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Cracking the Code on Gluten

Posted by Mandy Sacher on April 23, 2017

Posted by Mandy Sacher on April 23, 2017

Gluten has a bad rap these days. It causes problems for those with coeliac disease, and is a suspect for many other uncomfortable gut conditions.

If you want to avoid it, shopping can be a challenge.  Labelling laws are not extensive and gluten is often hiding in food under other names. However, avoiding gluten need not be such a daunting task. You can crack the gluten code and identify it in order to make informed food choices.

But first, a bit of background. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale, which can cause intolerable symptoms in susceptible children. They can range from bloating, diarrhoea and constipation – symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome – to fatigue, headache and bone or joint pain. It’s not uncommon for me to see parents in clinic who are baffled about why their child suffers from daily stomach aches straight after lunch (which often includes sandwiches).  If the suspected culprit is gluten, then by swapping to a gluten-free bread, symptoms can often be easily alleviated

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the digestion of gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. If a child is suspected of having it, a GP can order a blood test that will confirm the diagnosis and gluten will need to be avoided entirely.

But what about children who show symptoms of adverse food reactions to gluten but do not have coeliac disease? Well, it’s far more likely that they have a non-coeliac sensitivity, a disorder characterised by an adverse food-induced reaction to gluten-containing foods.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how much gluten may cause symptoms but they often subside after following a NO gluten diet for four to six weeks. There can be some tolerance afterwards, which makes eating out or at friends’ homes easier.  In these cases, families often run a gluten-free home and allow small amounts of gluten when out and about.

To make shopping easier, many manufacturers have introduced gluten-free versions of staple pantry items such as pastas, crackers and breads. However, there are still many items which appear to be gluten-free but are actually loaded with gluten. Also, gluten free products are not necessarily the healthier version. They are often loaded with other nasties such as sugars, so be sure to read your labels.

So here’s how to crack the code and identify gluten hiding in your food:

  • Bottled condiments – Soy sauce is a big one to watch out for. Along with the main ingredient soybeans it often contains wheat, as do gravy and marinades, which are thickened with flour. White sauce is made with flour and butter and sometimes is called a cream sauce. Malt is a keyword to beware of too, as it’s derived from germinated and dried barley, and often found in the form of vinegar, extract, syrup and flavouring.
  • Processed meats – Packaged burgers, meatballs and sausages are an easy choice for time-poor parents but they are often bulked out with wheat-based fillers and binders or coated in cereal crumbs. The ‘crab’ or seafood stick in sushi and salads may contain gluten too.
  • Soup – The barley, noodles and dumplings are obvious in soups and broths but watch out for flour as a thickener in creamy soups. Gluten lurks in packaged soup bases and stock too.
  • Hot chips – You’d think hot chips would be a safe bet, just potatoes, oil and salt right? Nope, the fries from takeaway outlets often have a cereal-based coating that helps them fry up crispier so you’d need to ask to be sure. And the vinegar sprinkled on top? Maybe malt and therefore barley again.
  • Vegetarian ‘meats’ – Vegie burgers and sausages are delicious choices for meat-free meals, but the code needs cracking there too. Many products are made from seitan, which translates to wheat gluten. Flours and breadcrumbs are also used as fillers and binders in these products. Tofu is not always a safe bet either, pure tofu is gluten-free but the fried version can have a cereal-based coating and the marinade may contain soy sauce.

The gluten code cracker makes sticking to a gluten-free lifestyle a far simpler task – and lunch in a restaurant or dinner at a friend’s house is nothing to worry about when you know which foods to avoid and what to look for.

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