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The Gluten-Free Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

Spencer Cailas

gluten-free diet

gluten-free diet is a popular diet that prohibits ingestion of the protein gluten, a type of protein that causes inflammation in the small intestines, that once believed to affect only the stomach, is now known to give rise to numerous other health problems.

The diet is used as a treatment for celiac disease, people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), brain disorders, various other autoimmune diseases and reasons that will talk in the section below.

It can be a bit daunting, due to the food restrictions when it comes to processed, and gluten containing foods, but you can still enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods.

Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet

There are many benefits of going a gluten-free diet, from autoimmune diseases, weight loss, and other disorders that affect our nervous system.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease which is also known as gluten sensitivity enteropathy, coeliac disease, celiac sprue, and nontropical sprue is a genetic autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine after the ingestion of gluten. It’s a serious condition that’s estimated to affect 1 in 100 people, all around the world.

When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, the body begins to attack the small intestine, damaging the villi, which are fingerlike projections inside the small intestine, which promotes the absorption of nutrients.

It is the only curable, and long-term treatment.

Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

There’s a lot of confusion, discussion, and reports about people saying they feel completely different and better after gluten has been dropped from their diet even not having celiac disease.

Three major studies have been made, first with nine hundred and twenty patients who did not have celiac disease, reports concluded that many were sensitive to wheat, and others were sensitive to various other foods including wheat.

The second study showed that people who ate bread and muffins that contained gluten reported more bloating, pain and other symptoms compared to the other group. With various other studies, they prove that non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, but scientists have no real clue as to why.

Keep in mind that while the celiac disease statistics might be correct, at least thirty percent of the population may be sensitive to gluten without the small intestines being directly involved.

Gluten allergies continue to significantly skyrocket with each passing year.

Weight Loss

The gluten-free diet is used to prevent the development of obesity, inflammation and other metabolic disorders weight loss benefits.

While undergoing a gluten-free diet, your body will begin to heal and improve in glucose homeostasis (the balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain blood glucose).

Not all gluten-free foods are weight loss friendly, most are high carb and therefore should be avoided for long-term health, but due to the type of foods, you must avoid as the diet is quite restrictive you’re likely to lose weight quicker.


Today, it’s estimated that up to 25% of people with psoriasis are sensitive to gluten, as the inflammation associated with gluten intolerance is similar to the one caused by psoriasis.

Undergoing a gluten-free diet may not clear everyone’s psoriasis symptoms, but in certain cases it does lead to dramatic improvements, especially for people who have tested positive for AGA antibody.

Although AGA tests often produce false-negative results, the antibody may be present, so going gluten-free is worth trying for those who haven’t tested positive.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

A strict gluten-free diet is the only long-term treatment for controlling dermatitis herpetiformis, it affects 10-15% of people with celiac disease, at any age.

Even following a gluten-free diet, a sulfapyridine or dapsone therapy may be needed to prevent future outbreaks.

Being the only solution for long-term relief, it’s far from easy to follow the diet as symptoms flare’s up with even the smallest exposure to gluten, but stay strong as we had many readers succeed in overcoming their condition.

Hashimoto’s and Graves’ Disease

Hashimoto’s and Graves’s disease are strongly linked to gluten intolerance because the molecular structure of gliadin is similar to that of the thyroid gland when gliadin reaches the gut, your immune system will begin attacking it, and in turn, will also target your thyroid.

As gluten is a major trigger for most Hashimoto’s (also referred to as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis) and graves (also known as Basedow’s disease) patients, the symptoms won’t improve until undergoing a 100 percent gluten-free diet.

An immune response to gluten can last up to six months every time you eat it if you have autoimmune thyroid disease, that’s why it’s critical to eliminate gluten.


In this study, 7 patients who had epilepsy and tested positive for celiac followed and a gluten-free diet for five months, all six stopped their antiepileptic treatment as their seizures stopped and the seventh patient continued using half of his previous treatment dosage.

