For most people, wheat is a natural part of their diet, but if eating bread, pasta and other grain-based foods makes you feel tired and generally unwell, you may be gluten-intolerant.
Gluten is primarily found in wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats. It makes up the protein part of these grains, and is the substance that makes bread dough elastic. A small proportion of people find that they can’t digest gluten properly, and as a result, the surface of the intestine becomes damaged and inflamed. This is known to be an effect of poor absorption of various nutrients, such as essential fats, vitamins and minerals. No two individuals react in exactly the same way to gluten intolerance. However, the most common symptoms include diarrhoea, wind, constipation, abdominal pain, and a flaky skin rash. If left untreated, this can lead to nutrient deficiency-related problems, including anaemia, chronic fatigue, tooth decay, weight loss and osteoporosis.
Gluten intolerance can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome and other stomach disorders, so nutritionists advise against permanently removing gluten-containing foods from the diet without a proper diagnosis. As a result of wide testing, it is now estimated that at least one in 300 people suffer from this condition.
Removing gluten completely from your diet means avoiding all traces of wheat, barley and rye. Goodbye pizza, au revoir pasta, asta la vista Maltese ftira with peppered cheeselets and tuna. Sad but true.
The most obvious gluten-containing foods are in fact breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, flour, pastry and pizza. More unlikely foods include ice cream, soup and yoghurt. Hidden sources of gluten can also be found in processed foods. Checking labels carefully is essential, although it is not always fool-proof. If you are highly sensitive to gluten, you should stick to specialised products available from health stores.
The best way to start a gluten-free diet is with items that have no ingredients list, that is, wholefoods. Eat fresh meat, eggs, potatoes and pulses, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. This way, you can be sure everything you are ingesting is gluten-free. Other foods to avoid include beer, couscous, whiskey, baking soda, curry powder, ground spices, chewing gum, mayonnaise, mustard, sauce mixes, tomato paste, vinegar, yeast extracts and wheat starch.
Grains that can be eaten freely on a gluten-free diet include corn and rice, as well as buckwheat grains, millet, and quinoa. Realising you are gluten-intolerant and being told that you have to completely change your diet is not easy. It surely takes some getting used to. You may feel deprived and depressed by the restrictions, but it helps to be positive and focus on the food you can enjoy, instead of the food you can’t. Lately, many supermarkets, stores, and even restaurants are focusing more on catering for gluten-intolerant clients too. Not to mention the fact that not eating pasta, bread, and such fattening foods full of carbohydrates may also help in keeping more fit, and endorse a healthier lifestyle in general.