The gluten-free trend is booming within the developed countries and it has quickly become a way of life.
More and more people are now excluding gluten – a protein found in cereals including wheat, rye, and barley – from their menus. Some are doing so due to food intolerance, some by health beliefs.
The gluten reality
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There is no scientific evidence that avoiding these cereals is healthier than consuming them (for the general population). In fact, the recommendation is that only people suffering from gluten intolerance or coeliac disease should eliminate gluten from their diet.
Nonetheless, this new trend has increased the availability of gluten-free products to people with real health conditions. Gluten-free products have become increasingly prevalent and accessible in the general market place and restaurants are now providing gluten-free options.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by an intolerance to gluten that affects around 1 percent of the population.
Symptoms can vary but generally include: bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain. Long term undiagnosed coeliac disease may lead to anaemia, osteoporosis and some research has suggested that it may increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including bowel cancer.
The only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life.
If you are genuinely intolerant to gluten, choosing the right foods is essential. Here is a list of 10 foods that may contain gluten:
Although oats are naturally gluten-free, many brands process oats in the same factory as wheat, rye and barley and therefore there is a risk of contamination with gluten. It must never be assumed that oats are gluten-free unless they are labelled as such.
Seitan is a vegetarian protein source used as meat replacement, especially amongst the vegetarian and vegan population. It is often compared to tofu, however while tofu is made from soyabeans, seitan is made from wheat gluten.
Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, salt, water and, in most cases, wheat or barley flour. There are gluten-free soy sauces available in the market but be aware that most restaurants still use the original recipe.
The basic ingredients of sushi – fresh fish, seaweed, rice and herbs – are (often) gluten-free. Some additions, however, do contain gluten. Be aware that:
– Some restaurants may use malt vinegar instead of gluten-free vinegar
– Imitation crab meat used in sushi rolls contains wheat for texture and flavour
– Soy sauce used in many dishes contains gluten, as mentioned before.
Potato chips may contain wheat gluten or gluten-containing flavourings as ingredients.
Even potato chips branded as “pure potato” may have suffered contamination with gluten during processing.
Some brands of chewing gum use gluten-based ingredients as flavourings or, for example, powdered wheat gluten to keep the gum from sticking to the wrapper.
Wheat-based starch may be used as an ingredient of baking powders instead of corn or potato starch.
Instant Coffee and Hot Chocolate
Be aware of gluten when you go to your favourite coffee shop.
Whilst ground coffee beans are gluten-free, many instant coffee brands contain gluten as a bulking agent and coffee substitutes often list barley as an ingredient. Cocoa mixes used in hot chocolate may have also been exposed to gluten during processing.
Most meatballs, meatloaves and burgers have breadcrumbs or wheat flour added to them to ground the meat together and provide a smoother texture. Sausages, hot dogs and other processed meats have often been filled with flour for texture and thickening purposes.
Soups, Sauces, Condiments and Salad Dressings
Wheat flour is often used as a thickener for canned and restaurant soups, sauces, gravy and salad dressings.
Gluten labelling regulations
The “gluten-free” claim is protected by law.
Under both EU and US regulations, the claim is only allowed in products containing no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Due to the risk of cross-contamination food businesses may instead use statements such as “no gluten-containing ingredients”.
In addition, under the new EU allergen labelling regulation that came into force on the 13th December 2014, cereals containing gluten will need to be clearly marked in prepacked or loose food, including in food served in restaurants.
The overarching message
Gluten may be hidden in many products.
Always check the labels.
If in doubt, don´t eat it.
Please bear in mind that a gluten-free diet is not the same as a wheat-free diet. Some gluten-free foods may still contain wheat. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you require further advice.