Evidence shows a frequent pattern for those with epilepsy and gluten intolerance since the genes involved with epilepsy are the same involved with celiac, specially HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

study reveals that high levels of glucose are connected to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Dr. Perlmutter points out that the consumption of grains is the key element of the cause as they raise glucose levels intensively, even in small variations they increase the risks, and not just those with diabetes but the general population.

A gluten-free diet that is low carb is important as he believes people in the past consumed gluten-free food sources, and had limited sources of carbohydrates and focused more on other sources of nutrition.


Some research suggests that a bacteria that resides in the gut can affect our behavior and mood. In this study, 22 people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) underwent a gluten-free diet under a controlled environment.

Findings have shown that short-term exposure to gluten showed induced feelings of depression, and reported better moods when gluten was excluded from their diet.

These findings explain why patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity feel better while following a gluten-free diet.

Type 1 Diabetes

Here’s one study that has found a link between Type 1 diabetes and gluten showing that gluten consumption is a factor in the development of Type I diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that when compared to celiac disease, both have a similar genetic basis.

Further studies are being initiated, but the gluten-free diet could be used to diagnose patients and stop progression of the disease, and prevent it. This is especially important for mothers who breastfeed.

These are all reasons as to why even people without gluten intolerance should go gluten-free, it isn’t just a diet for a curable disease, it is a decision to live a healthier life, both on a mental and physical state.

Keep in mind that most studies and research are directed towards people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, but from our own life experience and research, we’ve seen that these problems affects every living person.

What Do I Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Even though you will be limiting yourself with foods that do not contain gluten, you will still be able to enjoy many delicious and healthy foods that are naturally gluten-free.

The following grains are known to contain gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale (which is a cross between rye and wheat)

Our goal is to give show you that this diet doesn’t have to be as daunting as it’s made out to be.

The most effective and healthy way to follow the gluten-free diet is to plan with a viable diet plan that consists of gluten-free foods that are naturally gluten-free:

  • Grains – quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, arrowroot, etc.
  • Flours – nuts, beans, coconut, and gluten-free grains.
  • Rice – brown, white rice, etc.
  • Corn – corn flour, grits, etc.
  • Nuts – Brazil Nuts, chestnuts, etc.
  • Legumes – lima bean, green beans, peas, etc.
  • Dairy – milk, cheese, etc.
  • Meat and Poultry – chicken, eggs, etc.
  • Seafood – fish, shrimp, etc.
  • Vegetables – Broccoli, asparagus, etc.
  • Fruits – apples, berries, etc.

In some researches, reports show that some naturally gluten-free grains may contain gluten from cross-contact with other grains that contain gluten when harvested and processed. This is why it is advised to always purchase grains that contain the gluten-free label and contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million).

You probably asking, “What’s a ppm (parts per million) ?” It’s quite simple.

As of August, 5 of 2014 any food or product that is labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The 20 parts per million is a level of gluten that is tolerable and accepted as a standard for any products that are labeled as gluten-free. It is also the tolerable level of gluten that can be ingested by those with celiac disease.

If you’d like to understand it better, imagine having 1 million equal seeds of quinoa. Then, take 20 quinoa seeds and place it on the side and that is your 20 parts per million gluten.

The exact proportion of 20 ppm results in .002% of gluten per million parts of food.

A Suggestion About Dining Out

This can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to eating out whether at a restaurant, friend or a family member’s place where your meal preparations are out of your hands, especially if you have a gluten intolerance, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, or can’t eat out.

If you stick to the types of items you eat at home you’ll be able to eat a bit safer, there are many foods to avoid like fried foods, sauces or foods that were cooked where it could have been in touch with gluten-containing foods.

If you’re dining at a restaurant, most will have a gluten-free menu for you, otherwise make sure you speak with the chef, especially if you have celiac disease, let them know in advance.

If you need ideas and inspirations for your meals, we have plenty of delicious gluten-free recipes for you to choose from.

