What is a Gluten Free Diet?
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes foods containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. In some people, eating or drinking anything containing gluten can cause different types of undesirable reactions. The most extreme of these is the auto-immune condition known as coeliac disease. Some other types of reactions are known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance. Gluten sensitivity is different from wheat allergy.
A gluten-free diet might also exclude oats. Medical practitioners are divided on whether oats are acceptable to celiac disease sufferers or whether they become cross-contaminated in milling facilities by other grains. The exact level at which gluten is harmless forsufferers is uncertain.
Is a gluten free diet benificial for the general population?
Despite the health claims for gluten-free eating, there is no published experimental evidence to support such claims for the general population. Gluten free can be healthier, but only if you stay away from the items that would make you gain weight on a regular diet. For example if we eat gluten-free doughnuts, cookies, cakes and so on, you can gain more weight than lose it if you are eating these items because you think gluten free is healthier.
What products are suitable for a gluten free diet?
Naturally gluten free foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meats, eggs, nuts and legumes, milk, fats and oils and gluten free grains. These include the following:
- meat products – unprocessed meat, fish, chicken, bacon, ham off the bone and meats that are frozen or canned, but with no sauce
- dairy products – eggs, full-cream milk, low-fat milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, fresh cream, processed or block cheese, and some custards and soy milks
- fruits and vegetables – fresh, canned or frozen (but not sauced), fruit juices, nuts and peanut butter
- cereal and baking products – corn (maize) flour, soya flour, lentil flour, rice (all types), rice flour, rice bran, potato flour, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, breakfast cereals made from corn and rice, without malt extract from barley, polenta and psyllium
- bread, cakes and biscuits – most rice crackers, corn cakes, rice crispbreads, corn tortillas and corn taco shells
- pasta and noodles – gluten-free pasta, rice noodles, rice or bean vermicelli and 100 per cent buckwheat noodles
- condiments – tomato paste, tahini, jam, honey, maple syrup, cocoa, all kinds of vinegars (except malt), some sauces and some salad dressings
- snacks – plain chips and corn chips, popcorn and plain chocolate
- drinks – tea, coffee, mineral water, wine, spirits and liqueurs.
Products labelled ‘gluten free’. As products and their ingredients change constantly. It is important to check the ingredients of the products you buy every time you shop. It is also important to avoid cross contamination by avoiding products with statements such as ‘may contain gluten’.
Naturally gluten-free cereal products that can be enjoyed include:
- chestnut flour
- coconut flour
- cornflour (from maize)
- corn tortillas
- lentil flour
- millet meal
- pappadums (most types)
- potato flour
- rice (any kind)
- rice bran
- rice flour
- rice vermicelli
- soy flour
For a more comprehensive list of gluten free food/ingredients visit Celiac.com
Specially made gluten-free products
You can buy commercially prepared gluten-free products, including:
- breakfast cereals
- baking mixes
- muesli bars and other snack bars
Always check the labels of foods and drinks carefully, as gluten can sometimes be contained in products you might think are safe.
Food labelling and gluten
Food labelling varies from country to country and you should visit your respective government authority and/or local celiac association for the latest information.
Today most packaged foods have ingredient labels printed on the box, package or bottle. There are four common methods of finding suitable gluten-free foods:
- foods that are naturally gluten free, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and fresh unprocessed meats
- foods carrying the Crossed Grain endorsement logo
- foods labelled ‘gluten free’
- foods made for the general market that are gluten free by ingredient.
The product ingredient label may not list ‘gluten’ as a component. However, under most mandatory labelling standards, all ingredients and food additives derived from wheat, rye, barley, triticale or oats must be declared on food labels. Processing aids must also be declared if they are present in the final product.
Suggestions about gluten-free cooking
Contact your coeliac organisation or talk to a dietitian about recommended gluten-free recipe books. As a general rule, use new releases, as older books may contain outdated dietary information.
n some cases, you can change existing recipes for cakes and biscuits to make them gluten free. Because gluten is the ingredient in wheat that helps the cooked product to hold together, you will need to use some other types of binding agents.
- Be prepared to experiment and accept that a few of your first attempts may be unsuccessful.
- Replace the role of gluten with xanthan gum or guar gum powders. (The general proportions for using these gums are 1/2 teaspoon for a family-sized cake and 1 tablespoon for bread). These products are available from some state coeliac organisations, health-food stores and some supermarkets. Using gelatine and psyllium husks can also help.
- Add an extra egg to pancake batters.