If you have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease or as Gluten Intolerant then following a strict gluten free diet is essential for your health and well being. The health benefits of voluntarily going gluten free can be great. However you need to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because something is gluten free, that it automatically makes it healthy.
Is gluten free always healthier?
For instance, some products such as gluten free brownies at a cafe will be gluten free, but may still contain a significant amount of refined sugar and refined white flour. A diet free of processed foods and refined sugar will provide many health benefits. Therefore eliminating foods that contain highly processed ingredients or those with a significant amount of refined sugar, such as white bread, snack foods, biscuits and sauces should ensure you are eating a diet rich in protein, vegetables and fruit. However if you simply swap your regular breads, snacks etc. with processed gluten free options your diet quality may end up worse. This is simply because gluten free processed foods can still be full of highly refined gluten free carbs, unhealthy fats, additives and preservatives, to try and give these foods a similar taste and texture to regular foods.
So how do you start?
First of all you need to get really good at reading food labels. Since December 2003, food labelling laws in Australia made it a requirement for products containing gluten to be declared on labels at all times, whether it is present as an ingredient, or an additive. Even if the product has been processed on the same equipment as gluten containing products, the label must state “may contain gluten”. Foods that display Gluten Free have to pass a test to show that there is no detectable gluten.
Hidden sources of gluten
As mentioned above, as gluten can be present in certain ingredients, even in small amounts, there are a number of products that gluten MAY be present in, including the following:
- Baking powder
- Beer, stout, lager, ale
- Canned soups
- Custard powder
- Dressings, gravies and sauces
- Hot chips
- Cocoa Powder (including hot chocolate mixes)
- Icing sugar mixture
- Flavoured milks
- Margarine (may contain breadcrumbs)
- Powdered drink flavourings
- Sausages and processed meats
- Seasoning, Stock cubes
- Soy milk
- Yeast extract spreads
Eating out when gluten free
Thankfully due to the increase in awareness about coeliac disease and intolerance to gluten, eating out has become a lot easier in recent years as more and more restaurants areoffering gluten free options or can offer a gluten free alternative for a dish.
Sometimes these items will be noted on the menu, but it is important to confirm these details with the waiter and to not feel guilty about asking questions; your health is important.
Cooking without gluten may seem a little daunting when your first begin, however with time and practice, it will get easier. One of the main differences you may notice when baking is that you will need to increase the amount of the rising agent you use, as gluten free flours are often heavier.
As with any new diet, it will take time to learn what you can and can’t eat but with patience and practice you will soon find your way and enjoy the benefits to your health.