Problems Digesting Gluten

No matter what you eat, if it contains gluten the effects on your gut will be identical. When the food you’ve ingested reaches the intestines, an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase (tTG) that is produced in your intestinal wall, breaks down the gluten into glutenin and gliadin which are its protein building blocks.

As the glutenin and gliadin proteins make their way through the digestive system, the gastrointestinal tract’s immune system which is normally referred to gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) reviews the protein blocks and works to protect the body from invasion, or harmful substances.

For people without gluten issues, the proteins are absorbed normally(just because of this it doesn’t mean that other health problems don’t occur), but in those with gluten sensitivity, the gastrointestinal tract identifies gliadin as a dangerous substance and instantly begins to produce antibodies to attack it.

And with celiacs, they don’t just attack the gliadin, they also attack the tTG which is what broke them down in the first place.

The tTG enzyme has countless jobs, which include holding the microvilli together in our gut, and the main functions of the microvilli which exist in the intestines is to absorb nutrients and increase surface area, all nutrients are collected and absorbed by the walls of the intestines, which is why the microvilli are so important, the more surface area, the more the body can absorb.

When the antibodies that are produced by your body begins to defend itself against the gliadin and begins to attack your tTG, the microvilli are gradually destroyed which decreases the absorption of nutrients and the walls of your intestines begins to leak, manifesting itself in digestive symptoms which includes constipation, weight loss, bloating, diarrhea and malnutrition, aside from other serious symptoms such as mental fogginess.

What Happens To My Body

When you go gluten-free you will feel strong side effects for a few days, your body will not function properly and you will feel weak, but it is completely normal and your body will adjust to the changes.

Your body is so used to constantly fighting gluten and when it is removed it’s as though it’s saying “Where is the gluten? I don’t know what to do without it.”

As your body becomes induced into the gluten-free state, it will begin a constant fight against the offending food (the gluten) by creating more antibodies for three to four months after it’s removed from the diet.

Gluten is broken down into casomorphin peptides and gliadorphin and it is formed during the digestion of gliadin from the gluten protein and can be passed to the brain from gut leakage causing brain dysfunctions, which can mimic effects of morphine and heroin, which is why you will feel a major withdrawal after going off gluten.

In the first few days to two weeks, many people report:

  • Withdrawal.
  • Weakness.
  • Mental fogginess.
  • Hallucinations and paranoia.
  • Anger and depression.

Not everybody is sensitive to casomorphin, or gliadorphin but it does explain why many people get worse before greatly improving. Once the symptoms subside after your body adjusts, you will begin to feel clarity in many aspects of your life.

Gluten Symptoms and Recovery

When it comes to getting glutened (in this case when you accidentally ingest foods that contain gluten), the symptoms vary with each person. However, as you know your body better than anyone you’ll be able to follow a predictable pattern.

Often, people don’t know when they’ve eaten foods that might contain gluten as it can be difficult to identify when they’ve been exposed to small amounts of gluten, but the majority of people will get similar symptoms just like those with celiac disease, here are some clues:

  • Fever. People can experience fever from when gluten is accidentally ingested.
  • Skin reactions. Many people have skin symptoms from gluten ingestion. Skin rash from dermatitis herpetiformis is very common, but a lot of people experience eczema, psoriasis, acne, and even red patches.
  • Constipation. A majority of people suffer from constipation instead of diarrhea.
  • Brain fog. Most people experience brain fog when gluten is ingested.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Reports show that when large amounts of gluten is ingested people have cases of nausea and vomiting. It’s unusual for vomiting to occur when small amounts of gluten are ingested, but it can happen.

Those are some symptoms we know of from being glutened, but what about afterward.

A scenario too familiar for all of us; after a meal, sooner or later the symptoms begin from gluten exposure, and sometimes it can take weeks for it to disappear.

