A gluten-free diet is one that removes the gluten proteins found in foods to avoid the side effects of gluten sensitivity or gluten-based diseases, like celiac disease. Let’s take a closer look at gluten and how the gluten-free diet affects your health.
What is Gluten?
To understand what to look for in a gluten-free diet, it’s important to know exactly what gluten is. Unfortunately, it’s tough to nail down an exact molecule for gluten, because it encompasses an entire family of proteins present in certain foods. Gluten is a general term for a certain protein and its associated structure that helps some foods retain shape.
The family of gluten proteins is found in tons of different foods, generally derived from one of the big three grains: wheat, barley, and rye. Many products, including some very surprising ones, include some derivative form of these grains that help the foods via preservation or structure maintenance. Gluten is named partially for its ability to “glue” foods together, giving a structured and solid consistency when cooked. The more technical names for the proteins produced in the three grains differ. For wheat, the gluten proteins are known as gliadins (or prolamins) and glutenins (or glutelins). Rye contains secalins, and barley contains hordeins.
Noom addresses the diet from a psychological perspective, so you learn what’s best for you to eat and how best to lose weight and keep it off.
History of the Gluten-Free Diet
One of the most well-known and well-regarded Greek physicians, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, was the first to write of celiac disease in approximately 250 A.D. But what does celiac disease have to do with gluten? Celiac disease is actually an incompatibility of the human gut to process gluten and, therefore, has been well documented through those trying to figure out treatments for celiac disease.
Aretaeus was most well-known for his extensive treatise on all diseases he had come across during his time as a doctor, where he detailed symptoms and the methods he had used to attempt to treat them. In one of the eight books of his treatise, he named a disease koliakos, which roughly translates to “disease of the abdomen.” In this disease description, Aretaeus pointed out distinct symptoms, including the non-digestion of most foods that went through the intestinal tract and the distinct suffering of the patient due to a lack of nutrition.
Though Aretaeus detailed the symptoms of celiac quite clearly in his books, much of Greek writing during this time was forgotten. In the early 1800s, Dr. Mathew Baillie published a strikingly similar description, detailing a chronic disorder in adults that caused malnutrition and distention of the gut due to a lack of ability to extract nutrients from the foods they were eating. Like Aretaeus, Dr. Baillie’s work was promptly ignored, and it was not until almost a century later that celiac disease finally got any notice. Dr. Samuel Gee, a top English pediatrician and cataloguer of children’s diseases described the disease in similar terms to Aretaeus — as he was familiar with Aretaeus’s work. Dr. Gee named the disease “Coeliac Affection,” setting a precedent for diagnosis and distributing materials on it to all of England.
More recently, scientists were able to trace some genetic origins of celiac disease. The disease origin coincided with the onset of the agricultural revolution about 8,000 years ago, where multiple new types of food caused inflammatory and immune responses in the human body. While most humans adapted to those foods, some did not. The symptoms expressed in those who did not adapt became carriers of celiac disease.
Researchers began to understand that gluten had a role in celiac during the throes of World War II. Here, a researcher noticed that bread shortages in parts of the Netherlands would actually improve rates of celiac disease. When the bread was brought back, celiac disease incidence rates would increase. Not long after, the same researcher and colleagues ran experimental studies supporting the link between gluten and celiac. With a causal link established, modern scientists began to study exactly how and why gluten was causing celiac disease in some patients, but not others.
Developments on the genetic side of research showed that different copies of two genes were associated with celiac, and developments in diagnosis allowed for 95% of cases to be correctly diagnosed. Even more recently, the study of gut microbes (also known as the intestinal microbiota or gut microbiome) has shown the importance of having a diverse group of gut microbes that can help aid in the process of digesting gluten-rich foods, and diluting the effects of celiac disease to some extent.
While much of the origin and presence of celiac disease has been explained, there is still much to learn about the effects and relationships gluten and celiac disease have with other environmental factors. Genomic research and microbiome research are active fields where many researchers are regularly publishing research on gluten interactions that can potentially be translated into the clinical world.
Along with the reduction of gluten in those affected by celiac disease, there has been a modern drive to reduce gluten intake in those not afflicted. The major proponents of gluten-free diets believe that the body is not meant to ingest gluten regularly, but is instead supposed to maintain a diet of mostly gluten-free foods.
The Difference Between Noom and Other Plans and Programs
Before digging deeper into gluten-free diets, we want to pass along the power of Noom.
When it comes to learning how to eat and how to live for weight loss, Noom works from a psychological perspective. According to the Chief of Psychology for Noom, Dr. Andreas Michaelides, “By understanding the past behaviors and attitudes of all types of users, we know the best way to meet our users where they are in their journey to help them maximize their change of long-term weight-loss success.”
Noom, as a weight-loss platform, uses the power of food logging, among other advanced technologies, to teach simple, key behaviors for lasting change. Behavior changes that include self-efficacy, motivation, and knowledge are just the start of how psychology can interact with food, so you lose more weight in a way that lasts a lifetime.
Noom works with tech-based tools partnered with support from real-life coaches in a structured program that connects the user with the social support and positive reinforcement needed to change behavior in a way that increases the likelihood of success.
Not all dietary changes are for everyone, and no two weight-loss plans should be the same, which is precisely how Noom works.
By identifying specific areas where changes can be made to reach goals of weight loss and health improvement successfully, users realize where their best changes are to be made and how those changes are incorporated into a lifestyle they can adopt for the long-term.
List of Gluten-Free Food Groups
When you are in need of a gluten-free diet, it’s important to understand the general food groups where you can find gluten-free foods. Here’s a general list of common food groups that have no gluten or risk of gluten contamination.
Fruits: Fresh fruits do not have any gluten, nor do flash-frozen fruits. However, there are some types of fruits that require a close look at the label to tell if they contain gluten. Processed fruits (i.e., fruit products that contain minimal amounts of fruit), dried fruits, and prepared smoothies or fruit drinks may contain gluten.
