The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Health Bites

Go in for gluten-free foods
Sukhdeep Kaur

GLUTEN is found primarily in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats. It makes up the protein part of these grains, and is the substance that makes bread dough elastic. A small proportion of people find they canít digest gluten properly and as a result, the surface of the intestine becomes damaged and inflamed. The knock-on effect is poor absorption of various nutrients, such as essential fats, minerals (including calcium and iron) and vitamins. No two individuals react exactly the same way to gluten intolerance.

However, the most common symptoms include diarrhoea, wind, constipation, abdominal pain and a flaky skin rash. If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to nutrient deficiency-related problems, including anaemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, tooth decay, weight loss and osteoporosis.

Getting diagnosed

Gluten intolerance can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome and other stomach disorders, so nutritionists advice against permanently removing gluten-containing foods from the diet without a proper diagnosis. Until recently, a diagnosis could be achieved only via biopsy procedure, but now a simple blood test is available, which screens for certain antibodies that are usually present in active coeliac disease or other gluten intolerance manifestations.


Some nutritional therapists think that a significant proportion of people could benefit from removing gluten from their diets, even if only temporarily. They contend that a habitual intake of wheat products, as is typical in diets, could lead to a under-gluten sensitivity, with symptoms such as bloating and water retention. Removing gluten completely from your diet means avoiding all traces of wheat, barley and rye. Oats pose a problem for some very sensitive individuals, and are best avoided.

If coeliac disease has been ruled out, but you feel uncomfortable and bloated after food, try cutting out wheat products for a month or so. If things improve consult a qualified nutritionist before continuing long tem.

Check labels

Pastas, bread and pizzas are some of the foods that contain gluten
Pastas, bread and pizzas are some of the foods that contain gluten

The most obvious gluten-containing foods are breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, flour, pastry and pizza. More unlikely foods include ice-cream, soup and yoghurt. Hidden sources of gluten can also be found in processed foods. Checking labels carefully is essential, although it is not always fool-proof. Compound ingredients, which make up less than 25 per cent of the food (found in products such as tomato paste or mayonnaise), could contain traces of gluten-containing grains that donít need to be labelled. If you are highly sensitive of gluten, you should stick to specialised products available from health stores or, for diagnosed coeliacs on prescription.

When you begin feeling better, start adding in prepared foods ó using substitutes for things that are gluten-laden or making your own. Take it slowly so that you donít feel overwhelmed and you can pay close attention to each item you add to your "safe" list.

Foods to avoid

Red foods: Avoid beer, bulgur, conscous, durum wheat, gain, whiskey, semolina, spelt, tritical (a cross bread grain of wheat & rye), baking soda.

Amber foods: Also avoid curry powder, ground spices, chewing gum, confectionery, some colour and flavour additives, liquorices, mayonnaise, mustard, savory snacks, soup, sauce mixes and sauces (including barbecue, soy, teriyaki and tomato), tomato paste, vinegar, yeast extract, yoghurt and wheat starch.

Gluten-free grains

Grains that can be eaten freely on a gluten-free diet include corn (maize) and rice. But there is a range of more unusual grain products that can also be tolerated by most coeliacs and make highly nutritious replacements for wheat.

Buckwheat grains: Can be served as accompaniment in place of rice or pasta. The flour is traditionally used in French crepe and Russian blini recipes.

Amaranth seeds: Contain as twice as iron and four times as much as calcium as wheat grains. They can be boiled to yield a spicy tasting cereal accompaniment for vegetables, meat or fish. Amaranth flour makes an unusually moist and sweet pastry.

Millet: Flour can be used to make flat breads and the grains can be added to soups and stews. It makes a delicious and nutritious porridge.

Polenta: (Corn Maize ground to a meal): Can be served in pace of pasta, or rice or shaped into pieces when cold and fried or grilled.

Ouinoa (Pronounced keen-wa): It is particularly rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fat by acids required for healthy skin and hormone production. It needs to be boiled and is excellent with stir-fried eatables and salads.