People with celiac disease avoid wheat and other foods containing gluten because they are allergic to a protein in most grains. But many other Americans are eating gluten-free hoping to lose weight and ease other medical problems, including gastrointestinal ailments.
Gluten-free breads, pastas, and other products are on the shelves of all but the smallest food stores, but their prices can leave consumers with a bad case of sticker shock.
At first glance, going gluten-free appears to require a substantial increase in food costs. "That's not true," says Haylie Pomroy, a certified nutritional counselor and wellness consultant to Jennifer Lopez and Reese Witherspoon.
"It's true that many gluten-free products in specialty stores are expensive, but you don't have to shop there to get gluten-free products," Pomroy tells Newsmax Health. "You can probably eat gluten-free for the same money — or even less — than you're spending now."
Pomroy believes that gluten is partially responsible for the current epidemic of obesity and other health problems, and that almost anyone could benefit from a gluten-free diet.
"The wheat we eat today is a glycoprotein that's very hard for our bodies to break down," she says. "That puts a lot of stress on our GI tracts."
This added stress, she says, can cause an immune response from gas and bloating in the GI tract to a systemic inflammatory response like arthritis.
"We've also added gluten to many processed foods," Pomroy says. "We've supersized our consumption of gluten because it has been added to so many products."
The single biggest step you can take that will make the most difference in your health is to switch your bread, pasta, and crackers to gluten-free alternatives, according to Pomroy. "If you can do just this one thing, it will make a huge impact on your health," she says.
The following advice will help you keep your budget in line while eating gluten-free:
• Eat fresh, and cook as many of your meals as possible. Fresh and fresh-frozen fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free, as are meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. If fruits and vegetables seem expensive, the prepackaged items they're replacing are probably more expensive.
• Buy mainstream gluten-free cereals and crackers when possible. Big food manufacturers, such as Kellogg's and General Mills, have hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon and are offering gluten-free cereals in your favorite grocery store that sell for the same prices as their regular cereals — about half the price of specialty stores.
• Shop on the store's perimeter. Fresh foods are usually gluten-free, and are normally kept around edges of the store. Stay away from the center of the store with its shelves of processed foods.
• Buy rice, beans, and other gluten-free staples in bulk when possible. A 25-pound bag of rice is much less expensive than buying it by the pound. And when meat goes on sale, buy in bulk, separate into small sizes, and freeze.
• Use alternative flours. You don't have to give up pancakes and other treats your family enjoys, says Pomroy: "There are a lot of amazing flours that are gluten-free.
"Whether you're trying to eat gluten-free or not, make sure you're eating food that's as close as you can get to a whole food source," says Pomroy.
"If you're working on a health issue, 75 percent of your diet should be non-packaged. If you're trying to be a healthy person, you need to be at 50 percent, and if you're trying not to create disease, you should be eating at least 25 percent non-packaged foods. Most people actually eat more than that."
Holiday celebrations are filled with foods containing gluten, from stuffing to cakes and pies, but many favorites, including cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes are gluten-free.
• If you're having turkey, use gluten-free breadcrumbs for your stuffing, or go with an old Southern favorite and use a cornbread stuffing made with cornmeal.
• Use corn starch instead of flour to thicken gravy to accompany turkeys and roasts.
• If you're too busy or don't have the ingredients to make a gluten-free pie crust, just pop filling into custard dishes for a dessert that isn't just gluten-free, but will also save calories.
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