What to expect when starting a gluten free diet

Those who start a gluten-free diet scarcely know what to expect. It is a whirlwind from the day you are told you might have coeliac disease, to a few days after your endoscopy confirms it. It is the day you begin the rest of your life without gluten, gluten-free, sans gluten, bread
gluten-free .

This article will help uncover some things you can expect to change in your life when you stop eating gluten. Don’t worry they aren’t too bad and if anything it just allows you to take your health into your own hands and ensure you are at your absolute optimal.

Intolerances to other foods are reduced

As the gut begins to heal you might find that other food intolerances you have begin to ease. Using a very common example – lactose intolerance may over time disappear or at the very least your threshold for lactose might grow. This is because the same villi (little finger-like nutrient suckers) which are damaged through coeliac disease are actually responsible for digesting lactose (the sugar found in milk and milk products). Other dietary intolerances that have been thought to improve in some people after starting a gluten free diet are those associated with FODMAPs and naturally occurring food chemicals.

A possible reduction in intolerances will be gradual but it may be worth slowly reintroducing foods that were once difficult for you to digest to see if you are now able to tolerate them. It will broaden your options (which will now be limited by being gluten free, you will be ecstatic to have another food on the menu!) giving you a wider range of food from which to gain nutrients. Consult a dietitian throughout the re-introduction process, especially if you haven’t already done so since diagnosis.

You begin to have reactions to gluten (much worse than you have ever had before)

Before diagnosis you may have not experienced reactions to gluten, or you thought it was something else causing them (lactose anyone?!).

After some time on the gluten free diet many people find they certainly know if they have accidentally ingested gluten or their food has been cross contaminated because of the reaction they have. Some reactions can come on within half an hour of eating or some take 24 hours to become evident. It really is dependent on your level of sensitivity and the amount of time you have been gluten free.

The symptoms of being ‘glutened’ are different from person to person, some will have severe stomach pains and bloating which might result in diarrhoea or even vomiting (urgh), others will have headaches and some get reflux or constipation. It is so varied that you will not know what your individual symptoms are until you go through an episode of ‘glutening’. Don’t try this at home… or anywhere else for that matter!

Keeping regular is a challenge

High fibre sources in a normal diet often come from whole grains, many of these grains are sources of gluten (isn’t everything!). So, it comes as no surprise that when you take all gluten containing products out of a person’s diet that they may be low on fibre. Fibre is an essential part of maintaining a healthy digestive system, it keeps us regular and helps to lower cholesterol (which is the leading cause of heart disease), stabilise our blood sugar levels (to prevent diabetes) and lower the glycemic index of foods (keeping us feeling fuller longer).

For more information on fibre and how you can ensure you are getting enough on a gluten free diet read this post.

Getting enough of the good stuff (vitamins and minerals)

Many people recently diagnosed with coeliac disease will already be low on some essential minerals and vitamins. Calcium and iron are commonly the most affected and often lead to testing for coeliac disease in the first place. Unfortunately, as with fibre, many wheat flour based products are rich sources of vitamins because they have been fortified to ensure we get everything we need in our diets. When these are removed and replaced with what are often non-fortified gluten free versions we begin to miss out of some of the good stuff, we need to get it elsewhere.

Good news though, US trends suggest that because gluten free brands are beginning to ace the taste and texture of products (so we get yummy replacements), they are now looking to improve nutrient benefits of gluten free foods through fortification and use of gluten free whole grains. The expansion of the gluten free market and resulting competition is leading to better tasting and healthier products!

Eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and gluten free whole grains and monitor your diet or work with a dietitian to ensure you are getting enough of the following vitamins and minerals in your diet;

  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Folic acid (folate)
  • Iron
  • Calcium

Weight changes

People have varied experiences with weight changes when it comes to going gluten-free. In the first instance they might be underweight, but by going gluten-free and beginning to heal, start to absorb all the good stuff from food and gain weight. Those who are overweight or have heavily gluten based diets before diagnosis, find on a healthier diet (no more gluten filled cakes, bread and pastas and not replacing them with to many gluten-free alternatives) they might lose weight.

The biggest thing to keep in mind though is that gluten free substitutes for a lot of breads, pastas and other daily staples are actually lower in nutrients and higher in fats and sugars. Damn. In other words as exciting as it is to replace all the things you love with the new found gluten free version, be vigilant of the dietary value and remember a cake is always a cake and you can always eat it too but, just because it is gluten free doesn’t mean it is healthier for you!

Managing your diet

It is a period of big change to switch from a normal diet to a gluten free one but the best advice we can give is stick to a diet high in unprocessed foods, such as; vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, poultry and eggs. This will give you the best chance at regulating your weight, getting enough fibre and meeting your daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. You will discover a new appreciation of food and respect for your health.