Maybe you’ve heard about the benefits of going gluten-free from a friend or are wondering if those products labeled gluten-free are healthier for you. If you’re curious about whether you should try going gluten-free, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll go over what gluten-free is, who should consider cutting gluten out of their diet, the benefits you might experience, and what to watch for when going gluten-free.

Gluten Free Bagel with cream cheese
 

What is Gluten really?

Gluten is a protein that is found in most grains and is what makes bread elastic and soft, and is also responsible for helping doughs to rise. It’s common in wheat, rye, and barley. Because of this, gluten is found in most cereals, bread, and pasta. Gluten can also be found in foods that you wouldn’t expect to find it in like soy sauce, salad dressings, and soup.

Top view of various legumes and seeds with a wooden cookware

How Do I Know if I Should Try a Gluten Free Diet?

There are a few reasons why you must go gluten-free. These include:

  • Those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which gluten triggers an immune system response, which causes damage to the small intestine. Celiac disease affects about 1 in 100 people. In order to be diagnosed with celiac disease, your doctor will order blood work to look for antibody proteins in your blood that would indicate an autoimmune response to gluten.
  • Those who have gluten sensitivity: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms similar to celiac disease like abdominal and digestive issues, brain fog and fatigue, rash, and headache. This can impact as much as 13% of the population but is not the same as celiac disease. Testing for gluten sensitivity can be more complex than testing for celiac disease, and may require visiting a gastroenterologist to rule out other issues. 
  • Those who have a wheat allergy: Although a wheat allergy is often confused with celiac disease, it’s not the same thing. With a wheat allergy, the body has an immune response to wheat consumption, meaning that consumption of gluten will cause an allergic response. Although those who have been diagnosed with a wheat allergy don’t need to avoid all glutens, choosing products that are labelled gluten-free can provide assurance that these foods contain no wheat.

And then there’s the rest of us. If you don’t fall into the ‘official diagnosis category’, a gluten-free diet may still be helpful for you. Consider trying a gluten free diet if you:

  • Have an autoimmune disease: Those who have autoimmune issues, including celiac disease, are more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune diseases are estimated to impact about 5-8% of the population. People who deal with autoimmune issues, such as autoimmune thyroid problems, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma may benefit from a gluten-free diet. This is because gluten can cause inflammation in some individuals which can make autoimmune issues worse. Gluten can also impact your gut microbiome. If you’re prone to having an autoimmune reaction to certain foods, cutting out gluten can help to improve your symptoms. Gluten in particular looks similar to the thyroid hormones, which means that those who are diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid issues might be more likely to benefit from going gluten-free.
  • Have digestive issues: If you experience digestive issues like bloating and abdominal pain, then you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Because of this, you may benefit from cutting out gluten from your diet, even if for a short time, to allow your gut to heal.
  • Have other allergies: If you experience symptoms like eczema, your body may have an inflammatory response when you eat gluten. Cutting out gluten can help to ease allergy symptoms. If you’re dealing with allergies like dermatitis, sometimes it can cause your body to become sensitive to certain foods, including gluten, until you get the allergy under control. If this is you, it might be helpful to cut gluten out for a while.
  • Deal with depression and anxiety after eating gluten: If you experience mental health issues that aren’t controlled with other measures and occur after eating gluten, you may have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity that is causing these issues. The inflammation that can be caused by eating gluten may impact your brain health, so cutting out gluten may help in managing depression and anxiety.

What about bread, pasta and pastries (a.k.a the good stuff)

Discovering and using different flours allows you to enjoy all their benefits, whether you eat gluten-free or not. Flour is a cupboard staple and a key ingredient in so many recipes. There are tons of great gluten-free options out there now. 

Here’s a little introduction to some of those available:

  • Almond flour – perfect for baked goods, like cakes, bread, and muffins
  • Amaranth flour – high in protein, this is great for making gluten-free pasta
  • Bean flour – with a distinctive flavour this is better in savoury dishes such as pasta, bread, and as a binder for veggie burgers
  • Buckwheat flour – with an earthy flavour that many enjoy, this is great for pancakes, crepes, and pasta
  • Millet seed and sorghum flour – found in Queen St. Bakery’s 1-for-1 Superfood Baking Flour, easily replaces wheat flour anywhere and offers fantastic results for pastries, cakes and other baked goods.

If you’re not keen on making your own gluten-free products, take a look at our power-packed baked goods! From high-fibre, super-healthy bread to amazing gluten-free pizza dough, we make delicious food so that you don’t have to.

 

The Bottom Line: How to get started

If you are just beginning your gluten-free journey, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. Don’t worry, though! There are so many alternatives out there now that it isn’t hard to eat the same diet minus the gluten.
For help on staying healthy as you go gluten-free, speak to a Toronto dietitian today. Also available across Canada remotely, they can help you create gluten-free meal plans, advise on nutrition and answer all of your questions, helping you stay healthy and keep your gut happy.