Vegetables: As with fruits, fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, and canned vegetables will not have gluten. Also, like fruits, processed vegetables, and dried vegetables may have gluten and will need a scan of the ingredient list to ensure safety.
Meat & poultry: All types of unprocessed meat and poultry have no gluten. While there used to be considerable debate on whether grain-fed animals would contain any gluten, there is no evidence that any gluten sources exist in these meats. The process involved in the breakdown of proteins — especially gluten and other proteins present in the plants these animals eat — does not retain gluten and instead breaks the meats into single amino acids for later reconstruction or energy processing. However, some processed meats like sausage and meatballs contain a type of wheat-based filler to hold the meat together.
Fish and seafood: Whether your seafood is farm-raised or wild-caught, it will not contain gluten. The only chance of seafood containing gluten is if that seafood has been prepared near another gluten source.
Dairy: Dairy products will never contain gluten unless contaminated during preparation. Like in meats, there was some superficial debate on the presence of gluten in milk or other dairy products based on the cow’s diet.
Beans: Beans, when processed correctly, do not contain any gluten. However, it’s important to check the labels on any beans you purchase. Many factories that process beans will also process foods with gluten, so they cannot legally be labeled gluten-free due to the chance of contamination. The label will specifically let you know if the beans are indeed gluten-free. If they are, that means they’ve been processed in a plant that only processes vegetables and fruits.
Legumes: Though legumes are fibrous and hold shape very well, they do not contain gluten. As long as legumes are properly washed and scrubbed prior to consuming, they should be fine even for those who are the most sensitive to gluten.
Nuts: Nuts do not contain any gluten. However, nuts are fairly high in calories due to their density and nutritional load, so it is wise to be wary of how many nuts you are consuming in a day. Those with gluten sensitivity are more likely to have some nut allergies. If you’re gluten-sensitive and have never tried nuts before, it may be wise to have food allergy testing done before including them in your diet. Furthermore, some seeds may contain gluten.
Where to Find Hidden Gluten
While the major gluten-free foods mentioned above should form a secure baseline for a totally gluten-free diet, there are some sources of hidden gluten that may hinder your efforts to remove gluten. Particularly, some common foods may escape your attention or seem totally innocuous unless you are already aware they have gluten.
One of the hidden gluten sources may surprise you. While it’s well-known that wheat and barley are the main sources of gluten, the grass is actually totally free of gluten. The seeds are the component of the plant that contain high levels of gluten proteins. When the plants are processed for consumption, the seeds and grass are generally processed together — so unless your wheatgrass or barley grass specifically says it was made with no gluten, there’s a high likelihood that it does, in fact, contain the proteins.
Another major hidden gluten source is in sauces or marinades. Soy sauce is an especially surprising source of gluten for many, as it is assumed that soy is the base ingredient for these sauces. However, many of the major soy sauce brands use wheat as a base ingredient as well. Most thick cream sauces and gravies also host gluten, as they use wheat to make the sauce thicker during the process of forming a roux as the base of the sauce.
Yet another major source of gluten to be aware of that is most unexpected is potatoes. No, regular potatoes do not have gluten. But processed potatoes — for example, potato chips or frozen fries — most likely contain gluten as a holding agent during the cooking process. Potato chips can even be flavored with other compounds that contain more sources of gluten.
Pinpointing every potential source of gluten in your diet can be extremely difficult, but it is doable. There are some keywords that you can look out for on labels to help you in this process. The most common ingredients you’ll find on products include:
- Anything with the word “barley,” including barley flakes, barley flour, or even barley pearl.
- Anything containing the word “breading” or “bread,” which is included in things like breadcrumbs and stuffing.
- Malts, including malt extract and even malt flavoring.
- Most oats, unless they specifically say they are from non-contaminated sources.
There are also some products you may be less familiar with that have gluten and gluten-like proteins. If you’re shopping for more exotic foods, it’s important to keep these in mind.
Fu: While at first glance, this name may be funny, fu is a commonly used dried gluten product in many Japanese dishes. While on most English-derived products, you’ll find this labeled as wheat gluten; if you’re sourcing products from Asia, you may see it labeled as fu instead. In Japan, the main dish made from fu is called nama-fu and consists of gluten, rice flour, and millet.
Esoteric wheat types: Though most major companies use well-known types of wheat, some other kinds of wheat have their own names. Two of the more common (yet still rare) kinds of wheat are Einkorn wheat, an ancient unhybridized wheat line, and Emmer wheat hulled wheat grown commonly in Southern Europe. Many health brands source other types of wheat than the common lines since the rarer species can offer unique health benefits.
Yeasts: Though most yeasts are gluten-free, some derivatives may contain gluten. Brewer’s yeast almost always contains gluten, as it is a byproduct of the gluten-filled brewing process. However, yeasts like instant yeast and baker’s yeast are free of gluten.
With Noom’s extensive food database, that’s managed by nutritionists, you can log all the foods you consume, so you know everything about the foods you’re eating each day.
Alternatives to Gluten-Rich Foods
Despite there being a long list of foods that contain or potentially contain gluten, there are also foods you can eat without the risk of side effects. Gluten-free foods include:
Corn products: Though corn is one of the most common food sources in countless countries across the world, plain corn products are actually totally safe to consume if you’re gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. This includes products like cornmeal, grits, cornflour, and raw corn. There is a worryingly-named product in corn called corn gluten, but the proteins that makeup corn gluten are so different from wheat, barley, and rye gluten that they do not similarly affect the human body. Still, it’s wise to be aware of the preparation process of the corn product you’re eating. Make sure that no step could potentially lead to gluten contamination.
Rice: Thankfully, rice does not contain gluten. This includes all rice types you’ll see in stores, including brown rice, white rice, wild rice, basmati rice, and even enriched rice. Sticky rice — which sometimes can be called glutinous rice — doesn’t contain gluten. Some flavored rice mixes (like the ones that come in individual packets or bags) may have gluten to keep the mixture together, so be wary of processed rice.
