The first step to eating a gluten-free diet is to swear off all wheat, rye and barley grains, as well as their derivatives. It's essential to read labels carefully to ensure these flours and grains aren't an ingredient. Unfortunately, wheat flour is commonly used in baking, as the gluten serves as an elastic thickening agent that gives baked goods their light and airy texture. That means that most breads, cereals, pastas, crackers, cookies and cakes fall on the restricted list.
However, gluten is found in some less obvious sources as well, including beer, candy, processed cold cuts, soups, sauces, soy sauce and salad dressings. Gluten is also often present in Communion wafers, vitamins, medications, lipstick, Play-Doh and toothpaste. Again, all labels must be read with a careful eye, and when in doubt, customers should contact manufacturers to ensure that a product is safe. If one of these products comes with a "gluten-free" label, it's not exempt from the investigative treatment, either; restrictions about what can earn the "gluten-free" label are fairly new and in some cases still being worked out.
So what foods can be safely consumed? Dieticians often recommend shopping along the perimeter of a supermarket, where fresh fruits and vegetables can be found, along with unprocessed beef, pork, poultry and seafood. Eggs, milk, unprocessed cheese and yogurt and butter are also OK. There are some gluten-free finds to be had in the middle of the store as well, including unflavored potato chips, popcorn, plain nuts, packaged fruits and veggies, and sugar. And all grains aren't forbidden; rather, those eating a gluten-free diet can still enjoy grains that are naturally gluten-free, including corn, potato flour, quinoa, rice and soy. Eating out with celiac disease involves working with restaurants to determine which ingredients are safe and where substitutions can be made; an increasing number of restaurants are popping up to serve those with celiac disease exclusively.
These restaurants, along with the increasing number of products labeled gluten-free, have allowed many who can't eat gluten to partake in their beloved bagels or pastas. But as this niche market explodes, many are wondering whether a gluten-free diet could benefit more than just those with celiac disease. Should everyone go gluten-free?