Gluten is the general name for the proteins that are found in wheat, barley and rye, and is typically added to foods to provide texture, flavour, and act as a thickening agent. It’s known for its stretchy quality, and being the main ingredient that gives bread and baked foods the chewy texture that we all know and love.
While eating gluten-packed foods (the healthy ones) has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and strokes, what happens when your body doesn’t react well to it or you simply want to cut it out of your diet? Of course, some have more trouble with gluten than others – people with celiac disease need to avoid it altogether, and those with sensitivities or intolerances should also minimise or completely eradicate their consumption of this group of proteins.
So, with this in mind, following a gluten-free diet shouldn’t have to be difficult. Once you know what foods to avoid and what you can substitute for gluten, you’ll have access to a whole new food journey that can improve your life. Ready to know what foods contain gluten along with some nutritional facts along the way? Let’s get to it…
Foods that contain gluten
Starting with the foods containing gluten:
Obviously unless labelled “gluten-free”, bread is one of the major gluten-containing foods. We’re talking rolls, bagels, wraps, buns, etc. It’s also often one of the first things you have to cut out and replace with a gluten-free version.
These foods include cake, doughnuts, muffins, cookies, pancakes, waffles and pies. You can get gluten-free versions of each, and when it comes to pies, you can purchase GF pastry if you want to make your own.
All pasta that contains wheat also contains gluten, so make sure you look out for the wheat-free versions. This includes spaghetti, macaroni, fettuccine, lasagne, ravioli, etc. Often, people who don’t have any problems with wheat opt for gluten-free pasta anyway, as it can be less heavy on the stomach.
Not all cereals contain wheat, but a lot of them do, so it’s worth checking the ingredients before buying. Also, note that oats are typically processed and raised with wheat. So, unless they’re labelled otherwise, lots of oat products will contain gluten.
If you’re a sucker for a midday (or midnight) snack, be aware that lots of crackers, pretzels and even some kinds of crisps have gluten in them.
Gravies and sauces
Unless labelled “gluten-free”, powdered gravy mixes and ready-made gravies and sauces all contain gluten.
Again, lots of pre-made canned or boxed soups aren’t gluten-free. This is because they’re usually made with wheat flour to thicken the consistency. So, make sure you check the labels if you’re looking for ready-to-eat soup.
Alcoholic drinks that contain gluten
It’s not just food products that are packed with gluten, some of our favourite alcoholic beverages are gluten-containing, too. Watch out for the drinks below if you know wheat consumption will trigger symptoms. If your favourite tipple is listed, just know that there’s a very high chance of finding a gluten-free alternative that often tastes exactly the same.
- Some spirits
- Dessert wines
Non-food items that have gluten in
As well as the food and drinks listed above, there are also non-food items that you need to be aware of:
- Medications, herbal supplements, and vitamins.
- Lipsticks and lip balms – they can accidentally be ingested.
If you’re taking going gluten-free seriously, whether it’s for health reasons or just a diet change, it’s super important you take note of the cross-contamination risks, too. Why? Because some GF foods can come into contact with the proteins during food prep or processing. Depending on the strictness of the no gluten rule, this accidental crossover can make food unedible – especially for those with celiac disease.
Here are some of the most common areas it could happen:
- Utensils, chopping boards, toaster, etc.
- Multi-use food containers, e.g those that house butter, mayo, peanut butter, etc.
- Restaurants – some kitchens don’t have the room to safely separate everything, which means some gluten-free dishes may end up being cooked in the same oil or vicinity as regular meals.
- Anywhere that deep fries food – linking to the above point.
- Anywhere that deals with oat production.
Alternatives to gluten
Now we’ve covered the foods to avoid, let’s take a look at the wheat, barley and rye alternatives. If you’re starting a gluten-free lifestyle, this is really important, as you’ll need to learn what can be substituted with what to ensure a healthy, balanced diet. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on any of the minerals or nutrients your regular diet was providing you with.
So, stay away from all the items listed above, and try and replace them with some of the following gluten-free foods:
- Corn tortillas in replacement of flour tortillas.
- Gluten-free pasta/spaghetti.
- OR, courgetti (courgette spaghetti) in replacement of regular spaghetti – this version is great if you’re cutting out gluten if you want to lose weight.
- Breakfast cereals that are made from rice or corn.
- Raw vegetables like carrot sticks, etc. with dips instead of crackers.
- Gluten-free sauces and gravies that use cornstarch as a thickening agent instead of flour.
- Gluten-free soups.
- Cauliflower – use as a pizza base, for example.
- Chickpea flour, potato flour, or quinoa, rice, or buckwheat as flour.
- Roasted chickpeas instead of croutons.
- Gluten-free bread, wraps, pastries, etc.
- Gluten-free alcohol – beer, wine, or other spirits – gin, vodka, whiskey, bourbon, etc.
What are the various types of gluten intolerance and how do they differ?
OK, so we’ve already established that there are a variety of reasons why someone may embark on a gluten-free diet, but we’ve not discussed it in detail. While some people may do it for a health kick, for others eating gluten may cause minor symptoms that cause slight discomfort, all the way through to experiencing incredibly severe effects. Here you’ll learn about wheat allergy, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease.
What’s a wheat allergy?
It’s actually pretty common to have a wheat allergy, so don’t be startled if you’re diagnosed. It causes the body’s immune system to react to gluten and other proteins that are found in wheat. It’s also more likely to appear in children than in adults, and according to research, around 65% of kids outgrow this allergy by the time they turn 12.
Here are some of the most common wheat allergy symptoms:
- Skin rash.
- Digestive issues, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, bloating, indigestion and pain.
- Nasal congestion, including runny nose, and sneezing.
What’s non-celiac gluten sensitivity?
This gluten intolerance is a milder form of celiac disease. However, it can still cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Diarrhoea and constipation.
- Abdominal pain.
- Depression and anxiety.
- Pain due to inflammation – including joints and muscles, plus numbness in the arms and legs.
- Brain fog – people have described it as being unable to think clearly, being forgetful, feeling “cloudy” or experiencing mental fatigue.
What’s celiac disease?
People with celiac disease suffer from the most serious gluten intolerance. When gluten is ingested, it triggers a response from the immune system in the small intestine. If it’s not addressed, the reaction can damage the small intestine over time, and the digestive system for good. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Diarrhoea and constipation.
- Skin reactions, including dermatitis herpetiformis (blistering skin).
- Depression and anxiety.
- Unexplained weight loss – this is a common symptom of undiagnosed celiac disease.
- Anaemia, which has its own symptoms including headaches, pale skin, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, and low blood volume.
- Autoimmune disorders – celiac disease can cause your immune system to attack your digestive tract, for example.
- Joint and muscle pain.
- Numbness in arms and legs.
Be kind to your body
Following a gluten-free diet has so many positives, especially if you suffer from an intolerance. From giving you back your energy to feeding your body with the things that nourish it, there’s no better feeling than feeling – well – great.
Plus, these days, there are so many alternatives that you can really get creative with in the kitchen. So, all of you gluten-free goddesses, let’s start meal planning. We’ve got a whole list of gluten-free recipes for you to try from breakfast right through to dinner!