Amaranth: While you may have never heard of amaranth, it’s actually one of the most-used foods through Central and South America. This gluten-free grain is extremely protein-rich and contains high amounts of other essential minerals and vitamins. While at first amaranth may seem too good to be true, it’s an integral part of making tasty gluten-free soups and sauces since it’s very good at absorbing moisture. That same water-absorbing property makes it not so great as a baking ingredient since it makes baked goods very dense and flat.
Arrowroot: Arrowroot powder is quickly becoming one of the biggest staples in gluten-free diets. It’s commonly known as arrowroot starch. It’s able to be used as a flour in all types of cooking, including baking and frying.
Buckwheat: If you’re shopping in foreign markets or even in the foreign section of the local grocery store, you may see buckwheat named kasha. Though buckwheat shares the wheat part of its name with the gluten-filled big three, it’s not closely related to wheat whatsoever. There is no gluten in buckwheat, and it is a great resource for protein and fiber. The groats (seeds) are a tasty side dish on their own, and ground buckwheat flour can be used as a cooking agent in dishes that would otherwise use wheat flour.
Cassava: Cassava is a popular plant worldwide that offers tons of use from each part of the plant. The root is similar in texture and taste to yams and potatoes and is the main source of tapioca flour as well as cassava flour. Cassava flour is made by simply peeling, drying, and grinding the root into a fine powder. With lots of carbohydrates and plenty of starch, cassava flour is great for cooking most dishes. The contents of cassava flour are extremely similar to wheat flour in taste and texture, with the added benefit of having no gluten.
Tapioca: Unlike cassava flour, tapioca flour requires a few extra steps of processing to get it from the cassava root. Tapioca flour is made via pulping the root before extracting liquid. The liquid is filled with starch-based compounds and is left to dry. The dried liquid — now a powder — is tapioca flour. This flour, like cassava flour, is totally gluten-free.
Flax: If you’re looking to make great bread without using gluten, then flax is your magic ingredient. Flax seeds have extremely high oil content and tons of antioxidants, and grinding them into flax meal can help you make a killer bread.
Millet: Millet is a gluten-free seeded grass that can be used in different types of bread, other foods, and drinks. While millet is used in many traditional foods, researchers have linked to decreased thyroid health if consumed more than a few times a month.
Quinoa: Quinoa is one of the defining foods of the millennial era, boasting high protein content, and a diverse range of vitamins. It’s gluten-free and has been a focus of gluten-free diets due to its usability in multiple different foods. Due to quinoa’s popularity, though, more quinoa is being processed in plants that also process other gluten-containing grains. This leads to potential contamination, so you’ll need to make sure that your quinoa clearly says it is gluten-free.
Soy: While pure soybeans do not have any gluten, soy products tend to be extremely cross-contaminated with gluten due to their proximity to other gluten-containing products in plants. Since soy is nearly as popular as corn and wheat as a food item, it needs to be processed in bulk. This bulk processing lends itself to larger factories and facilities that also process the big three gluten-containing plants. That said, pure soybeans and products that are clearly marked as soy without gluten are great alternatives to gluten-based products. Gluten-free soy sauces taste great, as does gluten-free soy milk.
Teff: Teff is one of the oldest known grains, typically found in foods from central and northern Africa. It’s high in iron and calcium and makes great bread — particularly a type of bread native to Ethiopia called enjera. Not many popular teff-based recipes exist yet, but the list is slowly growing.
Polenta: Polenta is probably the best gluten-free alternative for making noodles of most types. It can be eaten plain or can be cooked into a smooth finish for use in other recipes. Polenta is actually a mixture of two other gluten-free foods that are on this list — cornmeal and milk. You can also make polenta with cornmeal and water if you prefer not to ingest dairy.
Fonio: Fonio, the newest gluten-free grain, is quickly rising to prominence. As the oldest continuously cultivated cereal in Africa, fonio is a highly nutritious and amino acid-rich cereal. It’s one of Senegal’s fastest-rising exports, moving into Whole Foods in America in mid-2017. Crackers, cereals, and pasta have been produced already, and more recipes using fonio spring up daily online.
Flours from grains, nuts, beans, and coconuts: While many flours have already been mentioned, there are plenty of other flours, you can try that are great alternatives. You’ll have to experiment with each flour and potentially with mixtures of the different flours to determine which is best for a certain recipe. Other flours you can try include almond flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour, brown rice flour, and coconut flour. Keep in mind that there is always a possibility of contamination during the milling process, so always look for products labeled “gluten-free” to avoid this cross-contamination.
With so many new flours, grains, and milks hitting the market, sometimes it’s nice to just have a food database that’s accurate and up-to-date. That’s what Noom offers.
Noom works with nutritionists to ensure all nutritional information is
Vegetable oils: The three most common vegetable oils do not contain gluten, nor do they contain soy. Olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil are totally devoid of gluten.
Potatoes: Though potatoes are starchy and have acquired a reputation as a gluten-containing vegetable, they absolutely do not have gluten. Potato-based products that have been processed, like pre-made french fries or tater tots, most likely will have the inflammatory proteins. Fresh potatoes will not.
Eggs: Eggs often get grouped with dairy products and do have the same non-gluten properties as most dairy. Eggs from factory-farmed chickens and free-range chickens do not contain any gluten.
Nuts and nut butters: Nut butters, including many peanut butters, are largely gluten-free. While only one gourmet nut butter brand is certified as gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, almost every major nut butter company processes and prepares their nut butters with no potential gluten contact. Nuts, in general, are gluten-free, though the more popular ones may have seen some cross-contact with gluten during processing.
Distilled vinegars: It may surprise you that distilled vinegars do not contain gluten. It may surprise you even more that malt vinegar is not totally gluten-free. This is due to the original source of malt, which is barley. All malt products are known for their high gluten content. The reason that distilled vinegars (excluding malt vinegar) are gluten-free is due to the distillation process, which removes gluten.
