Wheat intolerance, what can I eat?
Living without wheat really isn't a problem if you have foods to hand to replace the basics. Our western diet is traditionally laden with wheat based breads, pies, pasties, pizzas, cakes, biscuits and other baked goods, so you may well feel a little daunted at first. But there is a whole array of other grains and flours from which are made delectable wheat free breads, cakes, biscuits, pizzas and pies. Rye, oats, millet, buckwheat, rice and even pea flour have been used.
Understanding Coeliac's disease
Coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac,) is an autoimmune disease. Gluten is a mixture of two proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and oats which triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, where the nutrients would normally be absorbed. The result is that we show symptoms of discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, tiredness, bone pain, ulcers, and eventually signs of malnutrition. The remedy of course is to avoid gluten. Other parts of the body may be affected.. One in every hundred people is thought to be allergic or intolerant to gluten and as the population is over 61 million that is quite a few of us.
The symptoms of coeliac disease vary from person to person and can range from very mild to severe. Possible symptoms may include:
Some symptoms may be mistaken as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or wheat intolerance. Stress or getting older can also be a cause of confusion. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be underweight or have lost weight to have coeliac disease. Most people are of normal weight or even overweight at diagnosis.
Gluten, where could it be hiding?
Eating a gluten free diet is relatively easy these days with such an amazing selection of foods to choose from. There are the food groups that are naturally gluten free: fruit and vegetables, rice, potatoes, dairy products, fish, meat, eggs, corn and maize, polenta, nuts, salads are all perfectly fine. But watch out for those foods where gluten may be hiding in disguise: spelt (is a strain of wheat), couscous, bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, malt vinegar, some soya sauces and other sauces use wheat to thicken them, wheat germ oil or cooking oil, beer, and licorice.
Gluten free alternatives
Bread, pastries, pies and other baked goods are often the most difficult thing for coeliacs to replace as they are so much part of the staple UK diet. There is now a great choice of gluten free breads and baked products, pies, pasties and pizzas as well as the more exotic and unusual foods sauces and condiments. Plus products like Xanthum can help you get the same texture as baking with normal flour in your gluten free baking. You needn't go without anything at all.
Oats and gluten
Oats do not contain gluten, but can be contaminated. They need to be 'pure oats' grown in separate fields, and processed in uncontaminated conditions. Some coeliacs may find they cannot tolerate oats even pure oats. This variation can be true of gluten intolerance or allergy in general, sensitivity can vary enormously from person to person.
What are cereals?
Cereals are the edible seeds or grains of the grass family. They provide us with:
carbohydrate - a source of energy
fibre - which slows digestion and absorption of nutrients from the gut and helps prevent constipation
most B vitamins, especially thiamin, riboflavin and niacin - needed for a number of processes in the body including helping the body get energy from food and to maintain healthy skin and vision.
What are pseudocereals?
A pseudocereal is a plant which is not a grass or cereal but can be used in similar ways. Naturally gluten-free pseudocereals include amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. Here we look at different grains that can be used to replace those that contain gluten.
The amaranth plant produces both leaves and seeds that are edible. Amaranth seeds can be cooked as a breakfast cereal or added to soups to provide extra flavour and thicken.
Buckwheat is a member of the rhubarb family and is known as a pseudocereal. Seeds of the buckwheat plant are ground into flour or made into flakes. Sometimes it is sold crushed and hulled, under the name of 'buckwheat groats' although it is also known as 'saracen corn'.
Buckwheat flour is naturally gluten-free but as with any gluten-free grains there may be a risk of contamination with flours that contain gluten during processing, so it is important to take care to source uncontaminated flours.
The fruit from the sweet chestnut tree can be eaten when cooked and are naturally gluten-free. Chestnut flour is made from dried, ground up chestnuts and can be used in baking. Pureed chestnuts are also good bases for stuffing poultry.
Corn, also known as maize, is naturally gluten-free and is grown across the world. Cornflour can be used as a thickener, as a coating for meat and fish, or to make a light tempura batter which is popular in Japanese cuisine.
