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The Basics of a Gluten-Free Diet

By Joanna Chodorowska

There is a lot of talk these days about gluten-free diets, and many people realize they are not sure how to start. While you should make sure to discuss a gluten-free diet with your doctor or a health care professional, making the switch can be easier than you think.

gfWhat is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye.

Who should go gluten-free? There are a few reasons to consider this lifestyle. The main reason would be gluten intolerance, which means people feel the effects of gluten after they eat. This might include a stomachache, bloating, fatigue, or other stomach issues, which can also be linked to health issues like Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. Some people may experience a skin condition like hives or eczema. If the body does not process gluten properly, it can also cause problems with your blood sugar, leading to uncontrollable eating.

I had a client who experienced this situation, and he struggled with his race weight as a result. We started by balancing his blood sugars so his cravings for sweets and carbs would be less severe. That helped but it did not take care of the problem, especially after races when bagels were served. The best option for him was to make the switch to a gluten-free diet and he started to take his own snacks to his races.

His snacks were easy — things like brown rice wraps, baked sweet potato slices with almond butter (always a favorite of mine) or any gluten-free baked item. If your focus is gluten-free, you may want to explore other grains to make your own gluten-free eats at home. It may be a bit of an expenditure at first, but overall it is less expensive than store-bought gluten-free items, some of which are loaded with calories.

If you are looking for gluten-free grains, there are a few you can continue to eat, like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet and brown or wild rice. You can find brown rice pasta and soba noodles made with only buckwheat. I have also found mung bean or lentil noodles, which are legumes and another carbohydrate which is gluten-free.

Root vegetables are another option for those who have sensitivities to gluten. This might be a fun culinary experiment for you. Some of the common root vegetables you can include are celery root, parsnip, carrots, beets, turnips and potatoes. If it grows in the ground, it is something you can eat.

Root vegetables are usually easier to digest than the grains and cause no digestive distress. This is why some ultra and endurance athletes use potatoes for their food over granola bars or even peanut butter sandwiches. My favorite way to prepare root vegetables is to roast them, usually with some other lighter vegetables like zucchini, squash or mushrooms. I also like to mash them with cauliflower and garlic to make my own version of a lighter root mash. This can makes for a great snack or meal — just add your protein and green vegetable.

I provide plenty of recipes for my clients so they can explore new root vegetables or you can choose to buy a cookbook or search online for something you may find appealing. Cooking something new should be the part you embrace to make it fun.  

If you are experiencing stomach discomfort or digestive issues, gluten could be the culprit. Before you decide if gluten-free is the right path for you, you should first check with a doctor, registered dietitian or health care professional who can help you to make the best choice for your individual needs. Like many nutrition decisions, the choice to eliminate gluten from your diet is unique to you, and you should make an informed decision. There are many more options today for those focusing on a gluten-free diet, so don’t be afraid to be creative and try something new.

Joanna K. Chodorowska is a nutritionist and a triathlon coach. She is the founder of Nutrition in Motion, specializing in personalized nutrition programs for healthy-minded individuals. Visit www.n-im.net for more information.

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