Distilled alcoholic beverages: As with distilled vinegars, there is no gluten present in distilled alcohols unless cross-contact with gluten occurred after distillation. Distillation removes gluten from alcohol and vinegar via boiling and separation. Since alcohols have very low boiling points, they will boil (and later condense) to form pure alcohol while leaving the gluten behind. Some distilled alcoholic beverages will explicitly say they are gluten-free, but others may still be gluten-free even if they aren’t marked.
Spices: Spices are gluten-free if there is no ingredient on the container of the spice you’re interested in purchasing. When there’s no ingredient list, the spice container only includes the pure spice noted on the label. However, be aware that spices and seasonings are two different things and that seasonings are often marketed and located in the same area of a grocery store as spices. Seasonings will contain multiple ingredients, sometimes with gluten added. Many common brands of seasoning will include gluten products as a preservative or texture helper.
Gluten and Food Additives
The most common food additives are made with gluten since gluten is extremely useful as a strengthening agent for nearly any food that needs a hardier consistency. Furthermore, many dyes and food coloring products are made synthetically and contain gluten. This poses a serious risk to those with celiac disease or those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Fortunately, there are plenty of naturally gluten-free food groups and gluten-free additive alternatives available to make the same foods with similar consistency or coloration.
Annatto: Annatto is rising in prominence as red and orange food coloring. It’s an extract from the seeds of the achiote tree, which can be found across the Southern hemisphere. While red or yellow synthetic dyes used to be far more common, annatto has quickly been replacing the unnatural dyes as a far more natural coloring and flavoring agent. It’s usable in foods like cheeses and snack foods as well as baked goods like cakes and cookies. It’s even better because it’s totally gluten-free and can be used in some drinks as well.
Glucose syrup: This sweetening agent is more commonly known as confectioner’s syrup and is completely gluten-free. Though many manufacturers of glucose syrup actually derive the syrups from wheat, there is little to no gluten present in the actual syrup. Glucose syrup is used to boost the sweetness of a dish, as it is made in high sugar concentrations — with some industrial plants using glucose syrup with up to 90% glucose mixtures and general store-bought versions ranging from 10-43% glucose. It’s also used to soften otherwise tough foods and can add volume and fluffiness to certain baked goods.
Lecithin: Also known as soy lecithin, lecithin is a gluten-free food derived from soy. Lecithin is a naturally occurring fatty acid in plants and animals, including humans. It’s quite healthy and is commonly used as a medicine or medical additive. In food, it’s used as an emulsifier. The fat breaks oils down into smaller, more manipulable components rather than allowing it to completely separate from water. This gives it unique properties as a healthy source for giving oily foods a smoother texture.
Maltodextrin: This additive is a starch-derived product used to up the thickness and texture of foods. Though the name sounds exotic, maltodextrin is essentially lots of glucose, or sugar, linked together into long chains. Since it’s made using pure starch, there is no gluten involved in the maltodextrin hydrolyzing process. This additive is mostly used in sugary desserts like consumer chocolates and candy. It’s also found in snack mixes and bags of chips as a way to keep the food crispy and slightly sweet for long periods.
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Oat gum: Though oats contain gluten, oat gum does not. Oat gum is derived from the carbohydrates found in the oats, and the process of making oat gum leaves the product completely devoid of protein. This additive is not used widely but can be found in health stores and online. It’s generally used as a thickening agent.
Silicon dioxide: Also known as silica, silicon dioxide is a compound found naturally in plants. It’s commonly used as an anti-sticking agent, keeping various other sticky ingredients from forming one massive clump. It’s an essential nutrient in our diet, though its role is unclear. Surprisingly, you also may have come across silica on your last walk — it’s a major component of quartz!
Starch, food starch, cornstarch, and potato starch: If you’ve read through the previous additives, you may have noticed that many are derived from starch. Starches are gluten-free and are a critical component for food texture and density. Starch is found in many vegetables and some fruits naturally, with potatoes and corn as the most common vegetables used for manufacturing starch.
Citric, lactic, and malic acids: Acids are commonly used in cooking and baking due to their ability to lower pH and introduce new flavors to foods. They’re also gluten-free due to the in-depth synthesis, processing, and purification steps that go into making food-grade acids.
Sucrose and dextrose: These pure sugars go through a similar set of processes as acids, ensuring that they’re totally gluten-free. The major difference between these two sugars is the molecular structure — dextrose consists of six carbons, twelve hydrogens, and six oxygens, while sucrose nearly doubles that with twelve carbons, twenty-two hydrogens, and eleven oxygens. Sucrose breaks down in the human body into fructose and glucose, while dextrose simply becomes glucose.
Lactose: The primary sugar present in milk and other similar dairy products, lactose, is a gluten-free natural additive. It can also be synthesized and can be placed onto foods as a coating to prevent sticking and clumping.
Guar and xanthan gums: These two gums are commonly used in gluten-free baking, either separately or as a blend. They’re primarily used as additives for thickening dough. Separately, they have some distinct differences: guar gum works well as a thickener in the preparation of ice cream or other goods that require cold preparation, while xanthan gum is a better choice for making bread. As a blend, guar and xanthan gums work well at most temperatures.
Vanilla: Vanilla bean and vanilla extract are amazing for exquisite flavoring, giving baked goods and other foods taste that would otherwise be unachievable. Though vanilla extract does contain some alcohol, it’s a distilled alcohol that does not contain any gluten. With that added bonus of being completely gluten-free, vanilla is a fantastic ingredient to have.
Monoglycerides and diglycerides: These emulsifiers are absolute powerhouses, improving consistency in food items like ice cream and peanut butter. They’re gluten-free due to the synthesis process.
