Coeliac disease is a lifelong, serious autoimmune disease caused by the immune system reacting to gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The only treatment for the condition is a strict gluten-free diet for life.
For those newly diagnosed with the condition, the prospect of a strict gluten-free diet may seem daunting at first; but armed with the right knowledge, the gluten-free diet can be relatively easy to adapt to. Here are Coeliac UK’s top 10 tips for everyday eating…
1. Get used to reading food labels when you shop
All packaged food in the UK and the EU is covered by a law on allergen labelling, meaning you can tell whether or not a product is suitable for a gluten-free diet by reading the ingredients list. If a cereal containing gluten has been used as an ingredient in the product, it must be listed in the ingredients list (no matter how little is used).
The specific grain will be listed, so look out for mentions of wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, Kamut® or any other grain which has been made through breeding these together as these all contain gluten. Often, these ingredients will be highlighted in bold.
2. Use gluten-free substitutes in place of gluten-containing foods
Pasta, bread and crackers all contain gluten, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy these foods in your diet. Instead, switch to gluten-free alternatives of your favourite foods, which you will find in most supermarkets and health food stores. Gluten-free substitute foods include pasta, bread, crackers, bread rolls, cereals and more. Those medically diagnosed with coeliac disease can receive some gluten-free staple food on prescription from the NHS.
3. Remember lots of foods are naturally gluten-free
Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheese and eggs are naturally gluten-free, so use these as the basis to your meals.
4. Enjoy naturally gluten-free grains and cereals
The gluten-free diet doesn’t mean that all grains and cereals are off the menu. Quinoa, teff, amaranth, polenta, buckwheat, corn, millet and tapioca are just some of the naturally gluten-free grains which can be included in the diet. Just check the labels to make sure you are using uncontaminated versions. Try swapping traditional breadcrumbs for polenta crumbs, opt for gluten-free buckwheat or rice noodles and pasta and try baking with quinoa for gluten-free alternatives.
5. Know which alcohol to avoid
Gluten-free alcohol includes cider, wine, sherry, spirits, port and liqueurs, but remember that beer, lagers, stouts and ales contain varying amounts of gluten and are not suitable for a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free beers are available in some supermarkets and restaurants, but make sure you only drink those that are labelled in this way.
6. Remember you can still enjoy meals out with family and friends
Being on a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean that you can’t eat out – check out Coeliac UK’s online venue guide to see where you can eat out gluten-free.
7. Be aware of cross contamination
Even a tiny bit of gluten can be enough to cause symptoms for someone with coeliac disease, so make sure you minimise the risk of cross contamination with gluten-containing foods. Do this by washing down kitchen surfaces before use, using separate butters, spreads and jams to minimise the spread of crumbs and invest in some toaster bags to keep your gluten-free bread separate.
8. Avoid sauces containing gluten
Lots of pasta sauces, gravies, stocks and condiments contain wheat flour, and therefore gluten, so ensure you read the label and exclude anything that isn’t suitable. Instead, try making your own pasta sauces and gravies using cornflour, arrowroot or potato starch to thicken them for a gluten-free option.
9. Experiment in the kitchen
Finding the right gluten-free substitute for your usual gluten-containing ingredients is a matter of personal taste, so spend time in the kitchen getting used to gluten-free flours and baking aids.
10. Remember, gluten-free meals can be just as delicious and healthy too
Once diagnosed with coeliac disease, you can start to make positive changes to your diet to improve your health. Join Coeliac UK for support to help you adjust, which includes a Food and Drink Directory listing products to help you get started in the kitchen.
Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, yet only 10 to 15% of those with the condition have received a diagnosis. Coeliac UK is the national charity for people with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) and offers help, advice and support.
Find out more about the work we do at coeliac.org.uk or call the Helpline on 0845 305 2060.
This article was last reviewed on 5th December 2018 by nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens.
Do you have coeliac disease or suspect you may have a gluten intolerance? Share your top tips for living gluten-free below…