There are lots of myths out there around gluten and some confusion around whether one should adopt a gluten free diet to achieve weight loss or to optimize health.
In fact, cutting gluten out of your diet isn’t recommended unless you need to as it can result in nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of fibre and calcium in your diet! Going gluten free can also reduce your micronutrient intake as foods which contain gluten are often good sources of B vitamins, iron, and manganese.
Therefore, it is important to understand when gluten should be avoided, which is either in the case of a wheat allergy, intolerance or in people with Coeliac Disease. And if you do need to avoid gluten for any of these reasons, then it is important to ensure your diet is optimised so that you are not over restricting and missing out on important nutrients!
So, what is gluten and what's the difference between a gluten intolerance, wheat allergy and coeliac disease?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a term used for the proteins found in some grains including wheat, barley and rye.
A gluten intolerance is an adverse reaction to eating gluten and occurs when an individual has trouble digesting gluten containing foods. Symptoms generally start to appear after a few hours of eating the food and can include bloating, tummy pain, diarrhoea, and skin rashes. An intolerance does not involve your immune system and is therefore not life-threatening, but it can be unpleasant and therefore people with an intolerance often choose to adopt a mostly gluten free diet.
A wheat allergy is very rare and is only triggered by wheat products containing wheat proteins, not other gluten containing grains like rye and barley. An allergic reaction usually happens within minutes of consuming the food and can causing sneezing, itchy eyes, or a rash. More severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis.
Having a diagnosed wheat allergy means that you need to avoid all food containing any wheat, this means even some gluten free products may not be suitable. It is recommended to always check the food label, as wheat is an allergen it will be either in bold or highlighted.
Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune which occurs in people who become sensitive to a protein called gluten in their diet.
Coeliac Disease is more than just a wheat allergy or intolerance; it causes serious damage to the small intestine when any type of gluten is eaten and can cause problems with the absorption of nutrients from food as well as physical discomforts including bloating, abdominal discomfort, unintentional weight loss and diarrhoea.
The only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet.
For people with Coeliac disease, following a gluten free diet involves much more than just simply eating gluten free food! They have to deal with fear of cross contamination, checking food labels, keeping consistent food habits and painful symptoms upon exposure to gluten.
Did you know?
You need to have been eating gluten for at least six weeks before testing for coeliac disease! This is because the blood tests look for antibodies that your body produces when you eat gluten.
What foods/drinks are gluten free?
Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Cutting out gluten free foods may seem like a dauting task, but luckily, there are lots of foods and drinks that are naturally gluten free!
The following food groups can be included in a gluten-free diet:
- Fruits and veg (including potatoes!)
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
There are also some grains that are naturally gluten free including quinoa, chia, flaxseeds, rice, millet buckwheat and polenta.
Oats- can I eat them?
The problem with regular oats is they will be most likely contaminated with gluten and are therefore not suitable for the gluten free diet. The good news is that gluten free oats are also available, so you just need to make sure the oats you buy say they are gluten free on the packet or have a sign or labelling to clarify they are gluten free.
What about wheat?
Traditional wheat products such as bread, pastas, crackers, and other baked goods are not gluten-free. However, there are many gluten-free options available that use alternative flours and grains.
Gluten- free bread can be found in the frozen aisle of the supermarket and many supermarkets also have gluten free flours available if you wished to bake your own bread!
Are all drinks gluten free?
The majority of beverages are gluten free including fruit juice, coffee, tea and water.
Alcoholic beverages are also mostly gluten free except for beers, ales, lager, and stout, which contain grains that are not distilled and are therefore not gluten free. If you are a beer drinker, there’s lots of gluten free beers available!
A gluten free diet should be based around fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, meats and other naturally gluten free foods.
However, gluten free substitutes like gluten free bread and gluten free oats can be a great alternative to gluten containing foods and can add some variety to the diet. Just make sure to read the label carefully to ensure they are actually “gluten free” and not just “wheat free”.
If you have been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, allergy or with coeliac disease and are struggling with your diet, check out the range of gluten free meals available here at Gourmet Fuel. Our meals are designed by expert nutritionists so you can be sure that you are not missing out on important nutrients and that your diet is balanced!