For some it’s a lifestyle choice, for others it’s a necessary form of medical treatment. Whatever the reason, more Australians are opting to eat gluten-free.
A decade ago, gluten-free food options were limited. Today it’s a multi-million dollar industry and the range stretches from sauces, breads, cereals and spices through to medicines, vitamins, pasta and protein powders, allowing consumers to eat with confidence.
So what is gluten and could a gluten-free diet be the right choice for you?
In simple terms, gluten is a protein that is found in the grains wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye. To understand just how prevalent these grains are in everyday foods, you need look no further than common food items in your kitchen cupboard or fridge. Wheat, for example, is found in a vast array of foods even though we most commonly associate it with cereals and breads. Read a few food labels and you will discover wheat in everything from tomato sauce, gravy and mayonnaise through to cooked chickens, crumbed fish and frozen potato chips – even our world-famous Vegemite contains wheat and of course barley.
Coeliac v gluten-sensitivity, what’s the difference?
Coeliac disease is a medically-diagnosed auto-immune disease that can only be controlled through a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. It is characterised by inflammation of the small bowel mucosa and atrophy of the villi resulting in nutrient malabsorption and a variety of physical symptoms. These can range from weight loss and joint pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, nausea, flatulence and stomach cramps to mouth ulcers, bloating and skin rashes. Typically once a gluten-free diet is introduced, symptoms disappear.
Gluten sensitivity is not an immune disease, but can occur when foods containing gluten are ingested and produce adverse physical reactions. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can range from bloating and flatulence through to headaches and fatigue. Those experiencing such symptoms should see their GP or a dietician for a professional diagnosis. Tests may include undertaking an elimination diet to see if symptoms improve.
Is gluten-free for you?
Medically speaking, there is no known advantage of excluding gluten in the diet if you do not have coeliac disease or any related medical condition. And going gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean you will become healthier. After all a chocolate cake is still a chocolate cake whether it is gluten-free or not!
However if you have decided to eliminate gluten from your diet for lifestyle choices (some claim you may even lose a few pounds on a gluten-free diet), or you have experienced symptoms such as gas and bloating after consuming foods containing gluten, you will need to be as vigilant as a hard-core vegan, as gluten is lurking in so many products!
What can I eat?
The simplest way to avoid gluten is to eat fresh, clean food. Typically there are three food groups that are suitable for a gluten-free diet.
- Naturally gluten-free foods. These are typically fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, fish or eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, plain milk or milk alternatives such as rice or almond milk, oils and gluten-free grains.
- Products labelled gluten-free. Products labelled gluten-free contain no detectable gluten and are considered safe to eat.
- Products that are gluten-free by ingredient list. If any product is derived from wheat, rye, oats, barley or rye, it must be declared on a food label so look out for statements such as ‘may contain gluten’. If a food does not have a nutritional panel with details of the gluten content, read the ingredient list and check that all ingredients are in fact gluten-free.
For cereals, in cooking and baking try using:
Your local Go Vita store also stocks a wide range of brands offering gluten-free options from Orgran and Casalare to Brookfarm, Loving Earth and Freshness Fine Foods, so you will be spoilt for choice!
For those living with medically-diagnosed coeliac disease or who have gluten intolerances, eating out at cafes and restaurants can still pose a problem. Although most eateries offer gluten-free food options, some food outlets still do not understand the importance of ensuring no cross-contamination occurs ie. cooking and preparing gluten-free meals in toasters, deep fryers, pans and grilling plates or using the same cooking utensils that foods containing gluten have been cooked or prepared with. So before you order, let the waiter/chef know your needs.
Depending on which country you are visiting, will determine your availability of gluten-free foods. NZ, the UK, USA and many European countries such as France and Italy have excellent sources of gluten-free products available, especially if you are staying in large chain hotels. Before you leave home:
- Email your airline and hotel and request gluten-free meals and take a few gluten-free snacks with you just in case!
- Google health food shops in the towns and cities you will be visiting and check their gluten-free selections.
- Download and print off a gluten-free card from the web which explains your dietary restrictions in the language of the country you are visiting. Simply show it to a waiter when you order a meal.
- 150ml almond milk (or preferred breakfast milk)
- 1 frozen banana
- 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 tablespoon açai powder
- 1 scoop of your favourite protein powder
- 30g serve of Brookfarm Macadamia Powerfood
Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
Adjust the thickness to your liking by adding more milk, filtered water or coconut water.
Top with extra blueberries and a sprinkling of Brookfarm Macadamia Powerfood.