If you have been feeling under the weather, with a range of undiagnosed symptoms of vague health woes, such as fatigue, aches and pains, bloating with associated weight gain, and even constipation, you might have an intolerance to gluten. Gluten is a protein that some people can find hard to digest and it is found in many grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, couscous, bulgar, and spelt. The grain that we eat the most of, by far, however is wheat, and this is present in many of our foods, for instance bread, cakes, pastries, biscuits and pies, to name a few. So what is so bad about gluten? In moderation, nothing for the average person, but some people can eat too much of it, or they can have an underlying sensitivity to it which is undiagnosed.
What happens when someone has a reaction to gluten is that inflammation is created throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects that occur across all organ systems, including the brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. If you have a gluten sensitivity, it is likely that you’ll suffer chronically from a vague feeling of unwellness, which doctors find very difficult to diagnose. So how can you tell if you are one of the unlucky ones that have a gluten sensitivity? The first step is to cut it out of your diet and see if your health issues improve. Most people who have an intolerance to gluten, upon removing from their diet find that after a few weeks, their symptoms have cleared up. Another way is to remove the gluten from your diet and then re-introduce it. If you have an intolerance, the symptoms should reoccur with a much more pronounced initial response.
Foods to avoid are:
- Wheat, wheat berries, wheat bran, wheat germ, wheatgrass, or any form of the word wheat (not buckwheat)
- Barley, barley malt, barley flour
- Rye, rye flour, pumpernickel flour
- Oats, oatmeal, oat flour, oat groats, or any form of the word oats
- Flour, including instant, bread, cake, enriched, graham, and all-purpose flours. Flours made from safe grains (such as corn flour, millet flour, and rice flour) are safe.
Foods you can eat are:
- Cereals and grains: rice, millet, maize, quinoa, tapioca, sago, buckwheat
- Meat, fish and eggs
- Dairy products, milk and most cream, cheese and yoghurt
- Flours:, rice, corn, potato, maize, gram, soya, chickpea, sorghum, tapioca, chestnut flour
- All fruit and vegetables
- Butter, margarine, oils, lard
- Cakes, pastries, cookies and biscuits: avoid all the conventional ones, and eat only those labelled as gluten free, or those you’ve made yourself and know to be gluten free
- Pizza and pasta: avoid all the conventional ones, and eat only those labelled as gluten free, or those you’ve made yourself and know to be gluten free
- Soup and sauces: check every time, in case wheat flour has been used to thicken a soup or a sauce
- Pies, quiches, flans and tarts: avoid all the conventional ones, and eat only those labelled as gluten free, or those you’ve made yourself and know to be gluten free
- Puddings and desserts: check every time – meringue, jelly and most icecreams and sorbets will be fine, but unless specifically labelled gluten free, cheesecakes, pies etc will not be good for you
- Snacks: nuts, raisins and seeds are all naturally gluten free
- Soft drinks: coffee, tea, juices, cocoa, fizzy drinks and most squashes
- Spreads and preserves, jam, marmalade, honey, Marmite (UK only – check in other countries), nut butters
You should be aware however, that this is not an ‘all or nothing’ spectrum, and the range of symptoms will range from person to person. So you should not get to stressed about any results, and always consult a doctor before you decide on any diet changes. Once you have your doctors consent, you should treat this as an experiment for two weeks and if you find you are feeling much better, you should try and stick to the new diet for as long as you can. It is worth noting that gluten does contain a lot of fibre and by cutting it out you are reducing the amount of fibre in your diet. So be sure to add other fibre rich foods to your diet, or take a fibre supplement.