What’s wrong with gluten?
Although gluten-containing foods are a normal part of many people’s diets, some people have a condition that makes them sensitive to gluten and their immune system overreacts damaging the lining of the small intestine over time. This can interfere with their ability to break down and absorb nutrients in food, often leading to reduced absorption of necessary nutrients.
Besides causing symptoms like fatigue, stomach cramps and diarrhoea, this untreated (celiac) disease can result in deficiencies in important nutrients like foliate and calcium, reproductive problems such as infertility and miscarriage and may increase the risk of osteoporosis and some cancers. Some people only have similar symptoms without the disease. This type of intolerance seems to be on the increase possibly due to how food is processed these days.
What if you suspect you have a problem with gluten?
If you suspect you have a problem with gluten, there are good reasons to see your doctor first; an accurate and correct diagnosis requires evidence showing if the small intestine lining is damaged. If you’re being investigated for coeliac disease, it’s important that you don’t go gluten free on your own as it can affect the accuracy of the tests and the diagnosis.
Self-diagnosing a problem with gluten and avoiding grains containing gluten can leave you short on important nutrients. What alternatives to grain foods can people eat on a gluten-free diet?
There is currently no known cure for coeliac disease, but it can be managed with a glutenfree diet. If you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, you need to know what foods to avoid, and what foods to replace them with to make sure you get all the nutrients you need.
Apart from obvious foods such as bread, cakes and pasta made from grain products containing gluten, other processed products such as battered or crumbed meats, dairy products, canned vegetables, condiments, sweet and savoury snacks and even alcoholic drinks may also contain ingredients from gluten sources.
However, you can still enjoy an interesting and varied diet, there are now many glutenfree products available. These include bread made with soy flour, rice flour and
buckwheat, gluten free pastas, rice, brown rice, rice noodles, polenta, buckwheat, amaranth, lentils and quinoa.
But just because a food says it’s gluten-free doesn’t always mean it’s healthy — like any other processed foods, some glutenfree products are also high in sodium and
saturated fat. Many of them are also low in fibre. Always check the nutritional information on the label.