Does eating a stack of pancakes leave you lethargic? Does a plate of pasta make you feel bloated? Maybe it’s not you—maybe it’s the gluten.
According to CeliacCenter.org, about 18 million Americans can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Symptoms can range from digestive troubles (bloating, cramping, diarrhea and constipation) to depression, “brain fog” and even signs that mimic attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If you suffer from any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor before you cut gluten out of your diet—he or she will want to run tests to rule out celiac disease, a potentially deadly type of gluten intolerance.
For the rest of us, gluten is just plain hard to digest. It’s a relative newcomer to the human diet (we’ve only been eating grain for about 12,000 years), and the human body simply hasn’t adapted to it yet.
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Here are a few simple steps to help you go gluten-free:
1. Focus on whole foods. You don’t have to worry that an apple or broccoli has gluten. Go for foods with the shortest ingredient lists.
2. Look for the “big five” on labels: Wheat, rye, barley, malt and oats. (Oats don’t contain gluten, but they’re usually contaminated with other grains—look for oats labeled “gluten-free.” And don’t just read labels of obvious stuff like pasta and breads. Soups, gravies, snack foods, frozen meals—all of these frequently contain hidden gluten.
3. Try gluten-free grains. Rice is gluten-free. So are quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet and amaranth—and these ancient grains are nutritional powerhouses, too. Cook them whole as you would rice or oatmeal, or find them among gluten-free flours at the market. Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten-free flour blend you can use in recipes as well.
4. Explore the gluten-free section at the market. Even small stores are now offering gluten-free brown-rice pasta and tortillas, lentil or rice crackers, and gluten-free breads.
5. Cook for yourself. There’s no better way to know what’s in your food. Besides, most restaurants are gluten minefields, with their sandwiches, wraps, pizzas and burgers.
6. At restaurants, ask questions. Don’t be shy. At small, family-owned restaurants, the cook usually knows every ingredient that goes into each dish. At chain restaurants, ask which menu items are gluten-free; some chains—like P.F. Chang’s, Outback Steakhouse and Uno Chicago Grill—will hand you an entire gluten-free menu.
7. Keep a gluten-free snack stash. Never force yourself to go hungry! One major key to a fast metabolism is eating every three to four hours, keeping your blood sugar on an even keel. Stash gluten-free snacks like fruit, nuts and beef jerky in your car, office, purse, etc.
8. Tap into the gluten-free community. Here are three great sites to get you started:
- CeliacCentral.org (from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) packs a wealth of terrific, day-to-day gluten-free survival strategies. Check out the Gluten-Free Recipe of the Week (the Thai Shrimp Skewers have just four ingredients and are perfect for the Fast Metabolism Diet). You’ll find links to 150 gluten-free blogs, too, with helpful descriptions of each one.
- Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free Blogger Amy Green posts delicious recipes for everything from breakfasts to desserts, all free from refined sugars and gluten.
- Gluten-Free Goddess Blogger Karina Allrich, who has celiac disease, shares her beautifully photographed vegetarian recipes. Skip the sugary ones, but there are plenty of metabolism-friendly recipes here, like Easy Chicken and Balsamic Peppers.
9. Monitor your body. How do you feel after avoiding gluten for a while? Has indigestion vanished? Does your skin look clearer? Do you feel happier? If going gluten-free makes you feel healthier, consider making the switch—for good.
To read more about how gluten can affect your health, see Pomroy’s article, “Should You Go Gluten-Free,” on her website.