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.