Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Many people's digestive systems are unable to tolerate this, and the dietary requirements are becoming more understood with every passing year, but there are still many myths tied to going gluten-free.
This post is going to debunk many of those myths:
1. Gluten intolerance and coeliac disease are the same
Because both of these conditions involve changing your diet to be gluten-free, many people assume that they are the same thing. They are not.
Coeliac disease (celiac in the US) is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, attacking the gut every time gluten is eaten. Coeliac disease can be life threatening in certain cases.
Gluten intolerance is when someone experiences symptoms similar to coeliac disease, but there is no damage to the gut. Although it can be painful, there is no long-term damage resulting from eating gluten.
2. Going gluten-free is great for weight loss
Although excluding gluten-containing products like pasta, bread, cake and cookies from your diet will aid weight loss, there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives for these items. The gluten is often replaced with extra fat or sugar, as gluten is a bonding agent, so by simply swapping gluten-containing pasta for gluten-free pasta you will not be taking a step closer to weight loss.
The key to weight loss is eating a clean, balanced, healthy diet.
3. All gluten-free foods are healthy
If you decide to eat only naturally gluten-free products then it is likely that your diet will be much healthier because you will mostly be sticking to just meat, fruit and vegetables. But as mentioned before, if you simply swap the gluten-containing items for their alternative gluten-free items, then this is likely to add even more fat and sugar to your diet, which is obviously not healthy.
Removing the gluten from something like cookies, for example, will not make them any healthier; it will simply mean that they don't have gluten in them.
4. The gluten-free diet is just a fad
Contrary to popular belief, the gluten-free diet is not the "new Atkins diet". People who suffer with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance do not make the decision to avoid gluten as a fad; they are physically incapable of digesting gluten. Their bodies don't accept it, and living a gluten-free lifestyle is their only choice.
Although it may just be a trend for some people, for those whose bodies are ill-equipped to tolerate gluten, going gluten-free is life changing and will undoubtedly improve the quality of their health.
5. It's impossible to eat out when you are following a gluten-free diet
It can be difficult to eat out when you are following a gluten-free diet, but it's not impossible. Thankfully, restaurants are becoming better equipped to cater for people with dietary requirements, and there are many places where you can have a perfectly good meal and not get "glutened".
A large number of restaurants offer gluten-free menus and are amazing! To make eating out easier I often call ahead to check that they do offer gluten-free food, rather than waiting to find out when I get there. If you are plan ahead, then eating out can actually be just as much fun as it is for people without dietary requirements.
Please note that simply asking about the ingredients at a restaurant is not enough though as, although the ingredients may be gluten-free, they may be cooked with gluten-containing ingredients, meaning that the gluten will transfer during the cooking process. This is even possible when using utensils; check that they aren't using the same spoon to stir gluten-containing pasta and gluten-free pasta for example.
6. As long as you avoid bread and pasta, it's fine
There are countless amounts of people who think that this is the case. No it's not as simple as that. Yes, gluten is present in bread and pasta, but it is also present in most sauces, breakfast cereals, gravy, cookies, pastry, and even many chocolate bars and ice creams. I was surprised by the number of things that caught me out when I first went gluten-free.
It is even present in some medications! So check everything very carefully.
7. The occasional cheat day is fine if you're gluten intolerant, or have coeliac disease
If you've decided to be gluten-free because you are following the trend then this is fine, but for those with digestive issues, this is simply not an option. I know within minutes if I've been "glutened" because all of my symptoms flare up, and for those with coeliac disease it is even worse because they don't just experience physical discomfort, but their intestines are actually damaged by gluten.
If you have been advised to follow a gluten-free diet by your GP then that is permanent. You can't simply decide to take a day off and eat gluten because doing that would be detrimental to your health.
8. All gluten-free meals taste like cardboard
When I first started eating gluten-free I believed this, but it really isn't true. I have found some of my favourite ever meals since being gluten-free, and I never eat a meal that tastes anything less than I would expect it to taste if I weren't gluten intolerant. It can be difficult to adjust initially, but after a while you will begin to understand what you can and can't eat.
For some amazing gluten-free recipes, check out my blog
...the picture is from my recipe for gluten-free cupcakes
9. Wheat-free and gluten-free are the same
This is a common misconception. Foods that are wheat-free can still contain rye and barley, but foods that are gluten-free can't. Living a gluten-free lifestyle is far more restrictive than living wheat-free.
10. Only foods labelled as gluten-free are safe
There are many naturally gluten-free foods; there is no reason to just stick to foods that are physically labelled as gluten-free. Most meats, fruits and vegetables are gluten-free; I say most because any packaged food items (like frozen potatoes) may have been coated in wheat.
Practically all fresh fruits or vegetables are gluten-free though. Rice is also naturally gluten-free, but check the packaging to ensure that no gluten-containing ingredients have been added for thickening or flavouring.
Meats such as fresh chicken, turkey, beef and duck are gluten-free, but things like sausages and burgers typically contain gluten.
Living on a gluten-free diet can be difficult to begin with, but once you get used to it, it's simple, and, if you suffer when you eat gluten, it will be an incredible relief from the awful digestive issues you've been experiencing. You just need to know what ingredients to beware of, and ignore the myths