We’ve gone to great lengths to point out just how few of us actually need to cut gluten out of our lives (roughly 1 in 70 Aussies have coeliac disease) — but that doesn’t really help those who have been diagnosed.
If you do find yourself having to cut out gluten, where do you start?
According to nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin, the first step is to mentally take stock and reassure yourself that everything will be okay.
“Gluten-free eating is definitely one of the most talked-about topics right now. More and more Aussies are eating gluten free and for a variety of different reasons,” Bingley-Pullin tells 9Honey Coach.
“This could be anything from a diagnosis as gluten intolerant or coeliac, to simply reducing or avoiding gluten to help with bloating and energy levels.
“We’re certainly more aware than ever of how we feel and we’re tuning in to what feels best for each of us.”
Step one: Make sure it’s gluten that’s the villain
At this point in time, the scientific research isn’t clear on how many people could have varying degrees of gluten intolerance, especially outside of diagnosed coeliac disease.
With that in mind, it’s pretty important to make sure you know that it’s gluten — and not lactose, FODMAPs or some other intolerance — that’s giving you unpleasant symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating.
“Always consult your medical professional before making any big health and wellbeing changes, as they can help you look at all the options,” recommends Bingley-Pullin.
“What’s particularly important to understand is that once you have begun avoiding gluten it can be difficult to test if you are indeed gluten intolerant or coeliac.
“Find what works best for you, what makes you feel good but always do it safely and in a way that will help you achieve your long term goals.”
Step two: Breathe, there’s a ton of things you can eat
Being told that you can’t eat gluten — and then googling what you can eat — can be a terrifying experience. In one fell swoop you can easily find yourself in tears trying to piece together all the fun memories you had with bread, pizza and perhaps most devastatingly of all… beer.
But now is not the time to freak out, because Bingley-Pullin is quick to reassure people that there are a ton of gluten-free foods that are every bit as delicious as their wheaty counterparts.
“Going gluten free definitely doesn’t mean restrictions — in fact for me it’s almost the opposite! Eating gluten-free makes you even more aware of what’s in your food, which can often push you to be more creative with what you cook each day,” recommends Bingley-Pullin.
Personal favourites of Bingley-Pullin’s include quinoa, brown rice and the humble star of the Sunday night baked dinner: potatoes.
“Potatoes are a fantastic ingredient as they’re full of antioxidants, vitamins and natural fibre,” recommends Bingley-Pullin.
“However, be careful in the way you eat your ‘taters — especially if you’re eating out — as certain cooking oils aren’t gluten-free or may be contaminated with other wheat-based products cooked in the kitchen.”
Step three: Become a label detective
If you’re not keen on reading the ingredients list of products in the supermarket, you’re going to have a tough time in the supermarket — because knowing whether a product has traces of wheat, rye or barley could have profound implications for your wellbeing.
“For me it’s about being aware and prepared,” says Bingley-Pullin.
“Before you head to the shops, prepare a list of gluten-free foods and ingredients to make your shopping trip as easy-to-navigate and as stress free as possible.”
As a general guideline, Bingley-Pullin recommends sticking to foods that are as minimally processed or packaged as possible, because you’re naturally reducing the potential for cross-contamination that can occur in factories used to make several different food products.
(That’s why you find products carrying a strange label that says “may contain traces of shellfish”, even if it’s something as far removed from the sea like chewing gum.)
“For example, plain and simple vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood and eggs are gluten-free,” says Bingley-Pullin.
“Grains like rice, chia, corn and flax are also naturally gluten-free — many think that all wholegrains and carbohydrates contain gluten, but this is not the case!”
Step four: Know what is — and isn’t — likely to be gluten-free at restaurants
If you do your own grocery shopping and prepare your own meals, then gluten-free eating quickly becomes a cakewalk — after all, you know what’s in your food.
Going out however, can be complicated, because even if you suspect a dish doesn’t have gluten in it, you’ll need to be wary of that same cross-contamination issue that can happen in busy kitchens.
“It is hard to avoid dinners with friends!” exclaims Bingley-Pullin. “Checking labels and being aware of what’s in your food applies to eating out too.”
To beat this, you’re going to have become familiar with what eateries in your local area can cater for you — and thanks to the rise of gluten-free eating, there’s a hell of a lot more than you think.
“Gluten-free eating is now so prevalent that many restaurants will in fact label on a menu what dishes are gluten-free,” recommends Bingley-Pullin.
“If you’re unsure at all, do ask! You can also plan ahead, review the restaurant’s menu and call in advance with any questions.
“And if there’s a particular dish you have your heart set on, ask if there’s any way you can swap an ingredient out — for example you could swap pasta for rice.”