Extract from The Big Fat Mystery: How hidden food intolerances can sabotage your efforts to lose weight (Metro books, 2008).
People who are allergic to gluten are referred to as coeliac and suffer from celiac disease. However, as I explained in earlier, an allergy is very different to intolerance. Someone who suffers from celiac disease will react very quickly to a small amount of gluten. Conversely, someone who has intolerance to gluten may not even notice any problems until hours or even a day later. In fact, over the years I soon learned that there are many different shades of gluten intolerance. For instance, some sufferers may be able to eat bread and/or pasta for, let’s say two days; but by day three it begins to adversely affect them. Unfortunately, most G.P.’s are not aware of this situation since they have only been trained to focus upon gluten allergy.
How a Gluten-Sensitivity Can Affect You
Once an individual becomes sensitive to gluten the body regards it as a toxin. As already stated, if you are allergic to gluten the body reacts to the toxin more quickly compared to a gluten intolerance. However, in both cases I believe that gluten causes damage to the digestive system. This damage includes inflammation and irritation, particularly to the lining of the small intestine. Since many nutrients are absorbed through the small intestine, it’s easy to see why a gluten allergy or intolerance can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Moreover, my experience in dealing with many gluten sensitive people over the years has led me to conclude that an inability to lose excess weight is often related to the adverse affect that gluten can have on the body’s metabolism.
In the beginning, I used to think that the effects of gluten were confined to the digestive system. This proved to be very far from the truth. In fact, over the years, I soon realised that the effects of a gluten sensitivity can manifest themselves in any part of the body, including the following:
- Skin problems
- Menstrual problems
- Weight gain
- Poor attention span
- Mouth ulcers
- IBS – irritable bowel syndrome
- Flatulence and bloating
- Acid reflux
- Stomach pain
- Recurrent infections
- Mucus congestion, including sinus problems
Incredibly, this list is far from being exhaustive and I am continuously encountering new health conditions that respond to a diet free of gluten.
As I explained in the previous chapter, gluten is a type of protein which is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. So you must avoid these foods and any products made from them. The following is a list of foods that contain gluten:
- Rye bread and pumpernickel
- Alcoholic beverages – beers and some spirits such as grain-based vodka
- Biscuits and cookies
- Cous cous
- Durhum wheat
- Pasta, macaroni, spaghetti
- Foods covered in breadcrumbs – e.g. chicken nuggets, fish fingers
- Bulgar wheat
- Wheat, oat or rye crispbreads
- Yorkshire puddings
- Wheat based breakfast cereals, or cereals that include wheat
- Malt or malt extract
- Soy sauce
- Modified wheat starch
- Malt vinegar
Foods That May Contain Hidden Gluten
- Confectionary – some chocolate, candy, etc
- Curry powder
- Sauces mixes
- Gravy powder
- Chips/fries – some may have a wheat coating
- Soups – some include the likes of wheat flour as a thickener
- Crisps – some include wheat or modified wheat starch
- Mustard powder
The Good News!
Having looked at the foregoing list you could be forgiven for asking the question: “What on earth can I eat?” Well, the good news is that there are gluten-free alternatives for many of the items listed. For example, you can purchase gluten-free gravy mix, stock-cubes, gluten-free sausages, pasta, biscuits, cereals and flour. The other day I even came across some gluten-free beer in a major supermarket. The range of products is constantly growing, which is good for the gluten-sensitive consumer.
For those who wish to bake their own gluten-free products there are a number of flour substitutes now available. The all-purpose type is usually made from a combination of potato, rice, maize and buckwheat flours. Some manufacturers offer a choice between brown or white gluten-free flour. The brown version is nutritionally superior because it contains fibre, as well as more vitamins and minerals.
Types of Individual Flour
- Rice flour has quite a bland taste but it is an all-purpose flour that can be used to make bread or other bakery products. It can also be used as a thickener.
- Chickpea flour is sometimes referred to as gram flour. It is commonly used in Asian cookery, for example to make poppadoms.
- Potato flour has fine texture. It can help to introduce moisture to the likes of bread.
- Cornflour is sometimes mixed with other flours to provide a smooth texture
- Soy flour has a strong taste, but can be used sparingly when mixed with other flours. Like potato flour it adds moisture to baked goods.
- Amaranth is made from a grain of the same name and is often added to other flours
- Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a South-American grain that can be used to make baked products.
- Buckwheat flour, despite the name, is not related to wheat. It is sometimes used to make pancakes, which are popular in the USA.
In addition to the gluten-free products already listed, there are also many other foods that are naturally free from gluten. These include: meat, fish, dairy products, nuts and seeds (providing they’re not processed), pulses (such as beans, peas and lentils), eggs and fruits and vegetables.
Because gluten is added to so many products it is really important to get into the habit of reading the list of ingredients on cans and packets. Look out for any of the ingredients in the foregoing lists; for example, modified wheat starch, or malt extract. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to knowing which products to avoid! Many products have allergy advice on their labels and state clearly whether they’re gluten-free.
In my view, in order to succeed on a gluten-free diet, it’s very important to adopt the correct mental approach. The person who dwells on the foods that they can’t have, are the ones who inevitably falter and fall by the wayside. Conversely, those people who focus upon the wide range of foods that they can have, will usually stick to their new lifestyle and ultimately reap the rewards of improved health and often much improved weight regulation.