According to Ayurveda, a wellness practice with ancient roots, food is medicine. There are foods that nourish and foods that deplete, based on an individual’s constitution. Foods that contribute to allergies and sensitivities -- such as dairy, shellfish, nuts, soy, corn and gluten -- can have wide-ranging effects on a person's physical, mental and emotional well-being.
When someone with a gluten sensitivity consumes wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut or oats, his or her body attacks their small intestine, leading to inflammation and compromised nutrient absorption. Over time, this can cause a number of conditions and diseases.
Celiac disease is an extreme case of gluten sensitivity; it is an autoimmune disease ignited by gluten. The condition affects individuals differently, which makes it difficult to diagnose. It's estimated than there are more than 200 symptoms associated with celiac disease, occurring not only in the digestive system but in other parts of the body, as well.
What signals that you may be gluten intolerant?
Gluten sensitivity symptoms range from migraines to lack of mental clarity, digestion issues to life-threatening disease.
Individuals suffering from celiac disease may have general gastric complaints, such as intermittent diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. Other symptoms can include dental and bone disorders, depression, irritability, joint pain, mouth sores, muscle cramps, skin rash, stomach discomfort and even tingling in the legs and feet.
One way to test your gluten sensitivity -- which is said to affect up to one-third of the American population -- is to do an elimination diet, which demands that you cut out all gluten for a period of time.
DIY 10-week elimination diet
Eliminating gluten from your diet can be an overwhelming prospect--especially if you eat a lot of gluten! The goal of the diet is to determine the effects that gluten has on your mind, your body and your mood. Then, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you would like to permanently switch to a gluten-free diet.
An elimination diet takes time. And there is no part way. Either you are committed to eating gluten-free or you aren’t. You wouldn’t want to consume just a little bit of poison, right?
Here’s how you can experiment with being gluten-free:
Week 1: Educate yourself
Vitacost is more than just an online shopping site; it’s a total gluten-free destination for articles, gluten-free recipes and expert advice. On top of that, you'll find a great selection of gluten-free ingredients -- many more than you will find at your local supermarket. You can also research terms such as gluten intolerance, gluten-free diet, gluten-free blogs, gluten-free recipes and gluten-free cookbooks online.
Get familiar with safe and unsafe foods. Gluten hides in many favorite foods: breads, pastas and cereals; processed foods; condiments, soups and sauces. Luckily, there are plenty of safe ingredient alternatives such as rice, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca, amaranth and teff that can be easily incorporated into meals.
Week 2: Assess how much gluten is in your diet
Keep a food log:
- What are you eating that contains gluten?
- Mark the foods that you know to be gluten, and look up those that you are unsure of. Chances are good that, if it is processed, it contains gluten -- unless there are markings on the label that indicate it's gluten-free.
- List possible substitutes for the gluten-containing foods you found.
Weeks 3 & 4: Wean yourself off gluten
Quitting “cold turkey” may be too difficult of a journey, especially if your diet has a large amount of glutenous foods. Starting with small steps in any behavior change offers the best possible chance for success.
How will you gradually reduce the gluten in your daily food consumption so that you can eventually be 100% gluten-free?
By food: Another way could be to eliminate by food. Start with bread, then cereal. Next, move on to grains. Then, work on your sauces and condiments. Eliminate each for a few days at a time.
Keep track of everything that you eat by writing in your food journal. Incrementally eat less and less gluten, until you’re eating 100% gluten-free.
Weeks 5-8: Eat 100% gluten-free
It can take days or weeks to reduce inflammation and clear your body’s reactions to gluten. Enjoy the opportunity to explore new foods and experiment with different new recipes. Be patient and pay attention to how you feel. Continue to journal to keep track of how dropping gluten has impacted your:
- Physical pain/discomfort
- Mental function
- Other symptoms
Weeks 9 and 10: Reintroduce gluten
Now that you have refrained from gluten for a number of weeks, pick one gluten-containing food to re-introduce into your diet. Eat one portion and watch for any negative changes 1) right after you eat it, and 2) a few hours later. Then, repeat it the next day. Did the symptoms get worse? Try it one more day, and pay attention to any cumulative effects.
Next, continue eating your first ingredient, and now add a second for the next few days. Proceed like this for the remainder of these two weeks or more weeks.
Reflect on how you felt while you were 100% gluten-free. If you don’t notice too much of a difference, continue reintroducing various foods.
However, if you feel headachy, foggy, and your gastric, joint or other issues return and flare up, you’ve learned something very valuable, and you may want to consider switching permanently to a gluten-free diet.
Feel better, be better
Whether you decide to go gluten-free or not, undertaking an elimination diet and going gluten-free requires commitment and rigor. Like anything new, it’s going to be very challenging at the onset, and it will take you out of your comfort zone. However, you may be amazed at how good you can feel and function without gluten.
And isn’t your health worth it?