What does gluten free really mean?

It seems that more and more people I meet are embarking on a gluten free diet.  They may have done so on the advice of their medical practitioner, dietitian, naturopath or they have self-diagnosed. Eating gluten free is no mean feat and can have long term health consequences. It is really important that you get the best advice possible.

Melindas Brownies for blog

Approximately 1 in 100 Australians have coeliac disease but 75% do not know they have it. There may be many more who experience gastro intestinal problems as a result of gluten. These problems may be caused by other foods and ingredients such as fructose and lactose. In some people food is not the issue so it is critical you consult your health professional first.

It is important not to ignore the symptoms of any gastro intestinal complaint. These may include bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation (or a combination of both), flatulence, abdominal pain and nausea. These symptoms can make you feel lousy and generally really unwell.

As a nutritionist, I know how important it is to get your diet right. Any significant changes to you or your family’s diet need to be monitored over time by your chosen health professional to check you are all keeping healthy.

Have a look at our June 2011 blog where we talked about diagnosing food allergies and included good links to helpful websites.

A gluten free diet means avoiding any gluten in your diet and this also includes avoiding cross contamination in food preparation and cooking as the smallest amount of gluten can have dire consequences. We’ve also talked about this in our previous blogs.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats and derivatives of these products, for example, malt. Many processed foods contain gluten as grain products are used as thickening or stabilizing agents.

Members of Coeliac Australia can get a good summary of the foods that should be avoided on a gluten free diet and more importantly what foods can be eaten. www.coeliac.org.au

Dr Sue Shepherd also provides a good summary on her website http://shepherdworks.com.au/disease-information/gluten-free-diet

When is gluten dangerous?

For those of us diagnosed with coeliac disease, eating gluten can have immediate and long term serious consequences. If you have coeliac disease, your immune system reacts abnormally to gluten and this causes small bowel damage. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms. In my case I can be really ill with nausea and diarrhoea for several days after eating even a small amount of gluten.

Dangerous Foods

If undiagnosed, coeliac disease can mean chronic poor health, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, depression and dental enamel defects. There is also a small, but real, increased risk of certain forms of cancer such as lymphoma of the small bowel. In children, undiagnosed coeliac disease can cause lack of proper development, short stature and behavioural problems. For more information go to www.coeliac.org.au

Coeliac disease is a genetic condition and at present the only known cure is to follow a gluten free diet for life. A gluten free diet will prevent further damage to the intestinal lining and will mean that nutrients from food can be properly absorbed.  Fortunately there are many more dietary options available these days and means you can now enjoy a healthy and varied diet.

There are also many online tools to help you identify gluten and other allergens in processed foods. Our Facebook page has some great recipe ideas and tips on eating gluten free. Join us at https://www.facebook.com/MelindasGFG. You can also download our allergy free entertaining app, a great tool if you need to cater allergy free.

For more information go to www.melindasgfg.com 

Happy cooking



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