Gluten and Drinks
Another aspect of the gluten-free diet that is often overlooked is the liquid intake portion. Many people forget that drinks contain calories and multiple ingredients when they do. The ingredients used in drinks are generally different than those used in foods, and fortunately, most drinks are gluten-free. The drinks that are free of any gluten include:
Juices: Natural fruit juices are always gluten-free. Some juice concentrates may contain gluten, though.
Sodas: Almost all sodas are gluten-free, though you should be wary of some of the colorings used. Caramel coloring, in particular, has been known to contain gluten, though many caramel coloring producers are moving away from using gluten. Craft root beers are a hotspot for gluten-containing caramel coloring, so it’s important to read the label before purchasing. If you’re especially leery of gluten, then PepsiCo and Coca-Cola drinks are a safe bet as neither of them contains gluten.
Sports drinks: Most sports drinks are gluten-free but are not certified by the FDA. Powerade and Gatorade, the two most prominent sports drinks, are produced by companies known to make gluten-free products (Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, respectively).
Wine: Everybody’s favorite classy alcoholic beverage is, thankfully, mostly gluten-free. In nearly every wine, gluten is not present or is present below the FDA limit of 20 parts per million. There are only two major exceptions to wine being gluten-free (and a third, much rarer exception).
One of these is the wine cooler, which is a mixture of wine, fruit juice, and some sort of carbonation. Although wine coolers are named after their original main ingredient, wine, many of the cheaper wine coolers do not, in fact, contain wine. They instead contain a malt liquor that emulates the taste of wine while mixing more smoothly with the fruit juices used.
This switch to malt liquor was done in the U.S. to avoid certain tax laws on wine but unfortunately introduced gluten to these previously gluten-free beverages. The other exception to gluten-free wine is in wines that have added coloring or gimmicky flavors. Many dessert wines have extra flavors added synthetically, as many sweet tastes cannot chemically be present in the regular ingredients used in wine.
Unfortunately, this also usually means there is gluten added to the wine as well. The final exception to this rule is rarely seen in wines but could still be a factor. Certain wines are expected to be clear but are processed in a way that does not guarantee clarity. The winemakers turn to fining agents — products that can remove particulate matter from a liquid in a healthy manner — to make their wines clear. Very, very rarely can these fining agents contain gluten.
Hard liquor and distilled liquor: If you’re not a wine person, then you may enjoy some other liquors. Thankfully, all distilled liquors and a decent number of hard liquors are considered gluten-free. Traditional tequila, rum, and some vodkas are gluten-free. Though vodka is made from wheat traditionally, the distilling process removes gluten from the alcohol. Some cheaper brands may not be stringent with their contamination policies and may introduce gluten back to the distilled alcohol accidentally, so it may be wiser to purchase a non-wheat vodka. There are many potato, corn, and even grape-based vodkas available. Tequilas are traditionally made with agave, and therefore do not contain gluten. Mixtos, or cheaper tequilas, can contain gluten. Most whiskeys and brandy are not considered gluten-free.
Hard cider: Perhaps the most surprising beverage on this list to be gluten-free is hard cider. Since hard ciders are often lumped in with craft beer, it’s almost assumed that these alcoholic beverages contain gluten. In fact, the opposite is true. Almost all hard ciders are gluten-free, but it is still extremely important to check the label as a few brands use barley for extra texture and flavor.
One of America’s most celebrated beverages is noticeably absent from this list: beer. Unfortunately, most beers are not gluten-free since they are not distilled, sometimes brewed from wheat, and most use some form of malt or have malt added during the process. Beer styles that most likely do contain gluten include:
Porters: These dark, dense beers have risen to prominence in the United States and worldwide in part due to the widespread popularity of Guinness. The reason these beers are so dark is due to the pure malts added at the beginning of the brewing process. These malts give porters a unique mouthfeel and presence, but make the porter a not-so-great choice for those with gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance.
Stouts: Stouts and porters share many similarities — in fact, stouts are believed to be derived from porters after some brands began marketing extra-strong porters as “stout porters.” Recently stouts have seen a rise in popularity due to many microbreweries attempting their own spin on the classic stout flavor. Coffee stouts and oatmeal stouts have become a staple in the American beer scene. Stouts can be even more of a nightmare for those with gluten intolerances, as they contain barley or malt as well as yeast.
Ales: Ales are beers brewed without hops but with malt, meaning that they still contain gluten. They’re brewed in a warm fermentation style between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit, giving them certain unique properties like fruity tastes that other beers do not exhibit. Pale ales are quite popular, particularly the India pale ale style — but all ales do contain gluten.
Lagers: One of the most flexible beers is lager. Different lagers are perfect for different occasions, whether you’re drinking a cold one with friends or having a refreshing lager with dinner after a long day of work. Lagers are fermented in a process opposite that of ales. They are brewed in cool temperatures, then are allowed to mature at cold temperatures as well. In the United States, many lagers use six-row barley alongside rice or maize. Brewer’s yeast also features prominently in the brewing process. All of these add together to make a beer that is sadly concentrated with gluten proteins.
Drinks and beverages come with their own set of gluten-free products, much like food. More often than not, you’ll be able to keep drinking the drinks you enjoy. You may have to give up some favorites, like most beers, but new options for drinks that have traditionally contained gluten are popping up regularly. Gluten-free beers are becoming more present in the market, and more and more distilled liquor companies are ensuring their processing workflow reduces potential gluten contamination.
Gluten and the Disease Process
The inception of the gluten-free diet came when scientists discovered that gluten proteins — specifically those in wheat — were causing severe gastrointestinal distress in patients. This distress and other associated symptoms were termed “celiac disease,” which later became the official name for this disorder. Incidence rates of celiac disease have only climbed since it was first defined, and with that, people have also discovered there are varying levels of gluten intolerance and sensitivity. The gluten-free diet has become popular in health circles as it does provide many health benefits. However, the gluten-free diet’s main role is to manage the symptoms associated with celiac disease and with other similar medical conditions. These conditions are all able to have some symptoms mediated by switching from a gluten-rich diet to a gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease: Celiac disease is probably the most prominent disease associated with the intake of gluten. A small (but significant) portion of the world’s population has this condition. When gluten enters the digestive tract of someone with celiac disease, the gluten activates the immune system. Since there is no actual threat to the human body, the immune system overreacts, damaging the lining of the intestinal wall. This damage is not significant at first, but over time can cause serious damage to the gut. This damage can block nutrient absorption from food.
