Shudder at the thought of giving up bread and all other wheat, barley and rye products? Fairfax dietitian Cheryl Harris, who has celiac disease and has been gluten-free for seven years, acknowledges that the diet can seem daunting. But she also points out that a lot of foods are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, dairy, fish and poultry.
“My first recommendation is always to keep it simple, especially around the holidays: Just go home and have chicken and a baked potato, or yogurt, eggs or a piece of fruit in the morning,” she says. “In a month we can start talking about how to cook teff or millet or quinoa.”
Indeed, eating gluten-free typically involves a bit of detective work.
“You’ll be surprised where you find gluten once you start looking: It’s used as filler in soup and packaged foods and hidden in cough syrup, soy sauce, even shampoo, supplements and certain medications,” says Kaplan, who notes that oats that are often cross-contaminated with wheat and other crops can also be a big problem. “You’ve got to become an expert label reader,” he says.
For example, while wheat must be clearly labeled on packaged foods, Harris notes that barley does not, and it may show up on a list of ingredients as barley malt, malt flavoring, malt vinegar and brewer’s yeast. She adds that some some broths, play dough and even Communion wafers “will often get people.” She suggests seeking out a nutritionist, online
resources or a local support group for help, especially when it comes to such challenges as eating at restaurants.
Better ways to diet
Harris says that going gluten-free isn’t necessarily a good way to lose weight, nor is it the healthiest diet option for someone who has no problem processing the protein. “Most gluten-free processed foods are less healthy than their gluten-full counterparts. They’re higher in calories and less nutritious. Most of the cookies have more sugar, most of the breads have more empty starches and lower fiber; they’re not enriched.”
So if you must go gluten-free, search out the most nutritious alternative foods. But if you’re thinking about eating gluten-free because it’s the dieting craze du jour, there are better ways. Says Chutkan: “Have a pie, some real pasta, have some bread. But just have less.”