If you are a newly diagnosed celiac, or have just discovered that you are intolerant to gluten you may be wondering “what is gluten free food?” In this article I'll explain exactly what gluten is and how you can get started on a gluten free diet.
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. For the majority of people this protein can be digested without any problems, but for the 1% of people with celiac disease it cannot be tolerated, even in the most minute amount. The reason for this is that the immune system mistakenly identifies gluten as the enemy and starts to produce antibodies against it. These antibodies attack the villi in the small intestine causing stomach cramps, fatigue, headaches, nausea, bloating and all sorts of other symptoms related to vitamin and mineral deficiency.
At the moment there isn't a cure for celiac disease and the only treatment is adhering to a strict life long gluten free diet.
So, what is gluten free food? To put it simply it is food that does not contain any wheat, barley or rye. However, it should also be food that is completely free from any cross contamination. The amount of gluten required to cause a reaction in a celiac patient is less than one hundredth of a breadcrumb, so it is important that the food is not made on the same equipment in a factory as other gluten containing products.
Naturally gluten free foods include all fish, meat, vegetables and fruit, pulses, nuts, the majority of dairy and certain grains including corn, rice, quinoa and sorghum. In general you can safetly eat all of these foods, but if they have been processed in any way you must check the label to ensure that there are no gluten containing ingredients or possible cross contamination.
As well as natural gluten free foods, you may also find a selection of gluten free baked goods at your local supermarket or health food store. These can include things like cakes, bread, rolls, biscuits, crackers and more. Gluten free companies use other types of flour to replace wheat flour, e.g. corn flour, potato flour, rice flour and so on. This allows them to create the types of foods that you were used to eating before you went on a gluten free diet. The main downside of these gluten free foods is the cost – in general they cost around two to three times more than regular gluten containing produce.
If you have embarked upon a gluten free diet you may well feel daunted at first. However, just study a gluten free diet food list and be sure to double check all the food labels before you buy anything. It makes sense to eat plenty of healthy unprocessed foods and this should give you the best chance of recovering well.