Struggling with gluten? Digest this…

Story at-a-glance

  • Gluten related disorders are increasing

  • One fifth of the population are considered to have adverse reactions to food

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Coeliac disease and Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity affect some people

Grains, such as wheat, containing gluten are a large part of our diets in the western world. But, could these staple foods such as bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes and breakfast cereals be making us ill? This blog will look at gluten related conditions that some of us are affected by.  

Do you ever feel bloated, tired, have abdominal pain, iron deficiency, diarrhoea, get headaches? If the answer is yes to any of these; you may have coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.  Coeliac disease is common and rising in prevalence (there are many coeliacs in the UK who are currently undiagnosed). Also, there is an increasing trend of other gluten related disorders. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome has many symptoms, including; stomach cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation, so, very similar to the symptoms for coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. IBS is the most common bowel condition in the western world. Some people with IBS may benefit from a gluten free diet.   

Self-reported gluten sensitivity ranges from between 0.6-41.2% of the population. Non coeliac gluten sensitivity is much more common than coeliac disease. If you feel you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is worthwhile seeking advice from your GP and being tested for coeliac disease before starting a gluten free diet.   

What is a food allergy? In a food allergy the body produces an immunological response to an antigen, this is entirely different from a food intolerance, IBS, gluten sensitivity or an autoimmune condition such as coeliac disease. Typical signs and symptoms of food allergy are- tingling or itching in the mouth, hives, swelling of the lips, face tongue and throat. It is often seen in babies and children. Food allergy is less common in adults than children. Over time food allergy (such as an allergy to wheat) can diminish as our immune tolerance increases as we age.

So; what is gluten? It is a protein found in the cereals wheat, rye and barley. In coeliac disease, eating gluten causes the lining of the gut to become damaged; it may also affect other parts of the body.  The most common foods that contain gluten are bread, pasta, pizza bases, pastries, cakes and biscuits. To check whether a food contains gluten you will need to read the ingredients list. If a cereal containing gluten is used as an ingredient it must, by law, be listed on the ingredients list.

The typical diet history I hear may sound something like this; 

  • Cereal and/or toast for breakfast

  • Sandwich for lunch with crisps and fruit and yogurt

  • Pasta/pizza/ takeaway/meat and vegetables for evening meal

  • Biscuits/cereal bar/crisps/chocolate/cake/fruit for snacks 

Does this sound like your diet? Looking at those meals you can see that gluten can potentially be in each meal and snack. So, should we all eat less? Do we all each too gluten much on a daily basis? These are questions that I hope further research will be able to answer. Gluten may indeed be an emerging public health concern.

If you decide to go ‘gluten free’ where do you start? What foods can you eat and which should you avoid? Here is a guide to help you.


Naturally gluten-free foods 

There are lots of foods which naturally do not contain any gluten. These are listed below in their food groups.


Meat, poultry, fish and eggs 

  • Meat: lamb, pork, beef, smoked meat, bacon, gammon, ham. 

  • Poultry: chicken, turkey. 

  • Fish: fresh, smoked, canned in brine or oil, shellfish.

  • Eggs.


Dairy products 

  • Butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream, crème fraiche, milk (liquid and dried), natural yoghurt.

  • Fats and oils 

  • Butter, margarine, low fat spreads, lard, oil, ghee.


Fruit and vegetables 

  • Fruit: fresh, tinned, dried, frozen. 

  • Vegetables: fresh, tinned, dried, frozen, pickled in vinegar.


Rice, potato and other starchy foods

  • Rice (arborio, basmati, long grain, short grain, brown, wild)

  • Potatoes (boiled, mashed, baked)

  • Cassava/manioc

  • Polenta

  • Quinoa

  • Tapioca

  • Millet.


Nuts, seeds and pulses 

  • Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, pulses

  • Plain nuts, salted nuts, seeds.


Sauces and seasonings 

  • Garlic puree, tomato puree, herbs, spices, salt, pepper, mint sauces and jellies, vinegars (including barley malt vinegar).


Preserves, spreads and desserts 

  • Jam, golden syrup, honey, marmalade, treacle, jelly.



  • Water, tea, coffee, squashes (not barley squashes), fruit juice, cider, wine, spirits (including whisky), liqueurs, sherry.


Gluten-free alternatives to foods that normally contain gluten 

There are many gluten-free alternatives to foods that normally contain gluten, such as bread, pasta, pizza bases, biscuits and flour mixes, sausages, gravies and sauces. Most supermarkets now stock gluten-free ranges making choosing a gluten free diet more easy to obtain.


Easy and healthy gluten free meal ideas

Going ‘gluten free’ can be daunting and can affect people when they eat out, here are some meal ideas to get you started…

  • A roast meal such as chicken/pork/beef, veggies, and potatoes

  • Gluten free sausages, mashed potatoes, lots of steamed green veggies such as kale/spinach/cavolo nero/spring greens

  • Risotto

  • Paella

  • Gluten free burgers, sweet potato wedges and peas and sweetcorn

  • Jacket potato and prawns and salad

  • Salads – the choice is endless; chorizo and avocado, nicoise, trout and dill potato salad etc.

  • Bolognese and Gluten Free spaghetti

  • Chicken curry, poppadums and rice

  • Chicken stir fry and rice noodles

  • Omelette/frittata with salad

  • Cottage pie and lots of veggies


So, what does a typical day of gluten free eating look like?



Fresh fruit and yogurt and mixed seeds

Gluten free toast and butter with jam

Gluten free cereal with fruit and milk

Gluten free pancakes and fresh fruit



Jacket potato and tuna and salad/ baked beans and cheese/ chilli con carne

Gluten free pasta salad

Sandwich made with Gluten Free bread

Soup and Gluten Free bread

Large salad with meat/ fish/ eggs

Omelette and salad


Evening meal

Poultry/fish/meat, potatoes and vegetables

Risotto/ Paella

Gluten free spaghetti bolognese with a side salad



Cheese, yogurt, glass of milk

Crudites – peppers, celery, cucumber, carrot sticks


Nuts and seeds

Fresh fruit



Popcorn, tortilla crisps and houmous, crisps, French fries, gluten free rice cakes, gluten free biscuits, sesame snaps, chocolate

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