Reasons to avoid gluten

Have you decided to give up gluten? There are a number of reasons why you might:

  • digestive health.

    People diagnosed with celiac disease (known as coeliac disease in the UK) are instructed to remove gluten from their diet. That means anything that contains wheat, barley or rye – and usually oats too. This may also help people diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

  • skin health.

    People with dermatitis herpetiformis are also advised to avoid gluten – and some studies have found that people with psoriasis are also helped by a gluten free diet. I have also heard that eczema can be helped in this way too.

  • mental health.

    ‘Brain fog’ is often cited as a symptom that people with CD suffer pre-diagnosis. Depression may be relieved with a gluten free diet – and many, many parents report that the behaviour of children improves when diagnosis of CD is made, and a gluten free diet started. But there are other (sadly, less reversible) reasons to exclude gluten. In some cases of autism, a gluten-free casein-free diet can help; schizophrenics are also advised that a gluten free diet can help.

  • allergic reaction.

    While not necessarily celiac, some people can have an allergy to the protein found in wheat – as to any other food – that requires a wheat-free diet (which need not necessarily be a gluten-free diet).

Whichever is your reason for choosing to avoid eating gluten, I hope that you find something useful in this blog. If you’re new to avoiding gluten, you could start with:

I’m glad you visited – do leave me a comment to let me know you were here.

Put down the knife …

We all do it, even if the best etiquette manuals say not to: using your own knife or spoon to dip out some butter or marmalade. If that knife has just spread butter on your ‘normal’ bread, and then you dip it into the marmalade – or back in the butter – the chances are high that you’ve just added some crumbs with gluten into the butter or marmalade. If the next person to take some butter happens to be gluten free, you’ve probably just given them stomach pain, diarrhoea, wind …

What if you cut ‘normal’ bread, and then cut cheese with the same knife? What if you stir a pan of ‘normal’ pasta, and then stir a pan of gluten free pasta with the same spoon?

Other sources of cross-contamination include toasters, grill pans, bread boards, colanders, sieves, baking trays, leaking bags of flour on supermarket shelves, scoops used in pick-and-mix sweetie counters, or in health-food stores, putting croutons on a salad and then just taking them off to make it ‘gluten-free’ (or buns on burgers, wafers in icecreams …), or even just passing some ‘normal’ bread across a bowl of gluten free soup and getting crumbs in the soup.

If someone in your house has to live gluten free, the best way to avoid this kind of problem is to make sure that they have their own pots of butter, jam, marmite, mayonnaise or whatever, clearly labelled. You then have to be sure that all visitors to the house understand the rules, too!

Lucky coeliacs have enough space in their kitchen to have a dedicated gluten free area, with their own implements, or families that all go gluten free together. Everybody else – with less space or money – has to be very vigilant, to be sure that if a spoon or knife has gone into something that contains gluten, that it goes nowhere near the gluten free foods. If you’re cooking both gluten-containing and gluten-free things in the same oven, use different baking trays. Don’t put pizza directly on the oven shelves unless you’re going to wash them afterwards (which shelf had the normal pizza on? will you remember in a week?). You can use foil to make a protective barrier between the oven shelves and the food, or on baking sheets, or to create individual ‘trays’ for cooking on.

Buy a second toaster. Have you seen the crumbs that accumulate inside a toaster? Or you can toast under the grill (remember to use that foil, though). Or, you can use Toastabags- these are great, and will protect your slice of toast from other crumbs … The strongest I’ve seen come from Lakeland Limited, but these come from Amazon (aff), and work just as well.

What about when you go out to eat? There is a reason why McDonalds say that coeliacs shouldn’t eat their fries if they have a special promotion on of some other gluten-containing treat – oil is easily contaminated. Tiny pieces of crumb coating or spices can float free of one item and land on another …

Just as risky is the idea that simply taking the bun off a burger, or the croutons off a salad will remove the risk of gluten contamination. Obviously that’s better than eating the bun/croutons – but there will be some crumbs left.

Lots of factory-produced items now say ‘Produced on a line [or in a factory] which also processes nuts, gluten, celery … [add in your own allergen here].’ There is a risk – probably miniscule – that gluten could be transferred from one item to another in the factory, and the manufacturers are covering themselves.

Only you can decide about whether to gamble on this last risk – and gambling with your child’s health is so much more difficult than with your own. Only you can assess how sensitive you are to gluten – and it does seem to vary from person to person.

But it does make sense to avoid cross-contamination as much as possible at home. We use:

  • a gluten free cupboard for bread, flours etc
  • a gluten free bread bin
  • a gluten free biscuit tin
  • lots of foil
  • toastabags
  • dedicated pots of butter and jam
  • and dedicated knives at table.

A gluten free alphabet

Having been entertained by the idea of the Alphabet Eating Challenge, which I came across at Playlibrary, I thought I’d see if I could create a gluten free alphabet. Not that I’m going to eat them all at the same time.

We often play A-Z in the car – the idea is that you pick a category and then take it in turns to name an item in that category, going through the alphabet. We often use foods as a category – though we haven’t identified a proper X either!

