The term Gluten Free is everywhere and our markets are saturated with products marked as Gluten Free. I know the thought of hearing or seeing the words Gluten Free or initials GF make you want to roll your eyes and go back to your glutenous pizza, but I would like to explain what it is like for those who have a gluten intolerance, allergy, or even how gluten affects those who have autoimmune disorders. I have been practicing a gluten free lifestyle for 2 years due to my son having some developmental/behavioral concerns. I wanted to walk through this with him as he transitioned to becoming GF and I have adapted my eating to this lifestyle. Within that time, I have been at one extreme (dumping everything out of my pantry and house that ever contained wheat, while buying all the gluten free products to replace wheat) to a more balanced and whole food approach to eating.
Within this post, I hope to better educate those who want to learn more about gluten and how it affects those with sensitivities, as well as, some simple food /snack alternatives on to provide for children at school or parties.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, that gives the dough an elastic or sticky-like quality.
What happens on the inside?
The proteins, called gluten, act like a toxin within the small intestine. This alerts your immune system which in defense, sends out an autoimmune response to attack what the body feels is a threat (the gluten). Within your intestinal track, there are these hair-like follicles called Villis. Villis help absorb the vitamins and nutrients from the foods we eat. During the battle of gluten versus the immune system, Villis are broken down and even flattened. Since your body is no longer receiving all of the nutrients through the foods being eaten, your body begins to demonstrate various symptoms, and sometimes no symptoms, while internal havoc continues.
Celiac Disease: a genetic autoimmune disease in which the body reacts to protein in wheat, barley, and rye, by damaging the intestinal Villi, resulting in problems absorbing nutrients. Celiac disease is NOT an allergy. 
Gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity: refer to an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten in wheat, rye, and barley, either because of celiac disease or some other reason. This is NOT an allergy. 
Wheat allergy: an elegiac reaction specifically to wheat, rather than an autoimmune response to gluten. It is an acute condition that comes on within about two hours after eating wheat and is most common in children. People with wheat allergies cannot eat wheat, but can consume rye and barley .
The Many Shades of Gluten
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Numbness in extremities
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
- Mood issues, Anxiety, Depression
Symptoms in infants and children
- Small size
- Slow growth
- Failure to thrive
- Eczema and other skin related conditions
- Tooth enamel defects
- Developmental delays
- Constantly getting colds and flu
- Continuous runny nose after a cold or flu
- Dizziness and balance issues
- Dark circles underneath his/her eyes
- Delayed puberty
- Mood issues, anxiety, depression
Gluten and Autoimmune Disorders
While there are many symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten intolerances, it is important to understand that they are considered an autoimmune disorder and can mimic other conditions, making it very difficult to diagnose. Those who may suffer from Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, system lupus, or Sjogren’s syndrome, may be at an increased risk for Celiac’s disease .
Testing for Celiac’s and Intolerances
There are tests that can be ordered by your physician, such as blood work to determine if you have issues with gluten. These are the two tests to ask for: (1)IgA antihuman tissue transglutaminase (IgA TTG) and (2) IgA endomysial antibody immunofluorescence (IgA EMA). Blood work is not the end all be all, as it can give out false negatives. If you receive a negative result and you feel that gluten is causing you to have issues, you can do an elimination diet. This would require a strict removal of ALL gluten for a certain amount of time.
A positive reading on a blood test would then require another test of a biopsy, minor procedure, to take a sample of your small intestine to see the extent of damage.
Just because you or someone you know may display some of these symptoms, does not necessarily mean that you or they have a gluten intolerance. Diagnosing yourself or child is not recommended and should be discussed with your primary care physician.
The parent of a child with a food intolerance
One of the biggest obstacles that I face are school events, parties, and eating out. I always provide my son’s snacks and food for school. Luckily, he has had teachers that were very understanding and willing to make sure that I knew ahead of time when classroom parties and events were coming, so that I could have something ready for him to take. I’m a baker, so I would usually bake cookies, cupcakes, and other simple gluten free items and keep them in the freezer. I also keep simple store bought snacks that are gluten free, but also not filled with all the extra junk that can come with the GF label. Here is a list of some of my favorite products that are gluten free by design or by nature, and do not contain an extensive list of ingredients that cannot be pronounced.
- Lara bars or homemade Lara bars (contain nuts)
- That’s it fruit bars
- Plantain chips
- Tortilla chips (non-GMO)
- Skinny pop popcorn
- Boulders Potato chips (non-GMO)
- Sprouted grain chips, such as Way Better (non-GMO)
- String cheese (if not dairy sensitive or have eliminated casein)
- So Delicious ice creams ( chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cookie dough (GF) )
- So Delicious yogurts
- Organic unsweetened apple sauce pouches
- Deli meat, such as Rose unfurled Canadian bacon (minimally processed)
- Slices of preferred fruit ( oranges, apples, kiwi, watermelon, etc)
- Fruit cups, in juice (no syrup)
- Carrot, celery, and other portable raw veggies that are preferred
- Nut butters, if tolerated
- Nuts, if tolerated
- Dried fruits, such as raisins, berries, apricots, etc.
- Freeze dried fruits
- Certified gluten free granola bars (Annie’s)
- Veggie straws chips
- Enjoy Life chocolate chips
- Beef jerky (Krave, The new primal, Epic, Tonka)
- Sami’s Bakery millet and flax chips (Available locally in Tampa, online ordering available)
- Organic salsa, without added sugar (Publix greenwise brand)
- Enjoy life chocolate chip cookies (if I don’t have any homemade ones available)
There are many other very good gluten free products out there, but these are just some of the products that I have used as snacks for my family. I typically shop at my local Publix, a local health food store called Chuck’s Natural Food Market Place, Sam’s Club, Bulk Nation, Target, and Aldi’s. I have also heard great things about Costco, but do not have a membership to that bulk store. Online I shop exclusively through Amazon and Thrive Market.
Want to learn more about Gluten intolerances and Celiac Disease? These are some of my favorite books:
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating
- The Kid Friendly ADHD and AUTISM cookbook: the ultimate guide to gluten free and casein free diet
- Wheat Belly
- Grain Brain
- The Gluten Connection
- The Paleo Approach: Reversing Autoimmune disorders
If you are living a gluten free lifestyle, what are your favorite products or items?
Source : The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten Free Eating, by Eve Adamson and Tricia Thompson, MS, RD