For recovering, you’ll need to stay away from gluten altogether, avoid taking risks, if you’re not sure it contains gluten, don’t eat it. Here are some steps can you take while your body recovers from that incident:

  • Rest. Exposure to gluten leads to gluten-induced fatigue, your body needs to rest while it’s fighting the harmful effects of gluten, stay in bed whenever possible, and don’t overexert yourself if you can’t.
  • Hydrate yourself. It’s extremely important to stay hydrated during the entire process, by staying hydrated you will aid it in a faster recovery.
  • Supplementation. When you’re glutened and finding it uncomfortable or want to get rid of the problem right away, there are digestive enzymes that can help break down the components found in grains, foods that contain gluten or dairy.
  • L-Glutamine. An amino acid that helps in repairing the damage done to the gut, helping it repair and grow slowly undoing the damage.

As soon as you feel glutened, take these proper steps as soon as you can to see improvements as quickly as possible.

Dangers of a Gluten-Free Diet

Some misconceptions have caused a notorious outlook on the diet. And there are a few arguments against adopting it, especially if you’re tolerant of gluten, so let’s examine the evidence against them.

The nutrient deficiency matter, malnutrition is looked at the most from a scientific point of view. Malnutrition happens in those that cannot digest gluten, due to their microvilli being damaged.

Comparing wheat to gluten-free grains, wheat has a higher percentage of nutrients and minerals, but most aren’t aware that wheat flour by law, must be fortified with iron, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, vitamins A and D that was lost while processing, while flours used in gluten-free products such as rice flour, and a few others are not fortified with nutrients, giving the main misconception towards gluten-free products that it will leave you malnourished.

In a recent study, they tried to address the problem to reveal some of the nutrients that are supposedly for those that undergo the diet. The basic idea is that whole wheat has most of the nutrients and minerals that we’re not getting by going off gluten.

Wheat can be replaced without a problem. It is not the only or the best way to get some of the nutrients needed by our bodies.

There are certainly valid reasons for the warnings on the nutritional deficiencies but the greatest news is that with a balanced diet, you can eat healthily and fill all the nutrient gaps with a good meal plan.

Budgeting and Saving Money

If you ever tried going gluten-free you know that it can end up being expensive, but it’s no different than other clean eating lifestyles out there. While it may be more expensive it can be much cheaper than most people seem to think, with proper planning.

That said, we’ve learned from experience that spending wads of money with unnecessary foods and products isn’t the way to go, there are numerous ways to save money while eating and cooking gluten-free, just like in any other aspect of life budgeting:

  • Monthly plan: Planning your meals a month in advance will efficiently help you reduce costs, so determine how much you want or can spend on groceries for the month, that’s the first step. Afterward, you’ll be forced to look at the prices. How often you’ll eat daily and what you’d like to eat plays a role in the calculation as well. Never go shopping on an empty stomach, you’ll end up spending on things you don’t need.
  • Look for deals: With such a variety of gluten-free products out there you can always find good deals straight at the supermarket, coupons online, in magazines, you can even receive them straight to your emails. They help you save a good amount.
  • Cook/prepare at home: You can cut further costs by making your blends instead of buying pre-made, like making your flour blends from gluten-free grains, nuts or even seeds that you should be consuming while on the diet, it’s cheaper than buying it. Avoiding processed foods will be the biggest money saver, keep in mind that fruits, seafood, meat, grains, legumes are all cheap and healthier than processed foods.

You can read more information and advice on how to save money while eating gluten-free on a budget >

Overall, eating on a gluten-free diet will have a huge impact on your health – treating and preventing certain health disorders, body weight and even raising your energy and mood levels.

As far as dangers involving a gluten-free diet, there are none, unless you have previous health conditions related to celiac or gluten intolerance. Just be aware that the first few days to a week, you will feel sluggish but it’s completely normal as your body is adapting.

It’s very important to create a meal plan on a gluten-free diet to make sure that you’re eating foods that contain no gluten, and have the appropriate vitamins and minerals needed by your body to function effectively.