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Gluten Free Diets- the How, the Why and the What The Heck Is Gluten Anyway?

An Aussie Mum's Guide To Eco Friendly Babies: Gluten Free Diets- the How, the Why and the What The Heck Is Gluten Anyway?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gluten Free Diets- the How, the Why and the What The Heck Is Gluten Anyway?

Gluten free foods are increasing in popularity- once consigned to specialty health food stores, now supermarkets have entire aisle dedicated to gluten free foods. Still the gluten jungle can be pretty scary to those who are new to it.

Gluten intolerance usually causes gut discomfort which can range from mild bloating to severe coeliac disease.  Before starting a gluten free diet, it's a good idea to be tested for coeliac disease- you need to have ingested gluten for this test to work.  Coelic disease is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks it's own intestinal villi, the tiny hair like projections in the small intestine that are responsible to absorption of nutrients.  If you have CD, you must avoid ALL gluten at all times- very challenging indeed.  For simple gluten intolerance, some people can tolerate small amounts of gluten as long as they don't go over board.  Gluten intolerance often goes hand in hand with IBS and other gut conditions and often gluten avoidance is used to help manage disorders like Autism.

Gluten and wheat are not the same thing- though if a product has wheat in it, it also has gluten.  Wheat sensitivity can occur when you react negatively to wheat proteins other than gluten, but it can be hard to pinpoint which is causing the problem.  Most wheat-free products are also gluten free though, so it's often just as easy to avoid both anyway.

Gluten is found in Wheat, Barley and Rye grains.  Oats are a little contentious- they can be cross contaminated (for example, if they are planted next to a wheat field) and therefore contain small amounts of added gluten.  Many US/Canadian associations say that pure uncontaminated oat products are fine to have, but the Coeliac Australia released this statement saying they do not recommend you have oats if you have coeliac disease.

Gluten can also be present in products that have ingredients such as thickening agents, stabilisers, vegetable gums, starch or flavouring.

The popularity of gluten free products and much clearer product labelling in recent years has made it easier to shop gluten free.  Flours made from rice, potato, soy, quinoa, buckwheat and chickpeas (known as besan flour) are getting easier to obtain and brands like Orgran and Freedom Foods  are everywhere you look.  Gluten free breads have come a long way too- though many are quite different from wheat bread (they are a lot heavier and denser though still yummy), some varieties like Zehnder's Potato Loaf are light and fluffy enough to appeal to everyone.  Schar have gone to a great effort 'copying' popular products like Oreo's and KitKat's, giving you a range of gluten free comfort foods that you are familiar with.  When shopping, always look for foods labelled Gluten Free as you will know there are no hidden nasties in there.

Changing to a gluten free diet can be challanging and you need to make sure you are replacing, not excluding- though it may seem easier to eliminate all grain, they are an essential source of fibre, carbohydrates and several very important vitamins and minerals.  Gluten free doesn't mean taste free- it takes time and practise but with some effort you can eat most of your favourite foods without compromising your gluten free lifestyle.

Healing Foods Cookbook, courtesy of
There are numerous books available and a dazzling array of websites and online recipes to play with.  One such book is Healing Foods, a beautifully illustrated cookbook that is based on the principles of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (this is an eating plan developed for bowel disorders and food intolerances and is also great for kids with Autism).

Janella Purcell of 'Good Chef, Bad Chef' on channel Ten tailors most of her recipes to the gluten free sector. Her recipes are full of wholefoods and superfood ingredients that pack a huge punch, nutritionally speaking.  As a qualified Nutritionist and Naturopath,  she has a 'food as medicine' approach to her clinic and has several books and DVD's on the topic.

If you want to try an elimination diet to see if removing gluten helps your digestive discomfort, or if you have been diagnosed with a gluten condition, it's best to see a Naturopath or Nutritionist who can help you plan a healthy diet that isn't lacking in essential components.  Do your research and don't be afraid to experiment!


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