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Gluten-free tips for beginners

Americans confused about gluten.
Americans confused about gluten.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Gluten-free eating has become mainstream in recent years with options widely available in grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops. Still, cutting gluten out of the diet is often overwhelming especially since many Americans don't understand what it entails, according to a Friday Business Insider report.. Here are some gluten-free tips for beginners.

So what exactly is gluten? It’s a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, rye and barley. Being intolerant to it isn’t an allergy, but a physical condition preventing the body from digesting this type of protein. People who are gluten intolerant often see symptoms such as nausea, rashes, headaches, depression, exhaustion and stomach upset.

Celiac disease is a serious form of gluten intolerance with testing available to see if a person has it. Unfortunately, many people test negative for celiac, but still have a gluten intolerance. The best way to see how gluten impacts the body is to cut it out completely for a trial period. Symptoms are then tracked to see if they improve without those foods in the diet.

Many parents decide to try a gluten-free lifestyle for their children as it has been linked with reducing the symptoms of ADHD, autism and other behavior disorders. However, removing children’s favorite foods, such as pizza, bread, cookies, macaroni and cheese and crackers, is often upsetting to them. Fortunately, the Internet is full of gluten-free tips for beginners.

Replacing old favorite foods with acceptable alternatives is one to handle melt-downs from kids who are resistant to change. Annie’s makes boxed gluten-free macaroni and cheese. Even popular brands like Betty Crocker are offering options. Check the freezer section at the grocery store for bread, bagels, pizza and cookies by brands like Udi’s and Rudi’s.

It’s important to carefully read labels. Wheat-free doesn’t mean the item is without gluten. It could contain one of the other trigger grains. Gluten pops up in unexpected places, like play dough and vitamins. If the intolerance is severe, check with the manufacturer. They aren’t required to listen products on the label if there’s only a trace amount.

Make sure separate utensils and careful preparation is used to avoid cross-contamination. Ordering a gluten-free slice of pizza is useless if the waitress grabs it for you with the same serving tool she uses for regular slices.

Keep snacks in on hand for when there aren’t sure options available. String cheese, fruit, nuts, veggies and hummus, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, lunch meat, grilled chicken, olives and yogurt are usually safe options.

Many grains are still okay to eat including corn, cornmeal buckwheat, millet, rice and quinoa. flours made out of potato, almond, tapioca or coconut flour are available for making pancakes, bread, cakes, muffins and other baked goods.

Most people start to feel better about two weeks after completely avoiding gluten if they have an intolerance. Feeling better is often all the motivation needed to continue with the lifestyle – even for children. If it is a substance the body has trouble digesting, the symptoms return quickly after eating gluten again. Support groups offering gluten-free tips for beginners are widely available in most communities, as well as online.

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