Getting to Grips with Gluten Free

Have you ever wondered what Gluten actually is? It’s talked about so much these days but appears to be widely misunderstood. We find an easy way to remember its function is to remove the ‘t’ and ‘n’ from the word so it becomes Glue, because this is what it does. It is an ‘adhesive’ protein, which is used in food as a binder by helping food maintain its shape.

Gluten is mainly found in wheat, barley, and rye which most of the general public eat a fair amount of if you consider the many loaves of bread we consume as a nation. While most people wouldn’t know if their food contained gluten or not, for others it has to be avoided at all costs. Sufferers of Celiac disease (an auto-immune disease), for example, find that their body reacts to gluten like a poison, destroying the part of the small intestine which absorbs vital nutrients.  

If you have ever wondered if you have an intolerance to gluten, a simple test would be to remove it completely from your diet for at least three weeks before reintroducing it. In fact, if you can do it a little longer it would prove more accurate, as gluten is a large protein and can actually take a long time to completely clear from your system. The other option is to see a nutritionist and have a food intolerance test done.

Typical symptoms of gluten intolerance include abdominal pains, headaches, fatigue, loose stools, muscle aches and bloating. As only 1% of the New Zealand population currently suffer from Celiac disease, the chances of you having that are slim. However, an intolerance affects around 1 in 6 people, so if you are that ‘1’, removing gluten from your diet may be something to consider. There are those too who personally choose to remove gluten in order to reap the many apparent benefits of a gluten free diet. So let’s explore that and see just what going gluten free means.

Firstly, with any major change to our health or diet we need to think about doing it safely. For that reason, we recommend seeing a dietician or nutritionist if you want to go gluten free and we will discuss why.

While gluten is a good emulsifier and carrier of flavours, it also has a relatively low nutritional value. So to remove it means you may not be getting all the necessary nutrients your body needs, or is used to getting. Also, some gluten free foods have higher fat and/or sugar contents to replace what was lost by removing gluten. For this reason it’s important to find out from a professional how you can tackle these points to ensure you continue to have a balanced and healthy diet.

Thankfully, most of the foods which we know are good for us also happen to be gluten free, such as:

  • All fresh (not processed) fruit and vegetables;
  • Eggs;
  • Most low-fat dairy products;
  • Unprocessed seeds, nuts and beans;
  • Lean, unprocessed, poultry and fish.

Eating a variety of the above is a really good start in your gluten free plan and it won’t pile on the pounds either. That’s if you eat in moderation of course; consuming a plate of nuts and ten chicken drumsticks is still going to add up in calories!

While we know that gluten is found in grains, not all grains are included. You can still eat amaranth, millet, buckwheat and quinoa. Corn is another food that is gluten free. Some people get confused thinking that ‘corn gluten’ is the same thing, but it comes from a different branch of the grain family so is perfectly fine to eat even if you are a celiac sufferer.

In fact, there are many foods you can eat which are gluten free and a quick search of Google will prove helpful. A word of warning though – it’s still a good idea to check food labels when you are doing your shopping. It’s amazing how gluten can seemingly sneak into a salad dressing or favourite sauce. Thankfully, the Australian and NZ Food Safety Code does include a requirement for making ‘gluten free’ and ‘low gluten’ claims about food, but still best to check.

Also be aware that gluten can be found in certain medications or health supplements, so if you are really trying to avoid it, it would be a good idea to fossick through your medicine cabinet and check the labels.

And while the above might all sound a bit hard and you start to ask yourself ‘why exactly am I doing this?’ hopefully the purported benefits will outlay your concerns. From the myriad of tests and studies carried out on how gluten affects people with Celiac disease, some of those findings have revealed that there are also some very desirable effects of removing gluten from your diet. These include increased energy, clearer skin, improved health and weight loss. Not to mention improved gut bacteria, which aids with feeling less bloated. And let’s be honest, I think we can all agree that, “I love feeling bloated,” said no-one, ever. 

If you do go gluten free and enjoy some of these health benefits mentioned above, please do drop us a line and let us know how fantastic you now feel!