Getting Started

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:

  • smallbreadbutter
    Put down the knife … Put down the knife …

    Put down the knife …

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]