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Wondering what all the fuss is about gluten free? You’re not alone. Abby Helman Kelly from Gluten Free Connecticut.com wants to help you learn exactly what gluten is, what foods contain it, and why a third of the American population is trying to avoid it.

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What is Gluten, Anyway?

Gluten is a substance that is present in wheat, barley, rye and other grains. You know that crusty Italian bread, those chewy bagels, and those delicately light cakes and cupcakes?  Well, you can thank gluten for the texture, crust, density and chew of these delicious breads. Without gluten, they’d be crumbly and dry.

 

Celiac disease vs gluten sensitivity

Some people experience gastrointestinal discomfort from eating foods containing gluten. For those with celiac disease, gluten can cause stomach upset and damage to the intestines as well. This damage can lead to a multitude of serious health complications, including failure to thrive, fertility issues, and more. Celiac disease sufferers vary in their sensitivity to gluten. Some can tolerate tiny bits of gluten from cross-contamination, while some are sick for days. For those with gluten sensitivity, ingesting gluten can cause various physical symptoms, minus the intestinal damage. Symptoms range from bloating, brain fog and joint inflammation, to skin problems. Eliminating gluten eases and sometimes completely resolves these problems.

 

You’re already eating lots of gluten-free foods!

Proteins, either plant or animal based, are always gluten free. This means beef, chicken, seafood, rice, beans, peanut butter, and all nuts. Fruits and vegetables are also gluten free; even potatoes. See where we’re going here? So, hypothetically, if you decided to only eat protein, fruits and veggies, you’d already be gluten free. And, if you do ultimately choose to eliminate gluten, this is the suggested way to start. It’s easy, you don’t have to worry about labels, and it’s incredibly healthy. (always consult with your doctor before beginning any new diet).

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So, what foods contain gluten, then?

All wheat-based breads, pastas and baked goods contain gluten. For an important and expanded list of gluten-containing foods, click here. Gluten can also hide in unsuspecting places, though, particularly in processed foods, so become familiar with additives and preservatives, and always read labels. Better yet, cut out processed foods altogether!

 

Tell me what else I can eat!

There are many grains and foods that are naturally gluten free, such as rice and corn. Follow this link for an expanded list, but for starters, popcorn and tortilla chips are gluten free; salsa is too!  However, be prepared for a change in texture for some items, as gluten-free breads and crusts tend to be a bit crumbly. Pancakes and waffles are particularly good, as are many other baked goods. But, as we said before, try to limit your intake of packaged foods and refined sugars. Whether you are eating gluten or not, too much refined sugar and processed food is unhealthy!

 

Sample gluten free meals:

  • Steak, baked potato, green beans
  • Chicken and veggie stir fry with rice
  • Salad
  • Shepherd’s Pie
  • Rice and beans
  • Paella
  • Sushi
  • Pad Thai
  • Burger and fries (with a gluten-free roll)
  • Spaghetti and meatballs (with gluten-free pasta and breadcrumbs) 

 

If I’m not gluten sensitive or celiac, what’s the benefit of eliminating gluten?

Currently one third of the US population is limiting their intake of gluten. This includes celiac, gluten sensitive folks, and those who just feel better without it. If you don’t currently experience any health or digestive discomfort, but you’re curious as to whether removing gluten from your diet could help you to feel even better, consult with your doctor and give it a try. In as little as two weeks, you just may feel a difference!

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WARNING! If you choose to eliminate gluten from your diet, check with your doctor first, and ensure to replace the protein, fiber, and other nutrients of wheat with more fruits, veggies, and lean protein. Eating a well rounded diet is critical to leading a healthy gluten-free lifestyle.

For a Connecticut dining directory, recipes, more information and helpful links, check out www.glutenfreeconnecticut.com.

 

Abby Helman Kelly is the founder and owner of www.glutenfreeconnecticut.com, the state’s most comprehensive and up-to-date gluten-free resource. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She plans to continue helping her Connecticut neighbors find the best and healthiest gluten-free dining in the state, via her website, community partnerships, and healthy eating festivals. Abby can be reached at abby@glutenfreeconnecticut.com or 860-836-5041