Relax…we don’t all need to go gluten-free

Choosing a sandwich these days can take a few minutes with all the options available: gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wholewheat, seed loaf, brown, rye, sourdough….the list goes on and on. It’s only been in the last couple of years that we’ve been presented with such a wide variety, and while most of us just go for the usual, more and more people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. But what is gluten intolerance and what does it mean in terms of food choices?

It’s an intolerance, not an allergy…
An intolerance means that your body doesn’t cope very well with a certain food, but can generally handle it in small amounts if necessary. Gluten intolerance causes various symptoms (abdominal bloating, cramps) that go away when you start eating less or no gluten. An allergy on the other hand, involves a reaction from your immune system and can be tested for. With an allergy, you need to avoid the food completely, which are typically nuts, eggs and shellfish.

Gluten is found in…
Grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It’s the protein part of the grains, and it gives breads and other baked goods their softness and springiness which we love so much. So if you need to avoid gluten, you have to avoid all foods made with wheat, rye and barley – and that’s a whole lot of foods we take for granted.
Certain processed foods (soups, gravies, instant puddings) could also contain gluten as a thickener or stabiliser so read read read the labels! And for the guys out there, unfortunately some lagers and beers also have gluten in them.

Should you be on a gluten-free diet?
The fact of the matter is gluten-free diets are not easy. You can’t really wing it; it takes a lot of planning to make sure you still get all the energy and nutrients you need to stay healthy. So if you have gluten sensitivity, then yes it will make a difference. If it’s for weightloss because you want to cut out some carbs, then no – there are far better ways to manage your weight. For other conditions such as migraines? The jury is out on that – some people benefit while others don’t.

What are the alternatives to wheat, barley and rye foods?
• Potato, sweet potato, potato flour
• Brown/white rice and rice flour
• Maize/corn meal (whole version of corn flour)
• Polenta – sweeter than normal maize meal
• Quinoa – also has a nutty flavour and is cooked the same way as rice
• You may find that you can tolerate oats and oat flours – if yes, opt for rolled oats

These days, more gluten-free products are becoming widely available in supermarkets, and some restaurants, like Kauai, make gluten-free eating easy. Swing by any store and grab a gluten-free version of your favourite wrap.

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