What is a Gluten-Free Diet?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A gluten-free diet may be adopted by people with celiac disease or those who have wheat allergies or intolerance. A few other conditions might suggest such a diet is important and these include dermatitis herpetaformis, which can cause significant skin lesions. Some merely begin eating a gluten-free diet because they find it aids their digestion, though they are not specifically allergic to wheat or sensitive to it.

Quinoa can be eaten on a gluten-free diet.
Quinoa can be eaten on a gluten-free diet.

The hallmarks of this diet are that it eliminates all forms of wheat, barley, kamut, spelt, and rye, and it also may not use oats. For those with celiac disease, strict adherence to the diet is necessary in order for best results. Thus in addition to not consuming wheat in traditional forms, like in bread, cereals, or crackers, people must eliminate numerous additives to foods, and be wary of ingredients in lots of foods that are derived from wheat. It becomes valuable to understand if ingredients may have been contaminated with wheat flour, which may occur if things are processed in plants that use wheat.

Vegetables are typically gluten-free.
Vegetables are typically gluten-free.

There are many foods still available in a gluten-free diet that can be made into flours or thickeners to bind food together. Breads and other baked goods are produced from various ingredients. These include things like potatoes, corn, some beans, various nuts, and quinoa, a healthy grain.

Many people with a wheat allergy or intolerance will adopt a gluten-free diet.
Many people with a wheat allergy or intolerance will adopt a gluten-free diet.

Generally, the gluten-free diet doesn’t restrict most fruits or vegetables, meats, fish, oils, or dairy products. However, anything that is not made in the home has to be evaluated as potentially containing wheat. For instance, many sausages contain gluten fillers, and the presence of MSG in soups can make them unavailable to those who eat a gluten-free diet. A common ingredient, maltodextrin, tends to eliminate anything made with this filler from the diet without gluten.

Someone on a gluten-free diet can still consume bread if it is made with a wheat flour substitute, like millet flour.
Someone on a gluten-free diet can still consume bread if it is made with a wheat flour substitute, like millet flour.

The presence of wheat byproducts in so many foods or the potential for foods that don’t have gluten to be contaminated with wheat can mean that eating a diet free of gluten is a little labor intensive. Most people are best off when they prepare most foods at home because they can carefully control specific ingredients and avoid any accidental contact with wheat. However there are some companies that do produce gluten-free diet foods, including things like bread made with alternative flours, frozen pizzas, crackers and the like. These may be more expensive on average than those foods that use forms of wheat.

Millet can be used to make gluten-free flours.
Millet can be used to make gluten-free flours.

Numerous cookbooks exist which can help those on a gluten-free diet prepare lots of interesting and varied foods. Another great place to look for information on packaged or processed foods that are gluten-free includes numerous websites devoted to those living with celiac disease. Some sites even exist that list gluten-free restaurant entrees, so people can dine out without concern that they will accidentally consume gluten. Though a gluten-free diet can take some work and thought, the many foods alternative to wheat mean most people can eat plenty of different foods that taste great and offer lots of variety.

Rice pasta may be part of a gluten-free diet.
Rice pasta may be part of a gluten-free diet.
Those with a gluten intolerance must avoid wheat flour and a number of other products.
Those with a gluten intolerance must avoid wheat flour and a number of other products.
During the first two weeks of eating a gluten-free diet, those with celiac disease often find their symptoms are greatly improved.
During the first two weeks of eating a gluten-free diet, those with celiac disease often find their symptoms are greatly improved.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

CopperPipe

Is there a gluten free diet list when it comes to what foods are OK and not OK?

zenmaster

Many people also choose to cut out yeast in their diet, especially if they're already stopped eating gluten products.

They say that eating a yeast and gluten free diet can get rid of all the excess yeast in your body, which not only stops pretty much any yeast infections, but also makes them feel generally better.

This is a big component of the raw food movement, and many vegan gluten free diets also kick out yeast.

So people reading this should be careful to remember to not only associate Celiac disease with a gluten free diet; many people do it as part of an alternative lifestyle.

TunaLine

My sister follows a dairy and gluten free diet, so she doesn't eat any of the grains listed in the article, or any yogurt, cheese, milk, or cream.

She's not gluten intolerant or lactose intolerant, she just says it makes her feel healthier.

I don't think I could handle it though -- I like my morning cereal and yogurt too much, and all those gluten free diet recipes just look hard to me.

Still, I admire her dedication.

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