Wheat allergy: In those who experience a wheat allergy, the consumption of gluten causes a reaction not different than those seen in other food allergies. Incorrect recognition from the immune system causes the body to believe that gluten proteins are direct threats. This causes antibodies (protective blood proteins) to be produced, which are specific to gluten. When these antibodies attach to gluten, an allergic response is activated. This allergic response can manifest as a range of symptoms, including breathing difficulties, nausea, and swelling of the throat.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: One condition that is rising in public consciousness is non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Here, many of the symptoms of celiac disease can be experienced by one who is sensitive to gluten. A critical difference is that the immune response does not attack the intestine, therefore not damaging the intestinal wall and still allowing nutrient absorption. This is a positive, but other symptoms like bloating and diarrhea still pose significant problems to the person experiencing gluten sensitivity.
Gluten ataxia: The rarest (and potentially the most harmful) disorder on this list, gluten ataxia is a neurological disorder associated with gluten intake. While celiac disease activates an immune response that can damage your intestinal wall, gluten ataxia activates a mechanism that irreversibly harms the cerebellum — a critical part of the human brain. Over time, this progressive disorder causes a loss of coordination and deterioration of all gross motor skills.
Research on the Gluten-Free Diet and Health
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Gluten-Free Diet to Lower Blood Pressure
Surprisingly, the gluten-free diet is known to reduce blood pressure in those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Having celiac disease actually increases the risk of high blood pressure, according to research published in a renowned journal back in 2002.
The reason that those with celiac disease experience higher blood pressure lies in the gut. Since celiac reduces the ability of the gut to allow for the absorption of nutrients through the intestinal wall, the human body misses out on critical vitamins and minerals.
The reduction of available vitamin B-12 leads to an increase in a blood pressure-linked molecule, which in turn raises blood pressure. When someone who has celiac disease is transitioned to a gluten-free diet, and the gut is given enough time to heal properly, blood pressure will begin to lower.
Gluten-Free Diet to Prevent Migraines
A recent study showed that there might be a link between gluten consumption in those with celiac disease and migraines. The human gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain, as it has a large concentration of neurons (about 100 million, according to some estimates). When those sensitive or intolerant to gluten consume gluten, this second brain can act up — potentially even causing headache and migraine onset. Though the link is not causal yet, this study has pointed out a potential correlation between gluten consumption and migraines. However, more research is needed to test if this is truly a factor.
Gluten-Free Diet to Stop Bloating
If someone is gluten intolerant or is experiencing the first signs of celiac disease, there’s a large chance that bloating is occurring. Bloating tends to happen when the body reacts to certain foods in a not-so-pleasant way, forming gases in the gut that would otherwise not be present. For those with gluten sensitivity or worse, there’s a large chance that transitioning to a gluten-free diet can help reduce or stop the bloating completely.
However, there are many other causes of bloating that could come into play before gluten could. For example, dairy products are known to cause bloating in a similar percentage of the population. If you are lactose intolerant, dairy causes similar intestinal discomfort, also, the gluten-free diet itself could potentially cause bloating — at least at first. The shift in diet is serious enough to cause drastic intestinal change while the gut repairs itself and adjusts to increases in gluten alternatives. This change could cause a range of symptoms, including bloating. If this is the cause of bloating, the bloating will likely reduce and eventually stop naturally. With that in mind, it’s still a good idea to consult your doctor to see if the gluten-free diet is a good way to reduce bloating.
Gluten-Free Diet For Autism Spectrum Disorder
Recently, anecdotal evidence from parents of children on the autism spectrum has emerged with the parents noticing a distinct improvement in behavior when their children eat a gluten-free diet. This idea is somewhat controversial, as the effectiveness of gluten-free diets is not established in otherwise healthy people. Those who have noticed this behavioral change postulate that their children are sensitive to gluten, but traditional methods of detection are not viable in children with autism spectrum disorders. Avoiding gluten proteins could improve some behavioral symptoms like speech and social behaviors.
It is important to note that these are anecdotes, and as of yet, no clinical study on the behavioral effects of gluten in those with autism spectrum disorders has concluded. There are a few studies currently underway, but they are long-term observational studies that will not conclude for at least a few years. At present, there’s just not enough scientific research to directly confirm or refute the anecdotal evidence provided by the parents. Consulting a doctor before changing diet is always advised, and is especially advised when considering doing so for someone on the autism spectrum.
Gluten-Free Diet For Depression
An idea picking up steam in the gluten-free community is that transitioning to a gluten-free diet can potentially remediate depression to an extent. Evidence for this claim is sparse, but some do exist. The theory behind the gluten-free treatment of depression lies in the bacteria living in your gut, also known as the gut microbiome. Your gut is home to hundreds of species of bacteria, each with a unique niche. These niches can range from nutrient absorption to protection from other harmful invaders. In those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it seems that eating gluten temporarily changes the gut microbiome to be dominated by less pleasant species, which could, in turn, alter mood and behavior.
Another theory as to why cutting out gluten could help treat mood disorders is due to the millions of neurons that exist in your gut. It is possible that these neurons signal to the brain when certain foods are eaten, and that eating foods that negatively impact health induces depressive signals to the brain. When you transition to a gluten-free diet, these signals disappear, improving mood. However, neither of these ideas have enough clinical research done yet to conclusively say whether the gluten-free diet can truly help with depression.
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Gluten-Free Diet For Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce certain hormones at effective concentrations, leading to weight gain and fatigue — along with a plethora of other symptoms that differ from person to person. There are a few causes of hypothyroidism, with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis being the most common cause. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system does not recognize certain parts of the body as itself and begins attacking those cells instead of actual invaders.
