Gluten itself is a type of protein, and proteins can be obtained from many other foods, so it’s perfectly safe to forgo it, even if it doesn’t cause you any ill effects. A well-executed gluten-free eating plan can actually be a smart strategy for improving the healthfulness of your diet. It often means buying fewer processed foods and eating more fresh, fiber-rich fare; that step alone can translate to a better diet. Just be sure to sidestep the pitfalls—more on that to come.
Truth: It’s not a no-carb program
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, and pulses (beans, peas, and lentils) are all satisfying gluten-free foods. Snack on roasted chickpeas in place of white-flour pretzels; bake with garbanzo bean flour instead of all-purpose flour; toss veggies and lean protein with spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti.
Incidentally, these swaps can help up your intake of fiber and protein, provide a broader spectrum of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and streamline the calories. (Choosing spaghetti squash over whole-wheat spaghetti, for example, cuts more than 130 calories, much of it from 25 fewer grams of carbs.)
Myth: No more grain bowls
Truth: Quinoa, brown rice, and other grains are g-free
Happy news: You can still eat quinoa, brown and wild rice, buckwheat, corn, teff, amaranth, millet, and sorghum. Replacing refined grains that contain gluten with these gluten-free whole-grain alternatives should elevate your overall fiber and nutrient intake, as well as protect your health. Consuming more whole grains is tied to nearly 15 percent lower mortality, particularly from heart disease, per a 2015 Harvard study. Luckily, the swaps are simple: Make tabbouleh with quinoa or millet rather than bulgur; trade white pasta made with refined wheat flour for options made from gluten-free whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa; and switch out cream of wheat for teff.
Myth: You can’t ever cheat
Truth: You can be imperfect (unless you have celiac disease or NCGS)
Can you occasionally have a treat with gluten? That’s what people always ask me. They mention that a friend claims to be gluten-free but then breaks the restriction for a piece of crusty bread or slice of pizza. Here’s my take: If you’ve made this change simply to eat cleaner, then having a gluten-containing indulgence once in a while is fine, as long as it doesn’t trigger symptoms that make you feel unwell. If, however, you suffer from celiac or NCGS, you shouldn’t chance it. These days, fortunately, there are plenty of gluten-free ways to indulge.
Myth: Gluten is only in grains
Truth: Gluten may be in foods you wouldn’t suspect, added to thicken, fill, or stabilize a product
Because the FDA does not require makers to list gluten by name on ingredient lists, it can take some detective work to scope it out. But you can steer clear if you read the fine print. First, check for wheat, rye, and barley. Next, look for derivatives of these foods, such as bread crumbs, malt and brewer’s yeast. Surprising sources include:
• Meat substitutes (such as seitan or faux sausages)
• Energy bars
• Salad dressings
• Potato chips
• Soy sauce
You can find a more complete list at celiac.org.