I have been on a gluten-free diet for many years simply because it makes me feel better. I have a gluten intolerance, not full-blown celiac disease, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I also eat gluten free because I try to follow a clean diet with less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables.
If you suffer from bloating, stomach discomfort, fatigue, constipation, or gas when you eat a big plate of pasta, you might want to consider whether you could have a gluten intolerance too.
I am a health coach with a certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I’m sharing all my best tips with you! It can be overwhelming to try to do this on your own, but now you don't have to.
What is Gluten?
A gluten free diet is an eating plan that excludes gluten which is a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Gluten itself is not bad for you but for some people, it can cause issues. According to The Mayo Clinic, Gluten acts as the glue that holds food together and helps it maintain its shape. It has a glue-like property that gives bread its chewy texture and is often found in cakes, crackers, and pastries.
A gluten free diet will include all foods that are naturally gluten free like fruits, dairy, beans, vegetables, some grains, and meat. You can also eat processed gluten free foods like cereals, breads, and desserts.
What Does Gluten Do To Your Body?
Everyone reacts differently to gluten, but for some sensitive individuals, it can cause problems. According to The Harvard School of Public Health, gluten can cause fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, and malnutrition in certain people who are sensitive to it.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack itself after exposure to gluten. This immune response can damage the lining of the small intestines, which can make it hard for your body to absorb nutrients.
The symptoms of Celiac Disease can be severe, including diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. There can also be other complications related to celiac disease, causing anemia, rashes, fatigue, headaches, and joint pain.
There are currently two blood tests that can determine if you have celiac disease; an antibody test and genetic testing. Endoscopy can also help confirm Celiac. Celiac disease tends to run in families, so if you have someone in your family who suffers from it, you may be more likely to get it.
Be sure to consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms for further evaluation. Do not stop eating gluten before testing because that will cause your results to be inaccurate.
You may want to also consider discussing a FODMAP Diet with your practitioner. This stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols which are carbohydrates that your small intestines may have a hard time absorbing. This can be a temporary solution to ease symptoms.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
For those who have milder symptoms after eating gluten, like stomach discomfort, tiredness, depression, headache, or bloating, it’s possible that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), also known as gluten intolerance.
There is no way to confirm this diagnosis, so patients often try to eliminate gluten from their diets for at least two weeks to see if symptoms subside. It is a good idea to keep a food journal as you slowly try reintroducing foods that contain gluten.
There are people who claim to benefit from a gluten free way of living even though they have no reaction to it. They say that it helps with weight loss and energy, but there is no proof this is true.
I have found in my health coaching practice that people who go gluten free and eat a whole foods based diet do lose weight, while others who depend on packaged, processed, gluten free foods do not lose weight. Remember a cookie is still a cookie.
A wheat allergy is when your body produces antibodies to proteins found in wheat which causes an allergic reaction.
What Foods Have Gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, you should avoid all foods that contain wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and oats. These can be found on nutrition labels marked as wheat flour, wheat bran, durum, Kamut, semolina, and einkorn.
Avoid the following foods unless you have carefully inspected the label or it is marked certified gluten-free.
- bread of all types
- cakes, cookies, pies
- communion wafers
- malt and malt flavoring
- processed and imitation meats
- salad dressing, gravy, marinades, and sauces
- soy sauce
- soups and soup mixes
- snack foods in boxes (always check ingredients)
- vegetables in sauce
Gluten Free Foods
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts, nut butter, and legumes
- meat, fish, seafood, poultry
- rice, wild rice, quinoa
- gluten free pasta
- gluten free oatmeal
- gluten free flours, which can include flours made from almonds, teff, cassava, rice, etc.
- some dairy products, but be sure to check the labels
- butter, olive oil, vinegar
- spices (only spices with one ingredient, not mixes)
For a specific list, check out The Ultimate Gluten Free Food List Here (with printable PDF)
How to Start a Gluten Free Diet
Eating a gluten free diet is really about eating healthy, whole foods in their natural state. Eating in this way and including lots of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you don't suffer from nutritional deficiencies that can be caused by highly processed foods. This may not be true if you have Celiac Disease since your body will have trouble absorbing nutrients. You don't have to completely give up grains, either. You can still eat rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and others.
- Keep it simple by eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, non-processed meat, and gluten free grains.
- Don't rely on packaged processed gluten free foods that have no nutritional value.
- Plan ahead and know what you are cooking all week. I like to pick one simple breakfast and lunch and eat them all week. Then I only have to plan dinners.
- Be careful and plan ahead when eating out. Most restaurants have gluten free menus now. If not, suggest a restaurant that does. Try the Find Me GF app to help find restaurants near you.
- Keep the cost down by buying gluten free products in bulk from warehouse stores like Costco and inexpensive stores like Trader Joe's.
Here are some quick and easy gluten free meals to get you started. Also, check out my Gluten Free Diet Meal Plan.
- Eggs, avocado, and smoked salmon
- Gluten free oats with almond milk and raspberries
- 100 Gluten Free Dairy Free Breakfasts
- Salad with cucumber, peppers, carrots, boiled egg, grilled chicken, and gluten free dressing (I love Primal Kitchen Dressing)
- Mediterranean Quinoa Chickpea Salad - Make a big batch on Sunday and eat it all week long.
- Healthy Chopped Salad
- 100 Gluten Free Lunchbox Ideas
- Sauteed protein (chicken or steak) and vegetables with rice
- Easy Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Gluten Free Instant Pot Beef Stew
- Grilled Lemon Thyme Chicken
- Coconut Chicken Curry
- Find all my gluten free recipes here.
Will a Gluten Free Diet Help Me Lose Weight?
In a word...maybe! If you are going gluten free the healthy way, you are essentially eating a clean diet with no processed, boxed, or packaged foods. If that is what you are doing, you probably will lose weight.
If you are eating packaged gluten free crackers, cookies, granola bars, protein bars, pop-tarts, and cereal bars, then no, not going to happen.
My Gluten Free Resources and Guides
- Gluten Free Diet Meal Plan
- 100 Gluten Free Dairy Free Breakfasts
- 100 Gluten Free Lunch Ideas or Kids
- 50 Easy Gluten Free Chicken Dinners
- 45 Best Gluten Free Products at Trader Joe's
- 45 Best Gluten Free Products at Costco
- Gluten Free Halloween Candy List
- 5 Power Foods to Fuel Your Workout
Other Gluten Free Resources
- Celiac Disease Foundation
- Wheat Belly Blog
- Gluten-Free Living
- Gluten Intolerance Group
- Beyond Celiac
- Gluten Free Recipe Substitutions
- Gluten Free Resource Directory
- Gluten Free Foods List - Eating Well
Sources Used in this Article
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity - BeyondCeliac.org
- Celiac Disease - MayoClinic.org
- Wheat Allergy - MayoClinic.org
- What is Gluten and What Does it Do? - JohnsHopkins.org
- FODMAP Diet - JohnsHopkins.org
This article has been fact-checked by Meghan Punda, Nurse Practioner, Functional Nutritionist, and founder of Nourished + Well.