your food using real, whole food ingredients you can eat anything you would like except for four measly gluten containing grains (wheat, barley, rye, triticale).

  • All fruits are naturally gluten free
  • All vegetables are naturally gluten free
  • All nuts and seeds are naturally gluten free
  • All meat is naturally gluten free (but gluten can be added in processing)

Gluten Free Grains – Quinoa, Rice, Millet, Teff, Sorghum, Amaranth, Buckwheat, Corn, Wild Rice

Eating Gluten Free
Eating gluten free is not difficult, but there is a learning curve.  Fortunately, the internet is full of families making their gluten-free way in a gluten world, sharing their recipes and support for everyone else along the way.  A few of my favorite gluten free resources are:

Additionally, awareness of gluten sensitivity is on the rise and with it, better labeling and greater availability of gluten free convenience foods.  You can even find gluten free menus and gluten free labeling at many major restaurants such as P.F. Chang’s, B.J’s Brewhouse, Chili’s, The Old Spaghetti Factory, Chipotle, Red Brick Pizza, Macaroni Grill and Red Robin.  (If you choose to eat out, don’t be afraid to speak with a manager to double check that the french fries coming to your plate will not be fried with gluten-covered onion rings, or to ask the server at Chipotle to change their gloves before making your bowl.)

Here in Bakersfield there are also a number of locally owned restaurants with gluten free practices such as Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, Moo Creamery, and Rosa’s Italian Restaurant.

Grocery Shopping is simplest when you stick to “whole food” basics, and “shop around the perimeter” picking up clean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.  That said, even your nearest chain store these days will carry at least one kind of clearly-marked gluten free bread, cracker, cookie and cake mix.  (For bread, I really like Udi’s which is usually found in the freezer section, or the bread section at Trader Joe’s.)  Sometimes it is difficult to know if certain prepared food items, like canned soup, spice mixtures or processed meats, are gluten free.  A quick internet search will usually clear this up for you, or else a call to the 800-number of the company.

A Note About Oats
Oats do not contain gliadin, and so do not contain the kind of gluten that is harmful for people with celiac disease.  However, they do contain a protein called “avenin” which is structurally very similar to gliadin.  Some people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity react to avenin in addition to gliadin, and so must also avoid oats.  Furthermore, oats that are conventionally processed are typically cross contaminated with wheat in the field, the harvesting or the processing.  Certified gluten free oats are available for people who can tolerate avenin but not gliadin.

A few quick ideas for…
Breakfast: Yogurt with blueberries; eggs; fruit with nut butter; dinner leftovers; gluten free cereal
Lunch: salad with fish or steak; bean soup; fresh vegetable slices with hummus and chicken
Dinner: spaghetti squash with meatballs; stir fry (use tamari); taco bowls; roast chicken and vegetables
Snacks: vegetables!!! Fruit; gluten free crackers and veggie spread; handful of nuts; avocado

Eating gluten free is a great opportunity to shift your diet away from processed foods toward vegetables, fruits and healthy meats.  That said, a cookie still has its place.  I have found that the all-purpose flour blend recipe on the Gluten Free Girl website can truly be substituted 1:1 in my old family recipes.