Polenta is a cornmeal, made from ground maize and can be coarse or fine. Golden yellow in colour, in the UK, polenta often comes in the quick cook, powdered variety which can be made in minutes by adding water and simmering until it thickens. This can be served hot as a side dish with stews, casseroles or with meat. Alternatively it can be left to cool, cut into slices and fried or grilled. You can also buy ready-made polenta in blocks which can be used straight from the packet.
Millet has a mild, nutty flavour and creamy texture and can be used in a similar way to rice. The grain can be white, grey, yellow or red and is often toasted or mixed with other grains before cooking. Millet can replace couscous which is traditionally used in tabbouleh a popular Middle Eastern salad. Millet flakes can be used to make porridge and millet flour can be used in baking.
Gluten-free oats can be eaten by most people with coeliac disease.
Pronounced 'keen wa', this pseudocereal is higher in protein compared to other grains and is also high in fibre. Quinoa is a small round grain grown in Peru and Bolivia and comes in a variety of colours including pale brown, red, purple and black. Quinoa can be used as you would rice, as a side dish, in salads such as tabbouleh, or as porridge. Research suggests that bread made from quinoa has a significantly higher antioxidant content compared to wheat bread. If you are on a vegetarian diet, quinoa is a good protein source and can be used as an alternative to meat.
Rice is a staple food that is eaten and grown in many countries across the world. There are all kinds of rice to choose from including basmati, brown rice and Arborio, a short grain rice traditionally used to make risotto. Each type has a different taste and texture. Ground up raw rice is used to make rice flour which can be used as you would wheat flour in baking, as a thickener and to make rice noodles, an alternative to wheat noodles.
Technically not rice but a grass, wild rice is naturally gluten-free, has a slightly nutty flavour and a higher protein content than rice. Generally, wild and brown rice require more liquid and take longer to cook than white varieties.
Sorghum, also called milo, is a staple food in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It can be eaten like popcorn, cooked to make porridge, or ground in to flour.
The term 'dairy' is generally used to describe cows milk and products made from it including cheeses, yoghurt's, cream, crème fraiche, buttermilk and all the milks. You will want to avoid cow's milk if you are vegan or have other dietary preferences, or you may have dietary intolerances and allergies which mean you want to steer clear of dairy products too.
Allergies and intolerances, eczema & asthma
Cow's milk is made up of various proteins and sugars. Some of us find the proteins difficult to digest and others are lactose intolerant which means they are intolerant to the sugars (lactose) in the dairy products. Both groups of people would benefit by following a dairy free diet. Others choose a dairy free diet as it has been seen to help ease the symptoms of asthma and eczema especially in children. Avoiding dairy has been shown to reduce mucus production. Following a dairy free diet is worth a try for other symptoms too, for example IBS, other stomach discomfort and high cholesterol.
Dairy free alternatives
There are so many non-dairy foods and milk alternatives to choose from. Grain, nut and bean milks, rice milk, soya cheeses and creams, even dairy free chocolates! One thing is sure, you will not go hungry. Just a note about goat's milk - although goat's milk has a very similar protein and sugar make up as cow's milk, some people who found discomfort with cow's milk are fine with goat's milk.
Worried about getting enough calcium?
If you are eliminating milk from your diet you may want to top up on calcium from other food groups like blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, nuts (especially almonds) are all great sources of calcium.
Lactose is the predominant sugar in milk. Many people seem to have difficulty digesting lactose. It would normally be digested by an enzyme called lactase in the gut, but if the lactase if absent or inefficient in some way, intolerance occurs with subsequent discomfort.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance means that the lactase cannot split the large lactose sugars into the smaller sugars of glucose and galactose . This doesn't sound too painful in words does it? But it can mean abdominal pain, diarrhoea, flatulence bloating and feeling sick. All this caused by the unabsorbed lactose passing from the small intestine to the colon.
How to live with lactose intolerance
The body's ability to produce effective amounts of lactase cannot be changed, but avoiding lactose is easy. It boils down to replacing the milk and dairy products in your diet, with an amazing selection of replacements for milk, cheese and yoghurts available this need not be too daunting.
