At least one out of 100 Americans have celiac. Most of them don’t know it. And studies suggest that some people who don’t have the disease still can’t tolerate gluten. So what are some healthy foods to eat on a gluten-free diet?
First, let’s answer a few questions with Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
How does gluten become an enemy? The gluten probably gets changed by one of our human enzymes called tTG, or tissue transglutaminase, so it becomes more antigenic—that is, it looks more like a foreign invader. Then the T cells get hold of it, and they traffic it to the draining lymph nodes and set up an aggressive immune response.
How does celiac harm the intestine? If you have celiac disease and you keep eating gluten, the damage accelerates and you get chronic inflammation. And the body produces cytokines, or chemical messengers, from the inflammation that make people feel crummy.
They may not even point to their gut, which is where the problem is coming from. They just say, “I feel terrible.” The inflammation starts to recruit other players, and soon you’ve got a ruckus going on in the intestine. Eventually, it damages the lining of the intestine and your ability to absorb nutrients.
Is it good that gluten-free foods are showing up everywhere? Yes, because that makes it a lot easier for people with celiac to find foods to eat on a gluten-free diet. The danger with that trend, though, is that it may trivialize a real disease. So while we think, “Oh, everyone is on a gluten-free diet. It’s no big deal,” it is a really big deal for people with celiac, and it’s a super big deal for people with severe complications including lymphomas, carcinoma of the small intestine, and maybe esophageal cancer.
Healthy foods to eat on a gluten-free diet
For people with Celiac disease, there is, fortunately, still a cornucopia of foods to eat on a gluten-free diet. Yes, there are a lot of foods to avoid, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of delicious options available. Many gluten-free foods are quite healthy, too.
- low-fat dairy
And unless they’re contaminated by wheat during processing, here are a few more healthy gluten-free foods:
Luckily for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, the food industry now sells a growing variety of healthy gluten-free foods like whole-grain pasta, crackers, and cereals.
There are also a lot of wheat substitutes available, and all can be substituted in a lot of baking recipes.
- chickpea flour
- hazelnut flour (you can make this yourself by grinding up hazelnuts)
- almond flour
- macademia nut flour
- coconut flour
- pea flour
- potato flour
- brown rice flour
- oat flour (as long as it’s marked as gluten-free)
For thickeners, gluten-free chefs turn to arrowroot flour and xantham gum.
Of course, eating gluten-free isn’t always healthy because there are also plenty of available junk foods to eat on a gluten-free diet. Companies market gluten-free versions of cakes, cookies, brownies, doughnuts, muffins, granola bars and other junk. Avoid these and get your carbs from vegetables, fruits, and beans instead.
Are you still wondering what foods to eat on a gluten-free diet?
Are you gluten intolerant, or do you have Celiac disease? How did you find out? What do you eat? Let us know in the comments.
This post was published in 2012 and is updated regularly.