Ask JJ: After years of painful bloating, skin breakouts, and joint pain, I finally figured out that I'm gluten intolerant. How do I go gluten-free?
Not only do you not need gluten nutritionally, you're better off without it! Eating gluten-free can positively affect your energy, weight, and focus, plus reduce your risk for common inflammatory diseases.
If you're ready to ditch gluten, the five strategies below can make the transition easier. In fact, you'll be amazed at how quickly you adjust your habits and food choices.
Just remember that there's no going halfway when you're eliminating gluten. Even trace amounts can cause symptoms.
If you're unsure about whether gluten is a problem for you, check out the tips below, then commit to going completely gluten-free for at least 21 days. That's long enough to decide whether a gluten-free life is right for you.
- Don't fall into the gluten-free junk food trap. Just because a food is gluten-free doesn't make it healthy! A cookie is still a cookie, even if it doesn't contain wheat, and many gluten-free processed foods are just as full of sugar and artificial additives. Even if you're going gluten-free, it's still important to eat plenty of clean, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Watch your sugar intake, too.
Read labels. While a lot of savvy food marketers have hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon, there are still healthy, nutritious options that don't advertise their lack of gluten. Learn to look for the places gluten hides (like lunch meat, condiments, and oatmeal) and recognize products that don't require a gluten-free version (such as bottled water, fruit, or nuts and seeds). Quality counts. You are what what you eat ate. Avoiding gluten means avoiding animals that ate gluten as well. Meat sourced from livestock fed unhealthy grains can still cause symptoms. (This holds true for corn and soy sensitivities too.) Choose organic, grass-fed beef and buy eggs and meat from chickens that are pasture-raised on their natural diet. Make swaps instead of sacrifices. Eliminating gluten doesn't have to be painful if you make what I call "lateral shifts" - simple substitutes for your favorite foods. Instead of giving up on noodles altogether, try quinoa pasta or spaghetti squash with your favorite marinara. Brown rice wraps or Romaine lettuce leaves can replace wheat tortillas. For baking, try almond or coconut flour instead of wheat or rye flour. And if you're craving pizza, melt a little goat cheese and tomato sauce on a Portobello mushroom.Have a backup plan. Going gluten-free takes some forethought, so start looking at restaurant menus online before you make reservations. It's also helpful to Google nearby grocery stores when traveling out of town. And just in case you get stuck with no gluten-free dining options in sight, keep a safe stash of healthy, gluten-free meal replacement bars on hand.
You can do this! I'm betting the transformation is so obvious after you get rid of gluten, you'll wonder why you ever chose whole wheat bread and pasta at all.