Navigating the gluten free diet

Posted by Marnie Nitschke on

Part 3.

Expert gastrointestinal dietitian, Marnie Nitschke, gives us a quick lowdown on the key points of eating gluten free for coeliac disease.  

What is gluten, and why is it a problem for those with coeliac disease?

Gluten is a unique protein found in the wheat grain, as well as in rye, barley and oats.   In people with coeliac disease, gluten starts a cascade of inflammatory reactions within the small intestine that results in damage, digestive issues and serious health effects.  Read more about the diagnosis and testing of coeliac disease from earlier blogs: diagnosis and testing.

Once gluten is removed entirely from the diet, the gut begins to heal.  This can take up to a year – or even longer – before the intestinal lining returns to normal.  The good news is that when managed with a balanced gluten free diet, people with coeliac disease usually feel and function much better, and can lead healthy, thriving lives.

Where is gluten found?

Wheat is the main source of gluten in the Australian diet.  By grinding the grain and turning it into flour, we’re able to produce all manner of everyday staples from breakfast cereals and breads through to pastry and cakes.  Wheat ingredients are also used extensively in processed foods to enhance flavour and texture – eg.

  • wheat starches and thickeners
  • wheat maltodextrin
  • hydrolysed vegetable protein and textured vegetable protein from wheat

Rye is mostly used in breads and crackers (eg. Ryevita®), but can also pop up in breakfast cereals, wraps, and even beer.

Barley pops up in barley flakes and other breakfast cereals (eg. Barley Max®), and pearl barley in soups, soup mixes, stews and grain salads.  Watch out for malt made from barley, used frequently in confectionary, ice creams, chocolates, and flavoured milks.

Oats are controversial in terms of their gluten content – current Australian recommendations and labelling laws currently deem them not gluten free.  Regular muesli, porridge, muesli bars and products like oat flour and oat milk are not suitable on a gluten free diet.

Learn more about oats and the gluten free diet with Coeliac Australia here>

Next week we explore  How can I be sure I’m avoiding all sources of gluten in foods?

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