While there is not a significant body of evidence detailing the gluten-free diet’s impact on hypothyroidism, there are certainly some that implicate celiac disease in the onset of autoimmune diseases. Since the immune system is already stressed by the inability to intake nutrients properly, it may begin turning on the human body by accident. This can manifest in disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. By transitioning to a gluten-free diet, there is a possibility that the immune system will be re-strengthened and will begin to function properly again, thereby reducing thyroid problems. There are some studies currently underway examining this possibility, but there is no concrete scientific research to state whether this is the case as of yet.
Gluten-Free Diet For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It’s a chronic and progressive disease, causing inflammation in the tissue around joints that can worsen over time. This can happen throughout the body to all joints if it progresses fully. As with other autoimmune diseases, there is a chance that restoration of “good” immune function could stop the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. If someone is gluten sensitive or intolerant, there is a chance that the ingestion of gluten can lead to immune suppression since the body is constantly trying to repair the intestinal wall. By transitioning to a gluten-free diet, the body can fully repair the gut and direct the immune system’s attention to actual problems rather than random attacks on the human body. While it is unclear if this is scientifically accurate, there is some research suggesting that eliminating certain foods can reduce inflammation.
Gluten-Free Diet For Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is when the body does not produce insulin. This lack of insulin means that cells are unable to get enough glucose — the primary cellular energy source — to cells, leading to weakness and serious problems if not treated. While the gluten-free diet cannot help a genetically predisposed type 1 diabetic produce insulin, there is some evidence that the gluten-free diet can help in other facets of the disease.
For example, a study showed that patients with both celiac disease and type 1 diabetes who were given a gluten-free diet were able to control their glycemic index (a measure of how much glucose is in the blood) for a longer period than those who were not given the diet. However, another study showed there was not an effect of the diet on metabolism in type 1 diabetics. The jury is still out on this one — some research on this topic is still being conducted, but far more effective treatments and therapies exist for those with type 1 diabetes.
Gluten-Free Diet For Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes in that it is a late-onset disease. In type 2 diabetes, the body is not able to use insulin properly but can still produce it. Over time, the organ that produces insulin cannot meet the demands of the body since it is so resistant to insulin. This resistance can lead to a rapid deterioration of health if left untreated.
While there has not been a direct link between gluten and type 2 diabetes, there is some evidence that a gluten-free diet can mediate the effects of diabetes. There’s also some evidence that it can prevent diabetes entirely. A study in mice showed that a gluten-free diet completely prevented the onset of diabetes. Another study showed that a gluten-free diet decreased both celiac and diabetes symptoms in patients with both.
Gluten-Free Diet For Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a general term for those with bowel dysfunctions. There are fluctuations in symptom intensity, where sometimes diarrhea or constipation gets grippingly painful, and sometimes neither is present at all. Sometimes causes of irritable bowel syndrome are hard to pinpoint — hence the overarching name that can apply to multiple conditions. Often, symptoms (and potentially even the syndrome itself) can be mitigated via changes in diet and lifestyle.
One change in diet that could have a positive effect on IBS symptoms is adopting the gluten-free diet. Multiple studies have pointed out the significant overlap between patients with IBS and patients with gluten sensitivity. It’s quite possible that interaction among the human body, the gut, the diet, and the microbes in the gut could lead to irritable bowel syndrome, especially when there is a disagreement between gut microbes and food intake. Early irritation in the gut from gluten can lead to downstream problems when gluten and other nutrients are not properly processed.
Gluten-Free Diet And Acne
One of the most annoying problems you can deal with is the ever-persistent acne. On any random day, a pimple can just appear with no warning. There are many ways to deal with acne once it’s present, and any one of them may work for you. But one way that might surprise you is to take gluten out of your diet. There is no concrete evidence that gluten intolerance or sensitivity directly leads to acne breakouts, but some food scientists have hypothesized that it might occur.
Because gluten-sensitive people can’t absorb nutrients or deal with gluten, the body activates an immune response. This immune response can lead to inflammation and fluctuating hormone levels, two factors that could increase the chances of acne. There is some anecdotal evidence of people switching to a gluten-free diet and their acne disappearing, but no concrete scientific research as of yet to confirm or deny that this diet could help.
Gluten-Free Diet And Eczema
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an annoying, itchy inflammation of the skin that can be flaky or scaly. Some people are genetically predisposed to eczema, but it can flare up even in people who are not. It’s a rash that normally shows up around the knees, scalp, or arms, but could be present anywhere. It is unclear whether there is a link between gluten sensitivity and eczema, as several studies have had differing results. One study examined the antibodies to gliadin — one of the two compounds found in gluten proteins — of patients with eczema and patients without. This study found that those with eczema had much higher levels of gliadin antibodies, suggesting a link between gluten and eczema. However, another study found no such link — those with celiac disease were no more likely to have eczema than those without celiac.
At this point, it is unclear if transitioning to a gluten-free diet will help clear up eczema. Some anecdotal evidence for eczema disappearance after removing gluten exists, but no causal studies have been published. This is a hot topic, though, so expect some evidence to be published soon.
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Gluten-Free Diet And Fertility
The two biggest changes people make when they want to have children are lifestyle (i.e., exercise and sleep) and diet. Changing these to more healthy habits and foods is supposed to increase fertility, with better sleep and better overall health-promoting the chances of fertilization actually occurring. One potential diet to increase fertility that some people consider is the gluten-free diet. While there is very little research on the relationship between fertility and gluten sensitivity, there is still some indicating that celiac disease can be a causal agent of infertility.
