Thinking of Ditching Gluten? Here’s My Guide
So gluten has been in the Irish press a lot in the last week. Firstly, there’s been much debate on its effects, who can be affected by it and whether going gluten free is just another ‘fad’ diet for people and secondly it’s the start of the Coeliac Roadshow this week. (Find out more http://www.coeliac-ireland.com/coeliac-roadshow/)
From my own experience with Crohn’s disease, IBS and SIBO I found going gluten free made a huge difference in my symptoms. While going gluten free was only one of the changes I made to my diet and lifestyle I believe it was one of the most important ones and there are many people and studies out there that support the benefits of a gluten-free diet. However, in saying that I don’t think it’s a panacea to all ills.
So you don’t end up like one of these people in this hilarious clip, I thought it might be good to do a quick guide to gluten.
So what exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and foods processed from these grains. It’s what gives baked goods their elasticity, helps them rise and keep their shape and provides the chewy texture.
So why all the fuss?
Gluten is a big deal for people with coeliac disease as it creates an autoimmune reaction in the body. It harms the villi in the small intestine which causes problems in the body absorbing nutrients and can lead to a host of health concerns from digestive distress to neurological issues to malnutrition to osteoporosis. http://www.coeliac-ireland.com/coeliac-desease/symptoms/ A lifelong strict gluten-free diet is necessary.
A gluten ‘intolerance’ or ‘sensitivity’ on the other hand is different in that even though the symptoms may be similar to a celiac reaction, the villi in the small intestine are not actually harmed. In other words, the test for celiac is negative but symptoms improve when a person goes gluten-free.
While some of the symptoms are as you’d imagine such as digestive troubles like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea there are a host of other symptoms that might be not so obvious such as joint pain, skin problems or rashes, low energy and fatigue, brain fog, mood issues, holding onto extra weight or losing an excess of weight, mouth ulcers etc.
Gluten sensitivity can often affect people with IBS, autoimmune diseases (like Crohn’s) or inflammation but it’s a small percentage of the population.
How do you know if you have a gluten intolerance?
While testing for coeliac disease can be straight forward enough (blood test and biopsy), there are no great diagnostic tests yet for a gluten sensitivity.
The simplest way to find out if your body will respond to avoiding gluten is to eliminate it from your diet for a period of time (1 – 3 months) and see how you feel when you re-introduce it. If your symptoms go away while you are off it and come back once you’re back on it then you know you’ve an intolerance or sensitivity.
A word of warning on going gluten-free
Most supermarkets now have a whole host of gluten-free foods on their shelves. A lot of people think that if something is gluten-free then it must be healthy. However this isn’t always the case. While there are some high quality nutritious products out there, there is also a lot of processed crap that are higher in sugar and starches too! It’s important to read labels, know what’s in your food and be mindful of getting what your body needs.
So what foods have gluten?
Here is a list of foods that have gluten:
- Bulgar wheat
- Cous cous
- Durum wheat
- Malt, malt extract, malt flavouring, malt vinegars
- Oats (unless certified gluten free)
- Pasta made from wheat
- Wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ
Here are some things that could have gluten so it’s important to read labels (not an exhaustive list):
- Alcohol like beer or lagers
- Breadcrumbs / stuffing etc
- Communion wafers
- Dressings / Sauces / soups / stews may be thickened with flour
- Imitation seafood
- Luncheon meats
- Processed meat / sausages
- Play dough
- Soy, teriyaki and hoisin sauces are fermented with wheat
- Self-basting poultry
- Supplements and medications (check with your pharmacist when you are purchasing)
While that sounds like a lot, there are a load of naturally gluten free foods such as:
- Nuts / seeds
- Fish, poultry, meat
- Most dairy
And then there are gluten free grains / flours too including:
- Cornmeal, corn starch, maize
- Chestnut flour
- Chickpea / Gram flour
- Lentil flour
- Nut flours (coconut, almond etc)
- Potato flour, potato starch
- Rice flour
- Seed flour (eg flaxseed)
- Soy flour
There are loads of gluten free resources on the internet including societies, recipe blogs, support groups etc.
For more information about coeliac disease and a gluten free lifestyle in Ireland, check out www.coeliac-ireland.com