So – food that is naturally gluten free …

A – apples, of course, and almonds, avocado and amaranth (either as a grain or as a flour)

B – bananas, blueberries, broccoli and brazils (what a lot of superfoods begin with B)

C – carrots, chickpeas, cucumber and chestnuts, but also corn, which is useful as a flour

D – dairy products – but check any additions – dates, duck and dulse

E – eggs, endive and eggplant (known as aubergine here)

F – fish, fruit and fowl (but don’t add gluten in the sauces)

G – globe artichokes, grapes, ginger and garlic

H – herbs of every variety, horseradish, honey and hummous

I – iceberg lettuce, ice lollies and icecream (but check for additions)

J – jerusalem artichokes, jams, jelly and (pure) juices

K – kale, kelp and kholrabi, kiwi fruit and kidney beans

L – lentils are a useful source of protein for vegetarian coeliacs (and so are other pulses). Also lemons, lettuce, lamb and lobster

M – marzipan is gluten free, but more importantly, so are millet and maize, mushrooms and meat (watch out for sauces on your meat, though)

N – nuts – all of them, whether whole or ground. Also (pure) nutmeg, nectarines and nasturtium flowers!

O – olives, octopus, okra and oregano (and all other fresh herbs). Increasingly people believe that pure oats may be GF, too.

P – pulses (lentils, beans, peas), plums and potatoes

Q – quinoa, a useful carbohydrate, and also quince

R – rice, in all its many forms (fragrant Thai, risotto rice, American long grain, pudding …), raisins and raspberries

S – sago (but not semolina, which is made from wheat), squid, soya and sorghum, as well as seaweed and (pure) spices

T – tapioca and teff, tofu and treacle

U – um … apart from from ugli fruit and umeboshi, I’m struggling with U

V – vine leaves, vanilla, (wine) vinegar and violets – and all vegetables

W – whisky and wine! Do these count? … OK, how about watermelon, walnuts and whortleberries?

X – xanthan gum. Very useful as a gluten replacement!

Y – yeast is gluten free – and so are yams

Z – apart from zucchini (known as courgettes here) zante grapes and zinc (as a food supplement) I give up!

What can you add?

Are you cheating?

Someone out there is searching for information about what happens if they cheat on their gluten free diet … is it you?

I know this because the searches are appearing on my logs. If it is you – don’t!

Possible excuses:

“Just one won’t hurt” – yes it will. You may not feel any different or experience any symptoms, but the gluten will be damaging your intestines with long term effect and increased risk of many Bad Things, such as infertility, osteoporosis and cancer.

“But it’s my birthday” – even more reason to treat yourself well, surely!

“Don’t be mean, let him share the cookies/cake” (said of a diagnosed child) – this isn’t a fad diet imposed by some mean mother, but a medical necessity. Would you knowingly offer a child food containing poison?

“I know other coeliacs who eat this” – more fool them, then.

“Just don’t tell the doctor” – hello? Whose body is it?

“It says low-gluten” – yes, but low isn’t the same as no, is it?

I know it needs a lot of willpower. In a sense, the lucky ones are those who experience unpleasant symptoms very soon after eating the Bad Stuff, because they have an immediate connection with reasons not to do it.

Just don’t do it. If you are medically diagnosed as requiring a gluten free diet, then stick to the diet. Cheating is only cheating yourself of good health.

Foods to avoid if you are avoiding gluten

We’ve discussed what you can eat: what can’t you eat?

Short answer: wheat, oats, barley and rye.

Medium answer: wheat, barley and rye – recent studies indicate that some coeliacs can tolerate contamination-free oats in small portions. Best to check with your consultant or dietician, and perhaps get fully back to normal before trying oats. We’re not giving oats to our daughter yet – though she’s been diagnosed for 10 years.

Long answer: look out for the following ingredients …

  • barley
  • pot barley
  • scotch barley
  • bran
  • breadcrumbs
  • bulgar
  • cereal extract
  • couscous
  • cracked wheat
  • durum wheat
  • farina
  • flour
  • gluten
  • kamut
  • malt
  • modified starch
  • oat bran
  • oats
  • oatmeal
  • porridge oats
  • rolled oats
  • rusk
  • rye flour
  • semolina
  • spelt
  • triticale
  • vegetable protein
  • vegetable gum
  • vegetable starch
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ
  • wheat flour
  • wholemeal flour
  • whole-wheat
  • wheat

Most of these items are rarely seen on ingredients labels. You will quickly get used to what is and what isn’t going to be OK to eat. Sausages, for instance, almost always contain rusk. Burgers sometimes do. And labelling is getting better.

And then there is malt. Malt extract is widely used as a flavouring – especially in breakfast cereals – and is only present in tiny amounts. It comes from barley, and you should definitely avoid pure malt extract, or malted drinks. But you may be OK to eat malt extract in the tiny amounts in – for example – breakfast cereals. If you are unsure, avoid it.

Some people must also avoid wheat – not just the gluten within the wheat. Wheat free is not the same as gluten free! Rye bread, for instance, might be wheat free because there is no wheat in it, but not gluten free, because there is gluten in rye.

Some gluten free breads and other products contain wheat with the gluten removed to CODEX Alimentarius standards (i.e. very low amounts remaining – less than 200 parts per million). If you must be wheat free, you should avoid these CODEX products because they still contain wheat. It is possible, if your symptoms are not disappearing, that you are a sensitive coeliac and should also avoid these CODEX products.

The list of things you can eat is much longer than the list of things to avoid. Unfortunately, the bad things are widespread, and you must check everything until you are used to the diet. And then check some more, because things change:

New! Improved! New Recipe! Now 90% fat-free!

isn’t always a good thing.