When you're accustomed to eating bread, cakes, crackers, sauces, pasta and other processed foods, the idea of a wheat free diet can sound a bit extreme. When you take into account that wheat can contribute to digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, joint conditions, weight gain and allergies, this type of diet may not sound so crazy.

When wheat is processed, the vitamins and minerals are stripped. Therefore, wheat products hold no nutritional benefits for you. In an effort to replace lost nutrients, manufacturers "enrich" bread and other wheat-containing foods. The problem with this is that these added vitamins are not absorbed efficiently by the body.

Wheat products are also filled with dangerous chemicals. For example, bread contains bleaching agents, emulsifiers and chemical preservatives. Without the use of chemical additives, bread would mold and the shelf-life would be cut short.

Even though chemical additives are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they can take a major toll on your health. Some of these additives even contain cancer-causing properties.

If you have been eating wheat all of your life, eliminating it from your diet will not be easy, but here are some tips to help.

Ease into Your Wheat Free Diet

You can't change a lifetime of bad eating habits overnight. If you try, you may get frustrated and throw in the towel. Instead of eliminating all of you favorite wheat-containing foods from your diet, allow yourself a "cheat day" once a week. On this day, you can indulge in a small helping of one of your favorite wheat-treats.

If you enjoy munching on peanut butter crackers, go ahead and have two or three just to satisfy your taste buds. If you allow yourself to have some of the foods you love on occasion, you will be less likely to backslide.

Experiment with a Variety of Recipes

One of the biggest pitfalls of making dietary changes is getting bored with eating the same foods over and over again. If you are trying to lose weight and improve your health, gnawing on bland, baked chicken five days a week is not going to work. You have to learn to add a bit of spice to your diet.

There are literally thousands of healthy, wheat-free meals you can prepare using a variety of ingredients. Imagine enjoying dishes like Chinese chicken salad, avocado and tomato salad and veggie stuffed pork roast. If you invest in a few specialty cook books, and search for recipes on the Internet, you can create these meals, plus many more.

You can even experiment with different ingredients to create your own recipes. Keep the flame of your wheat free diet alive by trying at least one new dish every week.

Learn to Cook With Natural Ingredients

Wheat flour is used as a thickening agent in a lot of processed foods, so this ingredient could be in items such as your favorite brand of ice cream or gravy. Processed foods are also filled with sugar, salt, preservatives and other ingredients that weigh heavily on your health.

Processed foods have been linked to diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer. If you want to avoid wheat, a good rule of thumb is to only cook with natural ingredients.

All of your meats, poultry, eggs and produce should be organic. Organic animal products are raised without the use of antibiotics, hormones or other synthetic chemicals. And organic fruits and vegetables are free from pesticides, herbicides and sewer-sludge.

If you need help developing a healthy, wheat free meal plan, talk to a nutritionist. Also, if your wheat-free diet is going to be a long-term lifestyle change, talk to your doctor to make sure it is right for you.