Lactose free alternatives and calcium
Milk and dairy free alternatives are quite common and a great variety is available. There are soya milks, nut milks and grain milks to choose from of all different brands and flavours. It may be a good idea to opt for a variety with added calcium unless you are ensuring you are getting enough calcium from other sources like spinach, broccoli, black strap molasses or sesame seeds. Cheese can be one thing that those with an intolerance to lactose really miss.
Where may lactose be lurking?
To keep to your lactose free diet you may need to watch out for other milk derivatives too, many milk products are added to processed foods in various guises so keep and eye on the labels and look our for: milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, non-fat dry milk powder. Some prescription medicines may contain lactose as a filler so it may be an idea to ask, although most people with lactose intolerance can cope with a small amount of lactose.
What is Organic?
Organic is something that has been grown or raised without the routine use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. This is monitored by organic certification bodies that inspect production methods, and audit the supply chain to ensure that products that claim to be organic genuinely are. This is regulated by European Law, but current legal standards only apply to food and farming. For non food products suppliers may choose to opt in to organic certification but this is not a legal requirement. We have opted in - and are a Soil Association licensed Organic Retailer.
What is an 'Organic Lifestyle'?
In describing an "Organic Lifestyle" we mean one that is simple, healthy, close to nature and takes care of the environment. By choosing to live an Organic lifestyle you will be seeking to use natural and organic products throughout all aspects of your life; eating organic food, choosing natural and organic cosmetic products, eco friendly cleaning products and textiles made from organic fibres. You may also wish to take care of the environment in other ways such as recycling, using less energy and thinking about your carbon footprint. Our aim is to stock the products that help you do those things.
What is 'Organic Certification'?
Organic food products are regulated by European Law and must be certified to be called organic. This certification involves regular audit and inspection of the entire supply chain to ensure that products that claim to be organic really are. But current legal standards only apply to food and farming. There is no legislation around the use of the word organic in relation to non-food products. For non food products, suppliers may choose to opt in to organic certification but this is not a legal requirement. A number of countries have developed separate standards against which to certify organic non food products. In the UK, the Soil Association, the most well known UK organic certification body has established its own standards to cover health and beauty products and textiles. The Soil Association is the most well known organic certification body in the UK, but there are a large number of other well respected bodies throughout the UK, EU and Rest of the World. In the UK the other main ones are Organic Food Federation and Organic Farmers & Growers, in Europe EcoCert certifies organic cosmetics and BDIH operates a standard of "Controlled Natural Cosmetics" which is not the same as an organic standard but still exerts very strict control over the ingredients allowed into cosmetic products to make sure that they deserve to be called natural. For textiles IMO and SKAL are widely respected.
A note about Organic certification
Unlike food, there is no legal protection of the word organic in relation to non food products such as cosmetics, textiles and cleaning products. This means that it is perfectly legal for a company to market products as organic when they contain very little in the way of organic ingredients. One of the ways you can be sure that the products you buy are genuinely organic is by looking for products that have been independently certified as organic. There are now a wide number of different organic certification bodies and confusing array of different symbols. Because these organic certification standards have developed at different times and in different countries, the exact detail of what is and isn't allowed into products under the standard tends to vary. However, in general they all seek to ensure that the agricultural ingredients in products are produced organically and place strict controls over the non organic functional ingredients that are permitted (such as foaming agents and preservatives). Organic textile standards cover the processing and manufacture of natural fibres and they assess production methods for their impact on human health, wildlife and their biodegradability.
What does your Soil Association certificate mean?
We are inspected by Soil Association Officers to ensure that we understand the difference between certified and non certified products, that we only describe products as certified organic when they genuinely are and that we store our organic products separately. We have to give the inspectors full access to all aspects of our business so that they follow the full audit trail of a product through our business. We expect our suppliers to provide detailed information about the ingredients of their products, and list exactly which are and are not organic. Where products are certified organic we ask our suppliers to provide us with a copy of the relevant certificate. The Soil Association logo is a mark of trust, with stringent standards to ensure products that are called organic are genuinely so.