How to go gluten-free on a Latin diet

Have you heard of the gluten-free diet? Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Zooey Deschanel, Jennifer Esposito and Chelsea Clinton have all reportedly cut gluten out of their meals. Some do it because they have a sensitivity to gluten, some because they have Celiac disease (a severe gluten sensitivity) and others simply because they believe it's healthier.

For people that have Celiac, a gluten-free diet is a must. If you're simply a little sensitive though (a lot of people are without realizing it), you can get away with mainly avoiding foods that contain it. Since gluten can be hurting your small intestine without you knowing it, some people avoid gluten just in case.

Whatever your reason for considering a gluten-free diet is, can you actually do it and still keep eating your favorite Latin foods?

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The short answer is YES, but don't think it won't take a little hard work. A gluten-free diet means you have to avoid a lot of food. Gluten is a wheat protein, which means that a lot of your favorite foods may be off the list. Almost any kind of bread (like my favorite pan cubano) is not allowed. Pasta, cereals, beer and desserts made with regular flour all have to be avoided.

But there are a lot of our favorites that are very gluten-free diet friendly. You can still keep eating all kinds of animal protein sources, including fish and eggs. Beans, seeds and nuts are still allowed as are fruits and vegetables. Since the main thing that the gluten-free diet avoids is any product made with wheat (like bread, pasta and cereals), most of our home-cooked meals are okay.

Some options for a Latin gluten-free diet include:

  • Anything made with corn tortillas (chips, tacos, tortilla soup, etc)
  • Beans, beans, beans!
  • Rice (thank goodness we can still have arroz con leche!)
  • Quinoa-based dishes (like quinoa salad)
  • All the fruits and veggies you can eat

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Those are just the basics, though! Luckily for us, there are a lot of traditional Latin foods that are gluten-free as well. Tamales from Mexico, sopaipillas from Chile, pan de yucca from Colombia, arepas from Venezuela and many more can be kept if you're eating Latin food on a gluten-free diet.

The important thing is to really do your research about what foods contain gluten, since the main problem is that it is used as an additive in many store-bought products (like salad dressings, seasoned rice mixes, soup bases, sauces, etc). Read the labels so that you know what to watch out for or, when in doubt, buy only products that are certified Gluten-Free on the label.

But the best news for this kind of diet is that it really forces you to cook. The easiest way to avoid gluten-free foods is to make lunch and dinner for yourself. Although I am not sensitive to gluten, I have gone gluten-free at times just to test whether I felt better or not. It was difficult at first, mostly because I had to avoid bread and pasta, but it actually helped to reconnect me with some Latin foods I hadn't gotten the courage to cook yet. I cooked a lot with rice, beans and veggies and it allowed me to experiment with quinoa—now one of my all-time favorite foods.

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Try it for yourself by going gluten-free for a week and keep to having your favorites and see if it makes a difference. A friend of mine's acne cleared up completely after he went gluten-free but for me it didn't change anything. But I still try to avoid gluten as much as possible, if only because it helps me to avoid processed foods. Home cooking always tastes better in the end, anyway.

Have you ever gone on a gluten-free diet? What benefits did  you see and how difficult was it to keep it up?

Image via paulswansen/flickr