I spoke recently at the monthly Gluten Free Grand Valley gathering held at the Masonic Temple and was pleasantly surprised to see 40-plus people in attendance, which is less than half of the total enrollment.In other words, there are a lot of people interested in going gluten-free right here in our Grand Valley. The Free Press even ran a great story in January on "Living Gluten Free in the Grand Valley," which you can find online.Some in attendance at the meeting had full-blown celiac disease, in which the body generates an auto-immune (self-attacking) response to the presence of gluten, causing significant health problems especially to digestion and the brain. Testing is simple these days with an easy blood draw, which means you might have been newly diagnosed yourself, or now suspect that you may have a reaction to gluten.I'm pretty sure my grandfather had undiagnosed celiac disease, or at least a significant wheat allergy because of the way he would complain about stomach pain after meals, often having to lie down to recover. Tragic really, as he was a Minnesota farmer and even grew the grain himself. Because gluten is found so ubiquitously in the standard American diet, it can be really challenging to eliminate it entirely from the diet. Fortunately, the lifestyle of going gluten-free has never been easier in the history of humans eating food we have grown.Gluten is a component protein found in wheat that gives it its texture and helps baked goods maintain their shape. Gluten is found most heavily in wheat products like pastas, breads, cakes, pies and cookies, but also is found in those containing spelt, rye, barley, triticale, kamut and to a certain degree, oats. It can even sneak into hot dogs and ice cream, which means that if you have ever tried to eliminate it entirely from your diet, you realize pretty quick how important it becomes to read labels.Too often, gluten-free diet information focuses only on things you cannot have, inviting us to feel deprived. With this intense focus on what to avoid, the message about what of the many gluten-free foods you can eat for good health often gets lost. The most nutritious gluten-free diet is one based around healthy, gluten-free, whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, lean meats, poultry and fish. Over-reliance on heavily processed, convenience foods can result in a diet that lacks important nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, calcium and fiber for good health. It's also expensive! There is also strong evidence that GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods also cause reactions that non-GMO foods do not. Look for organic foods, which are non-GMO and do not contain harmful pesticide or chemical residues, especially meat and meat products like milk, cheese and eggs, which are higher in the food chain and therefore contain higher amounts of these toxins. Here's an easy reference guide of nutritional foods that are naturally gluten-free.FOOD: Vegetables • HEALTH BENEFIT: Decreases risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing dips, seasonings and flavorings; high-fat dips and dressings; excess sodium in canned and pre-packaged vegetables FOOD: Fruit • HEALTH BENEFIT: Decreases risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing and/or high-fat dips; added sugar or high fructose corn syrup in canned or frozen fruit FOOD: Whole grains such as amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, teff and quinoa • HEALTH BENEFIT: Decreases risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes • WATCH OUT FOR: Wheat, rye, barley, kamut, and triticale; oats that have not been certified gluten-free; any breads, pastas or baked goods that contain these grains FOOD: Nuts and seeds • HEALTH BENEFIT: Fuels muscle growth and maintenance; regulates appetite and inflammation; supports digestive and cardiovascular health • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing flavorings and seasonings added to pre-packaged nuts; high-sodium nut mixtures FOOD: Legumes (beans) • HEALTH BENEFIT: Fuels muscle growth and maintenance, supports digestive and cardiovascular health, regulates appetite • WATCH OUT FOR: Pre-packaged bean mixtures with gluten-containing flavorings and/or excess sodium; sodium-added canned beans FOOD: Fish • HEALTH BENEFIT: Fuels muscle growth and maintenance, supports immunity and cardiovascular function, reduces inflammation • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing breadings, toppings or seasonings; high-mercury varieties such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tile fish* FOOD: Poultry • HEALTH BENEFIT: Fuels muscle growth and maintenance, supports good immune function • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing breadings, toppings or seasonings; fried poultry; fattier dark meat, skin; high-sodium, deli-style poultry and lunch meats FOOD: Lean beef • HEALTH BENEFIT: Builds healthy blood cells and fuels muscle growth and maintenance • WATCH OUT FOR: Gluten-containing breadings, toppings or seasonings; less healthy cuts of high-fat meats FOOD: Gluten-free packaged and convenience foods** • HEALTH BENEFIT: Only fortified gluten-free convenience foods are likely to offer measurable health benefit; gluten-free packaged and convenience foods often do not offer balanced nutrition and should be used only occasionally or as a special treat • WATCH OUT FOR: Products that are labeled wheat-free but still may contain gluten; seek out gluten-free labeled foods only *Consult the Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector to identify which fish is best for your health and the environment. **Examples of high quality gluten-free food brands include Foods by George, Pamela's Products, Gluten-Free Pantry, Enjoy Life Foods, Glutino, Heartland's Finest, Orgran Natural Foods, Cream Hill Estates, Farm Pure Foods, Gluten Freeda, Bi-Aglut, GF Meals, and others.