There are multiple reasons why some people can't have gluten in their diets. Some Americans have gluten sensitivities, and others may be dealing with celiac disease. Understanding what’s causing your gluten intolerance is just the beginning. The next step is knowing which nutrients may be missing from your gluten free diet, such as fiber, iron, folate, and other B vitamins.
Why Can’t I Have Gluten?
May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, a great time to learn more about this condition and how it can be managed through proper eating and nutrition. Celiac disease is caused by sensitivity to gluten, the generic name for certain types of proteins in grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, Kamut, and triticale (a grain crossbred from wheat and rye). More than three million Americans are affected by celiac disease, although most remain undiagnosed. Beyond celiac disease, an estimated 18 million Americans are sensitive to gluten, a condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or NCGS). Though celiac disease cannot be cured, the condition can be managed. The only treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten free diet, which is mostly made up of starches that are not rich in iron, folate, and other B vitamins. But managing celiac disease is not just about eliminating gluten from your diet—it also involves making sure you get all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need.
Key Nutrients in a Gluten Free Diet
The daily recommended amount of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men. Most Americans do not consume enough dietary fiber, and the average intake is only 15 grams per day.
Some of the best sources of dietary fiber are beans and peas, such as black beans, lentils, split peas, and chickpeas. Other sources include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts.
Ways to Get More Fiber
- Look for gluten-free breads, cereals, and pasta made from legumes such as chickpeas or lentils.
- Reduced sodium or no-salt-added canned beans are versatile and go great in salads, soups, and casseroles.
- Add flaxseed meal or chia seeds to your favorite baked goods such as muffins, pancakes, breads, and cookies.
- Add nuts and seeds to your meals and snacks.
- Go with whole grains. People who can’t eat wheat gluten can eat whole grains if they choose carefully. There are many whole-grain products such as buckwheat, certified gluten-free oats, or oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, millet, and quinoa that fit gluten-free diet needs.
More Tips on Choosing Whole Grains
- Choose brown rice instead of white rice. Beyond traditional rice, brown rice is also available in different varieties such as basmati and jasmine.
- Experiment with gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum, and buckwheat. According to the Whole Grains Council, cooking most grains is very similar to cooking rice. Put the dry grain in a pan with water or low-sodium broth, bring it to a boil, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. If the grain isn’t tender enough, add more liquid and continue cooking.
- Choose gluten-free mixes or recipes with high-fiber flours and starches such as amaranth, brown rice, or quinoa.
- Choose whole grain crackers.
- Choose breads, rolls, bagels, muffins, cereals, and pastas from flours and starches that are higher in fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals (for example, amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa).
The recommended daily amount of iron varies depending on a person’s age. Most women need 18 milligrams per day, while most men need only 8 milligrams.
Iron is found naturally in many foods, and is added to some fortified food products. You can get recommended amounts of iron by eating a variety of foods, including lean meat, seafood, and poultry. Beans, nuts, and some dried fruits such as raisins have iron. Typically, non-gluten grains and other products are enriched or fortified with iron. Not all gluten-free grains and products are enriched/fortified but some incorporate other nutritious ingredients such as amaranth, flax, millet, and quinoa.
Ways to Boost Iron Intake
- Consume iron-rich foods. A serving of beans of all varieties is a good source of iron. Try this Aprons recipe, Lentil Garden Salad , as a side dish.
- Boost absorption. Iron in food comes in two forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. The heme iron, predominantly found in meat or seafood, is more absorbable than the nonheme iron, found in plant foods and iron-fortified food products. Combining the two at one meal helps, as does consuming iron with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus. Also, separate iron-rich foods from those high in calcium, such as milk and cheese; the two minerals compete for absorption.
The recommended daily amount of folate is 400 micrograms for most individuals. Pregnancy, however, increases the need to 600 micrograms per day. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and asparagus, and other green vegetables including broccoli and Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of folate. Other good sources include beans and peas.
Ways to Increase Folate
- Make a smoothie for breakfast with strawberries, bananas, and a splash of orange juice.
- For lunch, have a spinach salad topped with canned beans and unsalted sunflower seeds.
Tips on Eating a Balanced Gluten Free Meal
The following tips were provided by Publix Dietitians to get the most nutrition in a gluten free diet:
Gluten is found in a wide variety of foods such as breads and other baked products, cereals, pastas, soups, sauces, seasonings, salad dressings, prepared meats, as well as some nutrition supplements and medications.
Fortunately, a growing number of foods are being developed by manufacturers to answer consumers' increasing interest in gluten free products. So look for packages labeled "gluten free" in your grocery store.
Publix can help you find gluten free choices throughout your local store with our Gluten Free icons in our shelves.
Eating out on a gluten free diet can be challenging since gluten is found in so many different products. When you do the cooking, you have control. You know exactly what you are eating.
Check out these gluten free meal ideas from Aprons Recipes.
Foods recommended for those following a gluten free diet are similar to nutritious foods suggested for the general population such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, eggs, plant-based proteins (such as beans, nuts, and seeds), fish, and lean cuts of poultry and meat.
- "Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity." BeyondCeliac.org. Accessed December 7, 2015.
- "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes." United States Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Library: Food and Nutrition Information Center. Accessed December 7, 2015.
- "Cooking Whole Grains." WholeGrainsCouncil.org. Accessed July 30, 2014.
- "Iron Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet." National Institutes of Health (NIH): Office of Dietary Supplements. February 11, 2016.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 7th Edition." Health.gov: The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. December 2010.
- "Folate Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health (NIH): Office of Dietary Supplements. February 11, 2016.