Gluten free has become a buzzword in the world of diets, and while one in 70 New Zealanders have been diagnosed with coeliac disease and medically must follow a gluten free diet, more than 10 times this number follow a gluten free diet by choice.
So what exactly is gluten and should you be cutting it from your diet? It’s time to look past the hype and get down to the facts.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. It’s the ingredient which gives bread its fluffiness and elasticity, and is commonly used as a stabiliser in food products to prolong shelf life. A gluten free diet means avoiding all gluten-containing grains, all foods containing related ingredients and any food that may have been cross-contaminated with gluten.
Who needs to go gluten free?
People diagnosed with coeliac disease must follow a strict gluten free diet for life. The smallest exposure to gluten can cause debilitating symptoms such as fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, abdominal pain, and depression. For people with coeliac disease, eating gluten can also compromise nutrient absorption, causing nutrient deficiencies like iron-deficiency anaemia and osteoporosis.
A gluten free diet may also be recommended for people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. People with NCGS show all the symptoms of coeliac disease but have no detectable immune reaction to gluten. For this reason, it can be very hard to diagnose, but generally these people feel considerably better avoiding gluten. Fermentable carbohydrates can also trigger similar symptoms, so it’s important to know if it's gluten or FODMAPS that are causing symptoms.
If you believe you would benefit from a gluten free lifestyle it's best to consult a medical doctor or accredited practicing dietitian before making any major changes to what you eat.
Is it healthy to go gluten free?
It's important to understand that being gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean being healthy. For people without coeliac disease there’s no evidence that following a gluten free diet is good for your health. Sure, if you cut out processed breads and refined carbs your diet may improve and your gut feel healthier, however, cleaning up your diet in general would have a similar impact.
Eating gluten free
There are more menu options for those who need to follow a gluten free diet than ever before. There is also a growing number of gluten free products available – just keep an eye out for product labelled ‘gluten free’ or which displays the Crossed Grain Logo.
It’s important to get advice from a dietitian to ensure your gluten free meals are nutritionally balanced and as varied as possible.
There are plenty of wholesome grains that are naturally gluten free including sorghum, corn, rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat. These grains also form the basis of most gluten free products.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy foods, nuts, seeds, fats, fish, meats and oils are also naturally gluten free.
What about oats?
Oats and products containing oats cannot be labelled gluten free in Australia. Oats are generally not recommended for people with coeliac disease because some people are unable to tolerate them.
For more information on coeliac disease or following a gluten free diet check out the Coeliac New Zealand website.
Looking for some gluten free recipe inspiration?
Try one of these tasty snacks...
Berry nice muffins
Peanut butter chocolate squares