What Is A Gluten Free Diet? A Beginner’s Guide
If the headlines in recent years are anything to go by, you could be forgiven for thinking that gluten was public enemy number one… But is this reputation deserved? Read on to discover the real story as we look to science to uncover the truth about gluten and its role in a healthy, balanced diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten refers to a group of proteins (primarily glutenin and gliadin) found in some grains such as barley, wheat and rye. It plays an important role in cooking and baking – hence why it is found in lots of staple foods. Ever wondered why your bread dough has strength and elasticity or your cookies are beautifully round, soft and chewy? It is all thanks to gluten.
Should I follow a gluten free diet?
There are certain medical conditions where people may be advised to avoid, or reduce, the amount of gluten they consume. These include:
- Coeliac Disease (CD) – an autoimmune condition where consuming gluten causes the immune system to attack tissues in the small intestine, resulting in long-term damage. Each sufferer will experience different symptoms, but they are likely to include diarrhoea, bloating, nausea, anaemia and headaches, among others. Unfortunately there is no cure – the only treatment is to follow a life-long gluten free diet and avoid any cross-contamination . For more information of Coeliac disease, visit www.coeliac.org.uk
- Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) – a condition whereby the possibility of CD and a wheat allergy have been eliminated, but similar symptoms occur after consuming gluten . NCGS is the subject of much academic debate as we still know very little about it. We are yet to understand whether it is caused by gluten or another protein found in wheat, if it is life-long or temporary, or whether it is an intolerance or involves the immune system .
However, the majority of people have no need to remove gluten from their diet. In fact, since gluten is found in a number of staple nutritious foods, avoiding gluten without a medical reason can be detrimental to optimum health. Studies suggest that gluten free diets can be low in fibre and result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies , whilst processed gluten free products are often more expensive and higher in fat and salt  .
Are gluten free foods healthy?
Although many processed gluten free products are higher in fat and salt, there are still ways to follow a gluten free diet with ‘naturally gluten free’ foods if you have a diagnosed medical condition. It is important to work with a healthcare professional (such as a dietitian or registered nutritionist) to ensure you are meeting your daily requirements of macro and micronutrients.
Studies have shown that up to 75% of people with CD are diagnosed with low bone mineral density , highlighting the importance of eating sufficient amounts of calcium (e.g. through dairy foods or sardines). 30-50% of people with CD also experience iron deficiency anaemia, so including iron-rich foods (e.g. red meat, egg yolks and green leafy vegetables) should be a priority too.
What can’t you eat on a gluten free diet?
The safest way to avoid gluten is to always check the label of all foods you buy and look for foods labelled gluten free. Any foods containing wheat, barley or rye will be off limits for those avoiding gluten. This often includes bread, baked goods and pasta alongside grains such as couscous and farro.
But there are many foods you can eat on a gluten free diet, including:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Pulses and nuts
- Rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa, polenta, cornflour and buckwheat
- Fresh meat, fish and shellfish
- Milk, dairy and soya
- Gluten free alternatives – there are now a host of companies offering everything from gluten free breads and biscuits to sauces and stocks
This checklist from Coeliac UK is an excellent resource to refer to.
Where to buy gluten free foods?
At Maiana we are passionate about empowering you to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. We want to help everyone enjoy delicious, and nutritious, food regardless of their dietary requirements.
We are proud to stock a number of carefully selected suppliers who offer quality gluten free products for those who must avoid gluten. We also have an extensive collection of foods designed to help you create nourishing, fuss-free meals… For a taste of the Mediterranean, try Seggiano Organic Gluten Free Tagliatelle swirled through a rich and flavoursome aubergine and sun-ripened tomato Seggiano Organic Melanzane Pasta Sauce or a creamy seasonal vegetable risotto using our Seggiano Organic Carnaroli Risotto Rice. If you prefer Asian flavours, Clearspring Organic Gluten Free Brown Rice Noodles will help you take your recipes to the next level.Discover our full range of gluten free foods here.
DISCLAIMER: All health and nutrition content on Maiana is for general information only, and should not be viewed as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any health concerns, you should contact your local health care provider.
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