Gluten-free living has come a long way in recent years, with more and more options on grocery store shelves and even gluten-free meal delivery programs popping up. But what exactly is gluten? And why would you want to go gluten-free? Read on for the top reasons and benefits of going gluten-free, along with some great meal ideas.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, among other sources. It is responsible for the elasticity of dough and gives bread its chewy texture. Gluten can be found in many processed foods and beer and wine. While gluten is not harmful to some people, it can cause problems for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Three Reasons People Go Gluten-Free
There are a variety of reasons why people go gluten-free.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system and is caused by ingesting gluten. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system responds by attacking the small intestine. This can lead to nutrient malabsorption, anemia and osteoporosis.
Gluten intolerance is another reason people go gluten-free. This is when the body has difficulty digesting gluten and can cause similar symptoms to celiac disease. However, gluten intolerance does not have the same long-term health effects as celiac disease. Sometimes, gluten intolerant people can heal their digestive system or use digestive enzymes to eat gluten once again — at least occasionally. However, this differs from people with celiac disease, who will continue to have health problems.
Lastly, some people may go gluten-free for weight loss or feel it is simply healthier for them. Even if they don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, this is a valid reason. As we mentioned, most processed foods and many other unhealthy food options have gluten added to them these days. People are certainly not required to go gluten-free, but many feel it is a huge help in staying away from harmful foods.
Those are three main reasons people choose to go gluten-free, but there are many more benefits! Let’s take a closer look at the three benefits of going gluten-free and how they can be applied to everyday life.
Three Gluten-Free Lifestyle Benefits with Meal Ideas
1) Improved Digestion
If you have digestive problems, adjusting your diet can be very helpful. After eliminating gluten from your diet, you may notice that your digestion improves. For example, you may have more regular bowel movements, there could be less bloating and food stays in the stomach for a shorter amount of time.
Meal Idea – To further improve your digestion, you may benefit from a low-FODMAP meal plan which could further help your health. Low-FODMAP diets can be beneficial for those who are gluten-free because gluten-containing grains are considered high-FODMAP foods and other items on the list could also affect your digestion. We recommend trying classic dishes like roast chicken with roasted vegetables. Easy to prepare, this is made in a cast iron skillet.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, preheat the cast iron pan on the stove while the oven gets ready.
- Chop carrots and parsnips and toss in a light amount of olive oil.
- Baste the chicken with a smidge of olive oil as well.
- Season both chicken and veggies with your favorite low-FODMAP herbs and spices.
- Place the chicken in the center of the skillet and surround it with the carrots and parsnips.
- Roast in the oven until the internal temperature at the thigh is around 175 degrees Fahrenheit (this should take about 60 minutes, but check at 40 and cook longer if needed).
2) Better Absorption of Nutrients
With a healthier digestive system, you will have an easier time absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat. This is especially true if you have been experiencing celiac disease or gluten intolerance. In addition, when we eliminate food allergens from our diet, it gives the gut a chance to heal and function more efficiently.
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Meal Idea – Take a page out of the Mediterranean meal plan cookbook and enjoy a delicious nutrient-packed meal. The Mediterranean diet has been consistently named the number one diet by health researchers for half a decade because of its emphasis on plant-based foods and healthy fats with lean proteins and limited but enjoyable sweets. It can easily be adapted to being gluten-free. Here’s a delicious quinoa salad that can be paired with chicken, fish or even eggs.
- Prepare one cup of quinoa by rinsing it in a strainer and then combine it with two cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and then turn on low and let it simmer. Cook it covered for about 15 minutes. Let it sit for five minutes after turning off the heat.
- Blend 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tbsp. gluten-free Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until everything is combined.
- Add veggies for flavor and crunch. We recommend dicing one English cucumber, 1/4 red onion and 1/2 to 1 cup of black olives. Other options include shredded carrot, bell pepper and Italian parsley.
- Combine the quinoa, veggies and dressing in a large bowl and mix. Serve immediately or let it cool — your choice.
3) Weight Loss
Whether you’ve gone gluten-free to deal with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or because you want to be healthier, chances are you’re going to notice that you’re losing weight. There are some reasons for this. One, you’re eliminating the heavily processed gluten-filled foods that are packed with bloat-causing sodium and sugar. Two, you’re probably also cutting back on your daily calories because gluten-free food tends to be less calorie-rich than its gluten-filled counterparts. Finally, many gluten-free foods are more nutrient-dense and contain fewer calories per serving. When combined in the right ways, it will leave you feeling full for longer. That means less snacking.
Meal Idea – If you want to ensure that you’re living your best gluten-free life every day, you need to start your mornings with a balanced yet filling breakfast. Eggs are a great place to start as they’re nature’s perfect protein. Eggs contain many vital nutrients and are naturally low in calories. They’re also very versatile! Here is a great, simple recipe for an easy breakfast bake that you can customize to suit your tastes and mix things up now and again. This meal does involve some prep, but once you’ve got that out of the way, you’re good to go.
- Peel and cube two large sweet potatoes. Toss them in olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices. (This is where you can mix things up and give your meal an Italian, Indian or even Korean nod.) Bake in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until soft, probably about 20 minutes.
- Prepare your preferred proteins. Here you can do bacon and breakfast sausage for a saltier, more savory option. Just be sure to drain any excess juices or fat. You can also go the route of chicken breast if you want to stick to a leaner protein. Feel free to add the same herbs and spices you used on your sweet potatoes.
- Chop a generous amount of onion (white, yellow or red) along with bell pepper (we like green, but all colors work). You’ll want about two cups of this mixture. Sauté your onion and bell pepper mix in a pan with a little bit of olive oil and some salt.
- Combine your sweet potatoes, protein(s) of choice and onion/bell pepper mixture in a casserole dish.
- Whisk 10 to 12 large eggs in a bowl. You can add milk or a dairy alternative here, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Pour this over the contents of the casserole dish. Then, bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes. The center should be fully cooked and the edges will start to get slightly golden.
- Remove and cut into squares. Serve on its own, with a salad or anything else your heart desires. Just make sure it’s gluten-free!
The Benefits Make It Worth the Effort
Many folks think going gluten-free is tough. But honestly, it’s not. It just takes a little bit of planning and forethought. The benefits will more than outweigh the initial effort. And remember — you can always rely on gluten-free meal delivery services if you need help or are feeling a little overwhelmed.
No matter what your reason for going gluten-free, here’s to better health!