Gluten free life – a beginner’s guide

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At first, the idea of a gluten free life may seem daunting, but, for people with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, removing gluten really is the only way to stay healthy.

What does gluten free mean?

By law, any foods labelled as gluten free must contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or less of gluten.Research has shown that this is a safe level of gluten for people with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance to consume. However, symptoms will occur if any more gluten that this level is consumed. Understanding food labels is the best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Modern food labelling practices list out common allergens such as “wheat” and “gluten” and there are wholeaisles in the supermarket dedicated to delicious, specially made free from products. Download our handy guide on how to read food labels here. {To be written, with guidance, in 2023.}

I’m gluten intolerant, have I got coeliac disease?
No, not necessarily. There are different circumstances which may require you to eliminate gluten from your life. Your GP can provide more information about your diagnosis:

  • Coeliac disease: This is an autoimmune disease whereby the body attacks itself when gluten is eaten. This causes damage to the intestines (gut) and means the body can no longer absorb the nutrients it needs
  • Gluten sensitivity: non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is an intolerance to gluten. It doesn’t cause the same level of damage to the intestines but some of the symptoms are similar

It’s always best to speak to your GP if you have any concerns that you might need to eliminate gluten. We’ve compiled a list of signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance and coeliac disease, with the help of our experts.

But what is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein. When mixed with a liquid it becomes like “glue.” It’s what thickens gravies and sauces and adds elasticity to foods, making bread rise and pizza dough stretch.

Where is gluten found?

Gluten is found in grains and starches including: wheat, wheat germ, wheat grass, rye, barley, spelt, cous cous and semolina. Oats and oat related products may contain gluten too. Oats themselves are gluten free, but due to the processing involved, they become glutinous due to cross contamination. Always read labels carefully and don’t assume that something doesn’t contain gluten, just because it shouldn’t. We’ve complied a comprehensive list of foods containing gluten, which is also available as a list to download.

Watch out for hidden gluten
There are several unexpected places where gluten can be present. Always read the labels and ingredients lists carefully.

  • Toiletries: Gluten can be found in toiletries such as sun cream, shampoos, soaps, make up and even
  • Medicine: Medicines can have gluten fillers, binders or starch-based ingredients. Always discuss this
    with the doctor or pharmacist before accepting medication.
  • Craft supplies: Supplies like modelling clay, finger paints and even glue can contain wheat. Gluten
    free alternatives can be found through most major suppliers.