Beginners Guide to Gluten Free



Are you newly diagnosed as Coeliac or trialing a gluten-free diet? Perhaps you have just chosen to live gluten free because of the health benefits. Whatever has brought you to my blog, I'm pretty sure you are feeling VERY overwhelmed right now! Starting out on a gluten free journey is stressful, but I hope that I can help make it easier by offering tips and tricks, information and advice...a Gluten Free 101 if you like!


First of all, let's start at the very beginning - what IS gluten? Gluten is found in a family of proteins that occur in Wheat, Barley and Rye. These proteins act like a glue and are responsible for giving elasticity to the flours made from these grains. Hence, it can be difficult to achieve moist cakes, breads or dough that also hold together well and can stretch. If you are having these problems, check out my Baking Hacks here


So, what IS Coeliac Disease?


Contrary to popular belief, Coeliac disease is not a type of food intolerance, it is an auto-immune response to eating gluten. When a Coeliac disease sufferer eats gluten, their body's immune system starts working with full force. The body tries to get rid of the 'poisonous' gluten in any way it can and symptoms of eating gluten can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss, hair loss and anaemia. For Coeliacs, gluten causes damage to the lining of the gut which means the body cannot properly absorb nutrients. If left undiagnosed, it can cause vitamin deficiencies and osteoporosis. Coeliac Disease is in fact very common, affecting 1 in 100 people. 


Am I Coeliac?


It's very difficult to tell whether someone is Coeliac, or experiences Gluten Sensitivity as the symptoms are so similar for both conditions. The main difference is that people who are sensitive to gluten do not have an immune response or suffer damage to the gut lining if gluten is eaten. Put simply, this means that your body just really doesn't like gluten, rather than seeing it as a threat. However this doesn't mean that being sensitive to gluten makes the symptoms any less unbearable or difficult to live with. Coeliac UK offer a great online 'Is it Coeliac Disease?' self-assessment tool to get you started or you can ask your doctor to take a small biopsy of your gut lining, which they can then expose to gluten in lab conditions, safely away from your delicate body! You can find Coeliac UK's Self-Assessment tool here:


Are Oats Gluten Free?

Oats contain a type of glutinous protein called Avenin, which works similarly to its other family members, but that doesn't always cause a reaction in people with gluten sensitivity or even Coeliacs. For example, I am severely intolerant to gluten and can't eat it at all in wheat, barley or rye - but I'm fine with oats. However, every body is different and if you are unsure, I would advise trying small amounts of oats, perhaps in a gluten free digestive biscuit and slowly build up to eating porridge in order to determine how your body reacts. It's important to make sure you buy Gluten Free Oats. These are oats that have been grown in specifically gluten free fields and processed in a specifically gluten free factory, where no gluten containing ingredients are handled, so there is no risk of cross-contamination. Speaking of cross-contamination...


What is Cross-Contamination?


Gluten can be transferred by contact, or in the air. If your reaction is severe, it may mean that you need to avoid cross-contamination altogether. For many people though, minimising the risk of cross-contamination is enough. There are 3 main areas where Cross-contamination can be an issue - at home, in restaurants and in pre-made foods. I will talk about each area separately as there's lots to get through! First, let's start with some practical ways to reduce the risk of cross-contamination at home:


* Store gluten containing and gluten free food products separately, in sealed containers that are clearly marked

* Have a separate toaster for gluten free bread

* Have separate spreads such as butter or jam

* Wash cooking equipment thoroughly in hot, soapy water -heat will not kill gluten but the hot water will help to activate the soap which then helps to lift off the gluten. In most cases, using a good quality dishwasher will also do the trick. 



What about eating out?


Many places now offer gluten free options as standard but it is always worth checking their cross-contamination procedures. To be safe for Coeliacs, cross-contamination needs to be kept to a minimum by gluten free foods being stored, prepared and cooked in a separate area of the kitchen, using separate equipment. Most places offering 'gluten free options' have policies on storage and use of separate equipment, reducing the risk of cross-contamination by touch.


However, they often handle gluten containing breads or doughs in the same kitchen - which creates the risk of gluten being airborne. There is some debate about how serious the risk of airborne gluten is and I would argue that it can be more of a risk in certain restaurants. Although I do not suffer because of airborne cross-contamination - I don't feel that I can, or should, comment on how much of a risk it is. The level of symptoms caused by intolerance and Coeliac disease are so very different for each person, I feel that it's a decision each sufferer needs to come to individually. Currently in the UK, Pizza Express are the only chain I know of that carry Coeliac UK accreditation, which means it is completely safe for Coeliacs because they toss all of their pizzas in gluten free dough. However, some chains/local restaurants do already have separate areas, they just haven't paid for accreditation so it's always worth checking beforehand. 


Other 'sneaky' causes of cross-contamination when eating out


* Oil - there is a myth that heat kills gluten, so many places offer 'Gluten Free' chips which are then fried in the same fryer/oil as gluten containing foods like onion rings or chicken goujons, therefore covering your lovely chips in gluten. Some places offer to oven cook your chips, or have dedicated separate fryers already.

* Grills - when ordering meat from a grill, be mindful that many sausages contain gluten and are likely to have been cooked on the same grill as other, non-gluten containing meats

* Table sauces - sometimes BBQ or brown sauces can have barley in and mustard sometimes contains wheat. Barley Malt vinegar is safe for Coeliacs because the distillation process kills gluten to less than 20ppm (parts per million) which is a level legally deemed as safe for Coeliacs. 






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