Making salad with tomatoes

Photo courtesy of @voicuoara/Twenty20

Last year, after speaking with my integrative doctor about some things I had been experiencing — increased anxiety, depression, and a foggy mind — he suggested something I had never even considered: going on a gluten-free diet. For a few weeks, I eliminated gluten from my meals, and lo and behold, my mental clarity improved. Then when I reintroduced gluten to test the theory, I felt terrible every time I ate it. It turns out that I am indeed gluten-sensitive, something that affects 5 to 6 percent of the U.S. population, and that’s apart from the 1 percent of people who have Celiac disease.

Gluten, a protein group that’s found in products containing wheat, barley, rye, and oats, can impact a gluten-sensitive or intolerant body in many ways. Renee Matthews MS RDN CLT, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and gluten-free expert, explains that people with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity often complain of symptoms that are psychological in nature, like a foggy brain, poor memory, depression, irritable moods, and anxiety.” Although gluten-sensitive people can share symptoms with those who have Celiac disease, according to Renee, who has Celiac disease herself, symptoms include tummy issues, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, GERD, bloating, and upper abdominal pain.” 

If any of these symptoms are sounding familiar to you, it might be time to consider getting tested. Renee says, Before going gluten-free, to see if this relieves symptoms, it is best to get a Celiac screening test. It is a simple blood test which can be ordered by any doctor, and insurance usually pays for it. The screening test is called Anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTG) and is the most sensitive Celiac test available. If you are positive to this screening test, then a full Celiac panel is done.” 

Renee adds that if the Celiac test is negative, you do have other options. She says, It would still be useful to trial a gluten-free diet to test for symptom improvement. There are a few lab tests which are used to evaluate for gluten and gluten-related food sensitivities. These tests are not mainstream and are used by naturopathic doctors, functional medicine doctors, as well as integrative functional dietitians and nutritionists.” 

If you discover that you have either a gluten-sensitivity or full-on Celiac disease, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed. It can be daunting to change a huge part of your diet, but as someone who is also a vegetarian (which can pose an added challenge), I’m here to tell you that a gluten-free diet is achievable. Here, Renee shares four tips that can help you not only survive but thrive as you make the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle. 

Eat Real Food

This tip is good common sense for everyone, not just those who are gluten-sensitive or intolerant. If you are making the leap into a GF existence, Renee says, Fill half your plate with green veggies, a quarter of the plate with a protein source (such as meat or beans), and the other quarter of the plate with fruit or starch or gluten-free grains (orange slices or potatoes or rice for example).” 

She goes on to say, There are far more foods without gluten than there are with gluten. All fruits, all vegetables, all meats (without added marinades, additives, and breading), and all natural dairy foods are naturally gluten-free foods. That’s a lot! A minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, full of color and vitality, balanced diet is the way to go.” 

Avoid Oats

If you’ve tested positive for gluten sensitivity or Celiac, you may want to reconsider your morning oatmeal for a bit. Renee advises, Avoid oats or products with oats for the first six months, then trial back into it with gluten-free oats only. Oats are highly-contaminated with gluten if not labeled gluten-free.” 

Sidestep Cross-Contamination

Sometimes, gluten can sneak its way onto our plates through a variety of ways, and if you’re sensitive or Celiac, you should try your best to avoid that contact. Renee shares, Research the importance of preventing cross-contact with food that’s not gluten-free. This is a big deal for those with Celiac. Caution is needed to avoid cross-contamination when eating out, when buying prepared foods at the grocery store, and even in your own home — if it is not 100 percent gluten-free. It’s a big topic, but it’s something to learn about as you become more aware of your need for a 100 percent strict gluten-free lifestyle.”

Learn to Love Labels

People with food allergies know the drill — pull item from shelf, scan nutrition label and packaging, and decide if you can drop that item into your cart. All it takes is a little education before you head to the grocery store. Renee says. Learn to read labels carefully to avoid hidden sources of gluten like soy sauce, malt flavoring, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which is gluten.” 

It took me a few months to get the hang of a gluten-free lifestyle, and after a year, I can tell you that I’m still learning. With the help of friends, family, experts, and your own gut (no pun intended…), you can begin navigating the waters of a gluten-free diet yourself. 

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.