The Gluten Free Diet

Mar 10, 2021

Although they were once difficult to find, gluten-free foods can be found just about anywhere these days. But what exactly are the benefits of going gluten-free and what is the gluten free diet?

The gluten free diet is one that eliminates all sources of gluten, a protein which is found in barley, rye, oats* and wheat.  While people with celiac disease must avoid gluten, other people may wish to avoid it as well.  A gluten free diet may help ease digestive symptoms for people with a gluten intolerance, and may also reduce chronic inflammation, boost energy and promote weight loss.  The diet may be beneficial for people with Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS, skin issues, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune conditions. 

Celiac Disease

Definition – An autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages. A reaction to gliadin (a protein in wheat) causes inflammation in the small intestine and damages the microvilli which decreases the absorption of food. Other glutinous grains include rye and barley.

Some symptoms may Include pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhea, failure to thrive (in children), anemia and fatigue, but these may be absent, and symptoms in other organ systems have been described. (these symptoms can be associated with other illnesses – best to see your doctor if you are concerned)

Gluten Intolerance

Definition – Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease but yet who lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity shares many symptoms with celiac disease. Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have a prevalence of extra intestinal or non-GI symptoms, such as headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers. Symptoms typically appear hours or days after gluten has been ingested, a response typical for innate immune conditions like non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (these symptoms can be associated with other illnesses – best to see your doctor if you are concerned)

It is important to note that just because a diet is labelled “gluten free”, it isn’t necessarily a healthy diet. While there are many food options available that make the gluten free claim, many of these foods are processed, and nutrition basics still apply. After all, a slice of gluten free cake is still cake! Most foods eaten should come from a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, and include vegetables, fruit, eggs, lean meats, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Blood sugar balance is also important and can be achieved by reducing processed foods and ensuring adequate protein is eaten with each meal.

Familiarize Yourself with Safe and Unsafe Grains and Starches

Being gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to eat rice every day. There are lots of gluten-free grains out there and many people never even try them until they can’t eat gluten any longer. Each has its own taste and texture and work well as side dishes, cereals or in baking. The following are examples of gluten free grains and pseudo-grains that can be used as part of a healthy gluten free diet:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Cassava (tapioca)
  • Corn
  • Flax
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum 
  • Rice
  • Flours – Fava bean, garbanzo (chickpea), garfava, pea and soy
  • Nut Flours – Almond, chestnut, coconut, hazelnut, pecan
  • Starches – Arrowroot, potato starch, potato flour, tapioca

Foods that must be avoided on a gluten free diet include barley, rye, oats* and wheat, which can be easily remembered by the acronym BROW.  While oats on their own are not sources of gluten, they are often processed on the same equipment as wheat and should be avoided on a gluten free diet unless they are labelled gluten free.  There are many hidden sources of gluten, including sauces, nuts, supplements and vegetable-based meat alternatives.

*Note – the use of oats in gluten free diets is controversial. The Canadian Celiac Association approves the use of moderate amounts of gluten free oats but other organizations do not. It is also difficult to purchase certified gluten free oats in Canada.

Unsafe Grains – Wheat, spelt, durum, semolina, graham, faro, emmer, einkorn, triticale and kamut in all of their forms including brans, germs, flours, sprouted and fermented wheat.

Read Labels to Avoid Gluten in Processed Foods

A whole foods based diet is the way to go but if you are incorporating some processed foods know your stuff and read the label first. Quite often fillers are used to reduce the cost of a product and most often are of the gluten variety. If you don’t know whether and ingredient is gluten free or not don’t purchase it. Better safe than sorry.

Prevent Cross Contamination in your Kitchen

Chances are not everyone in your family will be eating gluten free. If so there are few things you should be cautious about.  Ensure that you are using separate toasters, condiments, knives or any other equipment and ingredients that can cause cross contamination. Also be careful on how gluten free pantry items are stored and ingredients in the fridge are situated. With several people using these areas cross contamination is likely.

Experiment with Gluten Free Package Mixes

Gluten free baking can be challenging and more so in the beginning. For some successful first round attempts why not try gluten free package mixes. There is a ton of variety out there including everything from pizza crust, muffin and cake mixes to pancakes and bread. You will be pleasantly surprised at how great they taste.

Make Your Own Bread Crumbs

Commercial gluten-free bread crumbs are available or you can make your own. Put leftover gluten-free bread (whether bought or homemade) in a food processor and store the crumbs in a storage bag in the freezer. Other substitutions for bread crumbs are cornmeal, corn flake crumbs, quinoa flakes and rolled oats that have been certified gluten-free. These all make perfect binders for burgers, veggie loaves and vegan meatballs.

Bump Up the Flavour

Losing the gluten doesn’t have to mean losing the flavour. Gluten-free grains are more dense so you might want to bump up the flavour with some extra spices and condiments. Keep your pantry stocked with gluten-free versions of tamari, hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, veggie broth and hot sauce. Other toppings that are gluten-free such as hummus, guacamole and salsa add awesome flavour as well.

Add a Binder for Structure and Elasticity

A binder (xanthan gum, guar gum or psyllium) helps in most baked goods. A little goes a long way in producing a much better chewy type texture to breads, cookies, pancakes and cakes. For those who like to bake, adopting a healthy gluten free diet can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. Community Natural Foods has a variety of gluten free flours and flour blends that can make all your baking as easy as pie! Gluten free flours are commonly made from ingredients like rice, coconut, almonds, cassava, beans, lupin, and banana. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff would love to help you find the right flour or blend for your baking needs.


It is important to work with a health professional if you have celiac disease and or a wheat allergy. Celiac disease leads to malabsorption issues so supplementations may be necessary. Your health care provider can test you for certain key issues such as anemia, vitamin D deficiency, osteopenia or osteoporosis, etc.


All information and tools presented and written within this article are for educational and Informational purposes only. Any nutrition, lifestyle and product recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before starting any new supplements, diet and exercise program please check with your doctor or practitioner.


Article written by Marney, Megan, and Leanne