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8 August 2012

Life without gluten

© The Artisan Food Trail/Lisa Childs

Many things are easy to take for granted, foodstuffs especially so. Most of us don’t have to think an awful lot before we put something into our mouths and many certainly don’t need to consider whether it may be harmful to their wellbeing.
Living gluten free is not always as straightforward as it should be as so many foods contain gluten from various sources, wheat being the most known.
There is much confusion concerning the subject, so we found out more from AFT’s Industry Expert, Priya Tew of Dietitian UK, to get the facts straight.

AFT: What is gluten and how does it affect some people?
PT: Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. It acts like a glue binding flours together and providing elasticity in bread. Eating gluten can cause an immune reaction in some people, where the small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, headaches, wind and bloating.

AFT: Some people say they have a wheat intolerance which could be related to problems with gluten. Do they have a disease or are they just ‘sensitive’?
PT: There are two types of gluten reactions in the body – coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity. The difference between the two conditions is that coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where eating gluten causes the body to produce antibodies that attack the bodies own tissues. It causes an allergic response in the body that can be tested for via a blood test. Gluten sensitivity is a non allergic response which cannot be tested for other than cutting gluten out of the diet and seeing a response.

In sensitive people eating gluten can not only cause pain and discomfort but also affect the absorption of other nutrients. The small intestine is lined with mucosa which have finger like projections called villi that stick out into the intestine to catch and absorb nutrients as they pass through. When these become damaged the intestinal wall is no longer able to absorb properly.

AFT: Obviously there are people who need to eliminate gluten in their diet for health reasons, but some choose to avoid it because they believe it is better for them. Do we need gluten in our diets?
PT: Eating a gluten free diet has become a lot more popular and a lot easier over the past few years. I wouldn’t advocate going gluten free just for the fun of it though, or as a way to lose weight. A gluten free diet can be a very healthy way to eat, but it is important to ensure you replace gluten containing foods with suitable alternatives or your diet will be lacking vital nutrients.

AFT: What kinds of foods contain gluten?
PT: Gluten containing foods include bread and bread products, pizza bases, pasta, noodles, couscous, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pastry and wheat flour. Less obvious sources are soups, sauces, stock cubes, cereal bars, soy sauce, sausages and most processed food.

AFT: That's a fair amount of every day foods that we all take for granted ruled out. Which foods are completely gluten free and are there any alternatives?
PT: There is a lot that is still gluten free, natural foods include meat, fish, fruit and vegetables rice, beans, quinoa, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils. Numerous gluten free foods alternatives include rice products (rice cakes, rice noodles, rice), quinoa, buckwheat, corn, polenta, potatoes, yams and tapioca. There are a wealth of gluten free products now available to buy. Historically these have been dry, crumbly and tasteless, but that’s all changing.

AFT: For those unable to eat gluten often feel they miss out on treats such as cakes that contain wheat flour, is it possible to make cakes that taste good using gluten free ingredients?
PT: Gluten free baking is a whole new area but one that is a lot of fun. There are so many flours to try: polenta, corn meal, corn flour, buck wheat, potato flour, rice flour tapioca starch. Combine with arrowroot, xanthan gum or guar gums and you can create a whole wealth of yumminess.

AFT: When eating a gluten free diet, how do we keep it healthy?
PT: To ensure your diet is still well balanced keep gluten free starchy foods at each meal, alongside fruit and vegetables and protein (meat, fish or vegetarian alternatives).

AFT: What should you do if you think you have a problem with gluten?
PT: If you have a suspicion of coeliac disease it is important to continue eating gluten until you have been tested. The first step is to visit your GP, they will arrange a blood test that test your antibodies and possibly later an intestinal biopsy, where a small tissue fragment is collected and the villi are looked at to see if they are flattened or damaged.

Priya Tew is a registered dietitian who runs her own nutrition consultancy business, Dietitian UK.
As a mum and food lover she is passionate about helping people to discover good quality food and to show them how healthy eating is not just tasty but vitally important.

For information about coeliac disease, Coeliac UK have lots of helpful information www.coeliac.org.uk

Gluten free on The Artisan Food Trail
Although The Artisan Food Trail does not solely concentrate on specialist food for people with specific dietary requirements, many of the producers listed make gluten free products.
For those looking for gluten free products, The Artisan Food Trail has an area here where you can find goods which you can be absolutely sure are safe to eat.

If you're unsure whether a product is gluten free, you are welcome to contact any of the producers. www.artisanfoodtrail.co.uk

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