Gluten-Free Diet And Hair Loss
There is mixed evidence of the gluten-free diet’s effects on hair loss. Some evidence shows that the gluten-free diet can actually slow hair loss, while other evidence shows the exact opposite. Though some people see hair loss increase after beginning a gluten-free diet, likely, it isn’t the gluten-free aspect of the diet that’s causing the hair loss. What’s probably causing the hair loss in an unbalanced diet, which is known to cause even hair loss across the entire scalp. If this is experienced, it’s wise to take a look at what nutrients are actually being eaten — you’ll probably find a key set of vitamins and minerals are missing from the diet completely.
The gluten-free diet has also been implicated in slowing hair loss. One particular study biopsied scalp samples from three patients with celiac disease, both before and after transitioning to a gluten-free diet. Their work showed that the post-transition scalps had much healthier follicles than before transition, suggesting that the gluten-free diet was beneficial to hair retention.
Gluten and Medications, Vitamins, and Supplements
A surprising spot for gluten to be hiding that many people overlook is in medications and pills of all types. In fact, one of the most ironic places to find gluten is in medication you may be taking to treat misdiagnosed celiac disease. It’s quite eye-opening to see that many of these vitamins, supplements, and medications have gluten in them.
Gluten is used in these products to maintain shape and function until they’re inside the human gut, for the most part. In some supplements, they’re used as delivery mechanisms for some of the less soluble minerals and vitamins as well. This only applies to some medications, vitamins, and supplements, though. The vast majority of these are indeed gluten-free, but it’s important to be aware of any potential gluten sources.
So how exactly do you tell if a medication contains gluten? There’s actually no law that pharmaceutical companies need to disclose excipients, which are the only products in medications that have the potential to contain gluten. Excipients are a blanket term for multiple parts of a medication, including absorbents, protectants, and a range of other parts that allow the medication to diffuse slowly or at certain points in the human gut. They’re inactive, so they’re considered FDA-safe, but they could contain gluten. In order to check if a particular medicine contains gluten in an excipient, you can head to databases maintained online by the National Institute of Health and the National Library of Medicine. Here, you should be able to search across most medications and find a list of ingredients. If the medication you’re interested in contains starch (in all its forms, including pre-gelatinized starch and sodium starch glycolate), there’s a significant chance that there is gluten in that medication. Rarely you may see specific mentions of wheat, which should instantly tell you that there is gluten in that medication.
Ok, but what about supplements and vitamins? The same lack of rules applies to vitamins and supplements as it does to medications, where suppliers and creators do not need to specify the exact excipients used. Databases for supplements and vitamins are not as extensive as those maintained for medications, so the best thing you can do is consult a dietician or doctor if you’re worried about a particular supplement’s gluten contents.
Gluten and Weight
There’s a huge push for the gluten-free diet in a variety of health conditions, but what about weight loss? Based on research, many people choose a gluten-free diet because they think it is healthier, and it will promote weight loss. Unfortunately, there’s no clinical research, of any kind, to promote this claim.
Actually, based on 2018 research in children with celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet increased weight and body mass index (BMI).
Tips on Following a Gluten-Free Diet
Transitioning to a new diet is never easy, but when you have a few tips to help guide you on your journey, you may find it a bit easier. These tips are meant as reminders while you’re making the transition, and not all of them may apply to your specific gluten-free journey.
Establish your favorite gluten-rich alternatives early. Spreading out the discovery process makes transitioning a lot more difficult. It’s best to find your go-to gluten-free alternatives for gluten-rich products early in the transition phase, so you don’t have to research new ones every few days. Once you’ve established your tried and tested alternatives, then you can begin branching out with the safety net already in place.
Find a group of like-minded gluten-free individuals. It’s a great idea to find people going through the same transition or people who have already transitioned to a gluten-free diet. These people can form a support group and be a useful resource for most questions you may have during the transition phase.
Skip the pre-made gluten-free foods. Though it may be very tempting — especially at first, when you’re just starting to realize how many foods contain gluten — there are a huge number of naturally gluten-free foods that are probably cheaper and healthier than the foods in the gluten-free aisles at your local market. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free, and now is the perfect time to start experimenting with new recipes utilizing these tasty products of nature.
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Questions and Answers (QA)
What can you eat on a gluten-free diet?
Foods you can eat on a gluten-free diet include fruits, vegetables, beans, eggs, unprocessed meats, and many dairy products.
How do you eliminate gluten?
Today it is easier than ever before to eliminate gluten. You choose gluten-free grains, starches, pasta, and flour. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and skip processed foods of all kinds.
What happens to your body when you stop eating gluten?
The body doesn’t hold on to gluten. Once you stop eating foods that contain the proteins, your body will digest the new foods and move out any unwanted waste relatively quickly.
What can a person who is gluten-free eat?
The major food groups gluten-free people eat are whole foods. These whole foods are unprocessed and include lean meats and fish, fruits, and vegetables. Some starches, like corn, are also gluten-free.
How long does it take to feel better on a gluten-free diet?
Based on anecdotal reports and some clinical research, it could take a few weeks to feel better after switching to a gluten-free diet.
Can giving up gluten make you tired?
Many people who have gluten sensitivity report feeling fatigued or tired. Once these people remove gluten from the diet, the fatigue should fade, and energy should return.
How do you test for gluten sensitivity?
A blood test, and possibly a biopsy of the intestine, may be used to diagnose celiac disease. There is no specific test for gluten sensitivity.
How long does it take gluten to leave your system?
Your body doesn’t hold on to glucose, but it can take upwards of two weeks or so to feel the difference after cutting gluten out of the diet.
What does a gluten attack feel like?
Some of the symptoms of a gluten attack include a drop in blood pressure, feeling flushed, and experiencing pain and bloating in the abdomen.
Can gluten cause joint pain?
In people sensitive to gluten, particularly those who have celiac disease, the body’s immune system reacts with inflammation. Inflammation can cause joint pain and swelling.
Can a gluten-free diet have side effects?
On a gluten-free diet, new foods are often added, so there is a chance of side effects from the addition of new foods. However, unless there is a food allergy, the reactions should be temporary and phase out as you get used to your new diet.