How to Stay Healthy on a Gluten-Free Diet

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While the movement to label boxes of food as “gluten-free” has certainly made a gluten-free diet much easier, eating right on any diet can be a challenge.  Gluten-free diets can be just as healthy or unhealthy as any other diet, so it’s important to watch what you eat and ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition.  Follow some tips to get your gluten-free diet off to the right start.
Stay Positive
It’s an adjustment to go gluten-free, particularly if you’ve had foods with gluten your entire life up to this point.  Don’t focus on what you can’t eat but rather what you can -- you can open up your palette to new flavors you might not have tried before.  Allow yourself some mistakes from trial-and-error as you discover what foods you might have to cut out and what foods you can add to your diet.  Don’t cheat, either -- if you’ve experienced some negative symptoms of celiac disease or just general gluten intolerance, you know even a tiny bit of gluten is not worth the pain or discomfort you will experience later.
Don’t Eat Junk
Eating junk foods is probably the easiest crutch people fall onto when starting a gluten-free diet.  Just Google gluten free and you’ll be inundated with recipes for cookies, brownies, cakes, and breads.  Remember, just because it says “gluten free” doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you.  Sure, it’s nice to treat yourself, but just as you should have a balanced diet from all the food groups in any regimen, the same goes for gluten free.
Identify Natural and Packaged Gluten-Free Foods
Fresh fruits, meat, eggs, beans, rice, nuts, seeds, oils, and spices are likely gluten-free.  Many packaged foods are also gluten-free, and it’s important to check all the labels before purchasing an item.  Make a list of gluten-free foods you like and put together a shopping list.  When you go to the grocery store knowing exactly what you’re looking for, it makes the trip easier.  Also allow yourself some extra time as you investigate which packaged foods you might have enjoyed before contain gluten.  Plan an entire week’s menu with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Check the Labels
It’s a common sight that people with gluten-free diets compulsively check the labels of food boxes.  Check the labels on absolutely everything you buy.  Many new products are announcing “gluten free” right on the label, which makes shopping much easier.  If there is no such label, read the ingredients.  You might want to bring a list of “hidden” gluten ingredients, such as ale, durum, yeast, malt extract, soy sauce, barley, malted milk, wheat, bulgur, orzo, and couscous.  Visit Colorado State University Extension for more gluten ingredients.  Also while looking at labels, consider the nutrition facts -- is the product high in sodium or saturated fats?  Is it fortified with calcium or other minerals?
Eat a Balanced Diet
If you’ve planned your meals well, you will have a diet full of fruits, vegetables, meats and other proteins, dairy or other source of calcium, and vitamins and minerals.  Take a vitamin supplement daily to ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition in addition to your balanced diet.  Many gluten-free breads are not fortified with fiber and minerals, so you might want a fiber supplement or find other foods high in fiber.  If you can eat dairy, drink milk and eat cheese for calcium; if not, try broccoli, quinoa, or calcium-fortified drinks.  Get iron from meats, fish, and nuts, and B vitamins can be found in eggs, beans, seeds, and gluten-free whole grains.  Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats are also lower on the glycemic index and promote a healthier diet.
Identify Other Food Intolerances
Many people who start gluten-free diets feel better almost immediately.  However, if some symptoms still arise and you know you are completely gluten-free, it might be an indication that you have other food intolerances.  Dairy and lactose intolerance are common, but other foods can trigger symptoms as well.  Keep a diary of what you eat and when you experience symptoms so you can track down what might be causing your symptoms; take these items out of your diet and see if you improve.
Yes, You Can Eat Out for Dinner
Don’t feel like you have to stay home all the time.  If you travel, plan ahead.  If you go out to dinner, ask about how the food is prepared to consider possible contamination.  Ask for all the ingredients used in the meal to ensure it is gluten-free.  Many restaurants are also supporting the gluten-free movement and will provide these meals for you.  Many restaurants also have their menus online, so you can do a little research before going out.
Going gluten-free can be life-changing, and it might mean freedom from the symptoms of celiac disease or other digestive disorder or malady.  Planning ahead and thinking out a balanced diet is the best way for staying healthy and gluten-free.
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