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Gluten-free diet: how it works

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 399 views

No wheat, no couscous, no beer: in a gluten-free diet , all foods containing gluten are taboo. This diet is important for people who suffer from gluten intolerance (celiac disease). Read here which foods are allowed in a gluten-free diet, what risks it has and why it is unsuitable for healthy people.

What is a gluten free diet?

With a gluten-free diet, all foods that contain the cereal protein gluten are deliberately avoided. It is also known as gluten protein. It is characteristic of gluten that it binds water and has a stabilizing effect.

A gluten-free diet is particularly important for people who suffer from gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease. This is due to an inflammatory disease of the small intestine, which is triggered by the gluten protein.

Gluten is mainly found in cereals such as wheat, barley and rye – and accordingly in all foods that are made with it. This includes bread, cake, pasta or ravioli.

Take a look at the ingredients list!

The food industry often uses gluten as a binding agent in finished products. It also serves as an emulsifier and carrier for flavorings. If you suffer from celiac disease, it is therefore best to always look at the list of ingredients for processed foods.

People who eat gluten-free can access fruit, vegetables and dairy products – including rice, quinoa and chickpea or chestnut flour. These foods naturally do not contain gluten.

Gluten Free” emblem on products

In addition, there are now numerous substitute products. They can be identified by the “gluten-free” symbol on the front of their packaging. The emblem is a crossed-out ear of corn.

In Germany, about one percent of the population is affected by celiac disease. According to Statista, around 2.7 percent of the population bought gluten-free food within 14 days in 2020 – and the trend is rising.

Do not eat gluten-free on suspicion, but always have the cause of symptoms clarified by a doctor.

When does a gluten-free diet make sense?

There are usually health problems that make a gluten-free diet necessary. This includes celiac disease. Typical of this disease is that even small amounts of gluten damage the mucous membrane of the small intestine and cause inflammation.

The result: the intestinal villi recede and the body no longer absorbs enough nutrients. Experts are currently debating whether gluten intolerance is an allergy or an autoimmune disease.

If you eat gluten-containing foods with an existing gluten intolerance, symptoms such as

  • Diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • stomach pain
  • gas
  • osteoporosis
  • anemia
  • growth disorders in children

So far, the only way to treat gluten intolerance is to change your diet . For those affected, this means that they must consistently avoid foods containing gluten – throughout their lives.

You can find out more about celiac disease here .

Gluten-free diet: These foods are suitable!

In a gluten-free diet, all foods that contain gluten are taboo. In addition to bread, pasta & co., this also applies to foods such as bulgur, couscous and beer. So-called gluten traps are ready-made soups and sauces, fries, ketchup and mustard – it is not immediately obvious that they contain gluten.

Gluten is also often found in processed products such as breaded fish or meat, as well as in confectionery or light products. Gluten may also be hiding in herbal supplements. In addition, care should be taken with trail mix, as it may have come into contact with the gluten protein during production.

Despite these restrictions, it is still possible for those affected to eat a varied diet. The following are permitted on a gluten-free diet:

  • water
  • Coffee
  • Tee
  • fruit and vegetables
  • legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Reis
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • potatoes
  • Meat and fish (unbreaded and unmarinated)
  • seafood
  • sparkling wine and wine
  • Chestnut, soybean, chickpea or lupine flour

Also note that gluten-free substitutes can often be high in sugar and fat .

Here we have an overview of “ gluten-free foods ”.

What are the risks of a gluten-free diet?

In principle, it is easily possible to get all the important nutrients from a gluten-free diet. However, there are a few things to consider:

Lack of nutrients possible at the beginning

A change in diet can cause nutrient deficiencies in the early stages. Therefore, during this phase, make sure that you eat foods with a lot of calcium, iron, zinc , magnesium or folic acid. In some cases, dietary supplements may be useful.

However, do not take any products on suspicion, but clarify a possible nutrient deficiency with a nutritionist or a doctor.

Higher risk of constipation

Since gluten-free grains contain less fiber , there is a higher risk of constipation. In this case, apple pectin, psyllium or nuts will help. Also, make sure to drink at least 1.5 liters a day.

Higher risk of dyslipidemia

The stool-regulating fiber also has a positive effect on the insulin level in the blood. If they are missing or are not present enough, the lipid metabolism may be disrupted.

additional costs

A gluten-free diet usually entails higher costs. Corresponding products such as gluten-free bread or pasta are significantly more expensive than the conventional varieties.

Tips for gluten-free everyday life

If you are gluten intolerant, hygiene in the household is important – especially in kitchens where people live who can easily eat gluten-free products.

Therefore, pay attention to the following points:

  • Always clean work surfaces and kitchen utensils thoroughly before you start cooking.
  • Always keep gluten-free ingredients such as flour well packaged, labeled and separate from foods containing gluten.
  • Always fry gluten-free foods separately and in a different fat than those containing gluten.
  • Always store your baked goods separately and use different knives to cut bread.
  • When boiling pasta, do not use the same cooking spoon or sieve.
  • Use different toasters.

Gluten-free diet: is it also suitable for healthy people?

In recent years, the number of people who eat gluten-free products without celiac disease has increased. The range in the supermarket has also increased accordingly. However, the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) emphasizes that a gluten-free diet is only necessary for people with celiac disease.

Healthy people have no advantages from such a diet. On the contrary: you have to pay more for groceries and are limited in your choice.

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or other health problems with your stomach, it is best to clarify the causes with a doctor. A gluten-reduced diet may then be advisable on medical advice.

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