You may have noticed lately that gluten-free options are everywhere. It’s easy to find just about any food that involves grains, including breads, cookies, breakfast cereals, and snack bars in gluten-free form. So, should you go gluten-free? The odds are you don’t have to. But if you suspect gluten may be bothering you, here’s what you need to know before you take the gluten-free plunge.
Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease in which the body reacts to the ingestion of gluten, a sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye, by damaging the small intestine and interfering with the absorption of important nutrients. It is diagnosed by a blood test for gluten antibodies and a small biopsy of intestinal tissue. It affects less than one percent of the population.
How Do You Know if You’re Gluten Sensitive?
“People with NCGS are more likely to experience extra-intestinal symptoms than gastrointestinal symptoms, but it varies from person to person,” says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, CDN. Common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, bloating, foggy brain, and sometimes tingling and numbness, but these are symptoms that could be caused by any number of conditions, making NCGS difficult to diagnose.
If tests for celiac disease are negative and a wheat allergy has been ruled out, but symptoms (see “How Do You Know if You’re Gluten Sensitive?”) continue, gluten sensitivity (non-celiac gluten sensitivi-ty—NCGS) may be the culprit. NCGS, a much less severe reaction to gluten, is estimated to affect as much as six percent of the population—still a minority, but six times more common than celiac disease.
According to Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, CDN, food and nutrition consultant and a gluten-related disorders expert, “There is no scientifically proven test for diagnosing NCGS; instead it is a ‘diagnosis of exclusion.’” Once celiac and other conditions have been ruled out and symptoms improve when gluten is eliminated from your diet, then NCGS is diagnosed. While not as damaging as celiac disease, the symptoms of NCGS can be just as bothersome.
The gluten sensitivity Rx. There is no pill or shot to treat gluten sensitivity. Shelly Asplin, MA, RD, LMNT, who herself requires a gluten-free diet, recommends a strict gluten-free diet for people with NCGS. “Watch for wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives on all products and buy grains, seeds and flours labeled ‘gluten-free.’” As with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is required for life.
Gluten-Free Do’s and Don’ts
- Buckwheat groats (kasha)
- Gluten-free oats
- Nut flours
- Brewer’s yeast
These Could Contain Gluten
- Any food with starch or dextrin as an ingredient
- Brown rice syrup
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Processed lunch meats
- Salad dressings and marinades
- Sauces and gravies
- Scrambled eggs (some restaurants put pancake batter in their scrambled eggs and omelets)
- Vegetarian meat substitutes
Gluten-free labels. Beginning August 5, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration mandated strict criteria on foods and supplements labeled “gluten-free.” That means that any product labeled gluten-free may contain no more than the smallest amount (20 ppm) of gluten believed to be safe for the majority of people with celiac. That goes for people with NCGS as well. Keep in mind that the USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, does not have gluten labeling requirements. While meat and poultry are naturally gluten-free, cross contamination during processing can occur. In addition, gluten-free labeling is not required on restaurant menus and, as with meat and poultry, cross contamination of gluten-containing foods with foods that are otherwise gluten-free makes eating out a risky proposition.
—Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Chicken with Rice
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ c chopped sundried tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
2 c cooked brown or white rice
- Stir together the first 10 ingredients in the slow cooker crock.
- Nestle chicken thighs into the mixture. Cover and cook 8 hours on LOW (or 4 hours on HIGH). At the end of cooking, use tongs to transfer thighs to a plate and cover with foil. Add rice to the tomato mixture. Stir well. Cover and let the mix-ture cook for 5-10 minutes, until the rice heats through.
- Divide tomato and rice mixture between shallow bowls, top each bowl with the cooked chicken.
Note: If you don’t have a slow cooker, place all ingredients in a large pot with a lid and follow Step 1. Follow instructions for Step 2, covering and cooking over medium-low heat for about 1 ½ hours, until chicken is tender.
Makes 4 servings
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 369 calories, 55 grams (g) carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 658 milligram so-dium, 2 g dietary fiber.
Recipe adapted courtesy of Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking by Kimberly Mayone and Kitty Bro-hier MS, RD
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