Getting by with gluten-free
The only way around coeliac disease (better known as gluten intolerance) is a totally gluten free diet. So how easy is it to get by on a gluten-free diet?
It can be quite difficult to avoid every trace of wheat, barley and rye in your diet. These grains are hidden in almost all types of food, from beer to small goods as well as pastries and cakes.
Here’s some info and advice on what you need to look out for in your gluten-free world…
Getting it right with gluten-free
A gluten-free diet excludes wheat, barley, flour and rye, and it is not easy to stick to as it means radically altering eating habits, which are ingrained in many of us. For instance, wheat flour is not only present in bread and pastries but can be found in numerous readymade meals (as a binder in sauces).
You’ll need to cook simply using natural foods (very limited processed or pre-prepared products) and to concentrate on foods that are permitted, rather than deliberating over the forbidden foods.
Unfortunately, food manufacturers are currently under no legal obligation to label the gluten content on food products and the ingredients in processed foods and readymade meals can vary over time. For instance some products may not contain gluten right now but may be found to contain it in the future. But if you see the mention “hydrolysed vegetable protein” on a food label, you can be sure that gluten is lurking within.
The list of “safe” processed foods varies with time and reviewing it regularly is essential if you are planning on eating any processed foods at all, as most of you would be! For a regularly updated extensive list of processed foods that don’t contain gluten, you can become a member of Coeliac.uk and access their online UK Food and Drink Directory.
Generally “forbidden fruits” on a gluten-free diet
- Most bread, pastries and cakes, pasta and semolina are forbidden
- Dairy products do not pose any particular problem, except spreadable cheeses and certain gelatinous creams; prudence is essential when it comes to chocolate flavoured desserts
- Most small goods are prohibited with the exception of ham
- Fruit can be consumed without a problem (except for dried figs which are often covered with flour)
- Meat and fresh fish are also allowed but readymade meals (fresh, store cupboard or frozen) should be taken out of your diet as they contain flour as a binder
- All fresh vegetables, dried or frozen, are permitted, but pre-packaged, ready cooked food can contain flour.
- Numerous sweets contain gluten and only sugary snacks made of “pure sugar” or “pure fruit” like hardboiled sweets are free from gluten and can be safely consumed
Gluten-free food products and cooking
While the principle of the gluten-free is simple, it is not obvious on how to stick to it in your daily life, especially over the long-term. Grain, as we know, constitutes the basis of the European diet and the exclusion of bread, pasta, semolina, pastry and snacks from your diet is tricky, especially in canteens, restaurants and any eating environments that you can’t “control”.
But the good news is that many processed gluten-free products are now available, including rice- and corn-based pastas, soups, biscuits etc. However for those of us on a tight budget, such foods may only be occasional treats as they can be pricey compared to regular wheat-based fare.
A good alternative is Asian products, which often have a rice base (noodles, snacks and sauces) and are relatively cheap. Other than this, for home cooking and baking flour can be replaced by cornflour, rice flour or potato starch.
If you do have to adopt a gluten-free diet for whatever reason, then these new habits are, in theory, for life.
For further information:
- Coeliac UK – info, forums, food lists...
- Goodness Direct UK – online shopping for healthy, organic and gluten-free products
- Healthy Gluten-Free Eating – recipe book produced in association with Coeliac UK
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