Wheat, rye and barley are all nutrition-rich bites, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of us are intolerant to gluten, a protein found in these dietary staples. For some, this can lead to coeliac, a serious bowel disease that often goes undiagnosed. You can limit the negative health implications of gluten intolerance and continue to enjoy tasty meals by modifying your shopping habits, being wise about your intake and handling your food with adequate caution.
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Know the indicators and symptoms
Gluten intolerance commonly results in abdominal swelling, causing discomfort and impacting on everyday physical wellbeing. It can also hinder the absorption of vital nutrients essential for positive cognitive health. Research suggests that a significant percentage of migraine sufferers have gluten sensitivity. In some cases, it can manifest in a spaced-out sensation, triggered by gluten having a morphine-like effect on the brain. Other possible physical symptoms of gluten intolerance include joint pain, fatigue, constipation, breathing problems, nasal congestion, skin rashes, nausea and vomiting. If you suspect you have gluten intolerance, consult your doctor.
Always read food labels
Navigating your way around the supermarket is easier than you think. UK and EU law stipulates that all food packaging must state if a product is suitable for a gluten-free diet, and any gluten content (no matter how little) must be listed in the ingredients. So, keep your eyes peeled!
Feast on gluten-free substitutes
Supermarkets are becoming more gluten savvy and increasing their stocks of gluten-free alternatives for family favourites such as pasta, bread and crackers. Many stores have a dedicated section for these products, so it’s worth locating and making it your go-to aisle. Furthermore, if you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, you may be entitled to gluten-free staple food on NHS prescription – your doctor can advise on eligibility and procedures.
Favour naturally gluten-free foods
Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheese and eggs are all naturally gluten-free – so make them a permanent fixture on your weekly meal planner. Some grains and cereals are also naturally gluten-free too. For example, polenta crumbs make a great alternative to breadcrumbs, buckwheat and rice noodles are safe staples for hearty meals, and you can still rustle up delicious baked treats using quinoa flour.
Alcohol is not totally off bounds if you’re gluten intolerant, but choose your tipples carefully. Cider, wine, port and most spirits and liqueurs are gluten neutral. However, beer, lager, stouts and ales aren’t, and should be avoided.
Wheat flour is a key thickening ingredient in most standard pasta sauces, gravies, stocks and condiments – making them a no-go. But don’t deprive yourself of such delights. You can make your own pasta sauces and gravies using gluten-free corn flour as a thickening agent instead.
Limit cross contamination
The smallest amount of gluten can trigger symptoms if you are intolerant, so minimise the risk by always cleaning shared work surfaces thoroughly. Use separate butters, spreads and jams from gluten-tolerant members of your household to avoid consuming any stray traces of gluten. Toaster bags are a good way to stop any gluten breadcrumbs contaminating your breakfast feast too.