Gluten-free diet rundown

WRITTEN BY: Jordan Dakin

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected. Those with a gluten allergy often opt for a gluten-free diet.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for people who live with celiac disease or an allergy to wheat. Foods that contain gluten include anything with wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Common foods that you might come into contact with that contain gluten are:

  • Bread, baked goods, sauces, dressings, soups, pasta, cereals
  • Malt, food coloring, soups, beer, Brewer’s Yeast
  • Rye bread, beer
  • Oats that are not designated gluten-free + might have been grown alongside wheat, barley or rye

People with diabetes might be attracted to the idea of a gluten-free diet because a lot of high-carb foods also have high gluten content and people with diabetes have a tendency to favor low-carb alternatives. Some people adopt the diet because they believe it is inherently better for them, though there is little scientific evidence that suggests the occurrence of specific health benefits as a result of going gluten-free. Still, some people feel this might be true, considering the fact that wheat is grown differently today than it ever has been before.

Common Gluten-Free Foods

Foods that are naturally gluten-free include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Non-processed beans, seeds, nuts
  • Non-processed lean meats, fish and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Most low-fat dairy products

Grains, starches and flours are suitable gluten-free alternatives include:

  • Amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, flax
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Rice, soy, corn, potato, and bean flours
  • Millet, quinoa, rice
  • Soy, tapioca, teff

Misconceptions of the Gluten-Free Diet

Many people only associate gluten with wheat and completely leave barley, rye, and triticale especially, out of the equation. It’s easy to overlook these other significant sources of gluten and opt for things are just wheat-free, when wheat-free does not always indicate gluten-free and this is a common misconception.

Wheat is also used often as a mixing or thickening agent meaning lots of sauces, dressings, and mixes contain gluten as well. This is why checking food labels is crucial for people who need to adopt a gluten-free diet. There are foods and products out there that we’d never suspect would have gluten but do, like soy sauce, gravy, certain supplements, fried foods, and hot dogs to name a few.

Is It Good for Diabetes?

For the cross-section of the population who live with both celiac and diabetes, a gluten-free diet might be helpful. That said, a popular study done by a group from Harvard found that higher risks of Type 2 diabetes were found in people who had less gluten in their diets. There were a number of factors involved, among them that those who had less gluten also had less fiber in their diets as a result, which is a “known protective factor” in preventing T2D. The study also observed that micronutrients are typically lacking in many gluten-free foods as opposed to those with gluten, leading to poorer health overall.

Studies like this prove interesting, though not necessarily conclusive. The general consensus is that for people who already have diabetes, adopting a gluten-free diet just to do so will prove difficult to follow because people with diabetes already have to be incredibly mindful of what they eat. Having to moderate and make a point to cut out foods on both fronts might be more trouble than it’s worth for some.

What’s most important is to not adopt diets or health fads without properly researching and getting input from a physician or certified diabetes educator. Your health team will be the best at determining what path you should take to ensure you are the most healthy.

I eat a strict wheat-free diet due to a rare food allergy condition called eosinophilic esophagitis. I also have to avoid other foods for this condition, in addition to avoiding foods that cause acute reactions including anaphylaxis. I agree with most of this article. Living with diabetes in addition to other dietary restrictions is very challenging.

One thing the article didn’t touch on much is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is a major challenge when living with celiac disease or a wheat allergy. Cross-contamination is when a food inadvertently comes into contact with another food during manufacture, preparation, or while being served. It can be a product processed on the same equipment as a product containing wheat, vegetables cut on a wooden cutting board that was previously used to cut bread, the same serving spoon used for soup that contains wheat and soup that does not, or a gluten-free muffin sitting on the same plate as muffins that contain gluten. Packaged products, restaurants, home baking brought in to work, potlucks, buffets, dinner at a friend’s home, food trucks…all of these require extreme caution or are impossible to partake in for people who need to avoid trace amounts of cross-contamination.

Many people who follow a restricted diet by choice think that they live a life similar to someone with celiac disease or a food allergy. But unless they read every single ingredient on every single product every single time they buy it (ingredients can change at any time), contact every manufacturer of every product they buy, send detailed emails to chefs many days ahead of eating out, and constantly turn down foods where safety during preparation can’t be guaranteed, no one really knows what it’s like.

I disagree with the wording that a gluten-free diet “is recommended” for people with celiac disease or a wheat allergy and it “might be helpful” for people with both diabetes and celiac disease. A wheat allergy is completely difference from celiac disease. People with a wheat allergy who are only allergic to wheat can eat foods that contain gluten, as long as it’s manufactured in a way that keeps it safe from wheat cross-contamination (which is probably not often the case). But for these groups of people, a gluten/wheat free diet is absolutely necessary if they want to survive. It is not a recommendation they can take or leave; it’s akin to calling insulin a “recommendation” for people with Type 1 diabetes.

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Well said, Jen!

And I didn’t even mention the part about how, even when following all the cross-contamination measures I mentioned (including in my case not eating out) there are still somehow occasions where food causes reactions. And, for those of us with anaphylactic allergies (not sure about celiac disease) we have to be aware of the environment far beyond just eating.

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