5 things to consider when following a gluten-free diet

By Hayden Wilson and Mary Du Heaume

3 minutes

23 December 2020

Gluten-free foods are growing in popularity, and this is great for anyone who needs to follow a gluten-free diet. But, while supermarkets are stocking more gluten-free foods, there is still a lot to consider for those with coeliac disease and non-coeliac sensitivity.

See a health care professional first

If you are experiencing symptoms or discomfort, it is important to seek medical advice for a correct diagnosis and eliminate any other serious medical conditions. Once you have established that eliminating gluten is necessary, you will need to become an informed gluten detective.

A good starting point is to seek some professional help. Coeliac Australia is a great place to start for those with coeliac disease, non-coeliac sensitivity and those seeking information.

It’s important to note that for some people removing gluten-containing foods may relieve symptoms, but it may be other components of the food and not gluten that is the culprit.

Seeing a dietitian will help clarify any confusion and provide individual support and guidance to ensure your diet remains balanced and supports good health.

Get familiar with the ingredients list

Gluten is a group of proteins found in the grains wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats and their derivatives. If you’re intolerant, it is important to avoid these grains and any food that contains them. Key to achieving this is becoming familiar with the ingredients list on any food label.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) specify that manufacturers need to declare any gluten-containing cereals. Wheat will appear in bold print as it is a common allergen.  Some ingredients are derived from these cereals and will need to list the gluten-containing cereals it is derived from – these are in brackets next to the ingredient.

An exception to this will be glucose syrup derived from wheat which Coeliac Australia endorse as being suitable for most individuals with coeliac disease.

Look for the "gluten-free" label

Food manufacturers are responding to market demand for gluten-free alternatives and making it easier to identify gluten-free products on the supermarket shelf with a gluten-free label and the Coeliac Australia endorsement label.

For a food to be labelled gluten-free and suitable for people with coeliac disease, it must not contain any detectable gluten. Food labelled as 'low gluten' must have less than 0.02% gluten and will be helpful for non-coeliac sensitivity.

Research before eating out

Many restaurants understand the importance of providing gluten-free options, and Coeliac Australia run a Gluten-Free Accreditation Program. Key principles involved in providing a gluten-free menu option are:

  • Ensuring all components on the gluten-free menu is gluten-free
  • Keeping ingredients free from cross-contamination throughout all stages of meal preparation
  • Clear communication skills between the customer, front of house staff and kitchen
  • Staff training.

To ensure a stress-free meal, be prepared and do some research before you go. Many restaurants have online menus, or you can call ahead to check for gluten-free options.

If you have coeliac disease informing the restaurant ahead of time, not only alerts the kitchen staff but highlights your request is not a lifestyle choice.

Avoid cross-contamination

If you live with people who are not gluten-free or you're using a communal kitchen, it is crucial to avoid gluten contamination. Avoid cross-contaminating could mean using a separate toaster and kitchen utensils or making sure they are cleaned thoroughly.

When sharing food, prevent gluten-containing crumbs in condiments by having a no dip policy or have a separate container.  Always wash hands after handling gluten-containing food.

All this may sound daunting, but the good news is there are many foods which are naturally gluten-free and can be consumed freely:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Unprocessed meats, fish and chicken
  • Legumes and pulses
  • Rice, quinoa, teff, polenta
  • Most drinks - however, alcohol brewed from barley malt such as beer will contain gluten.

With a bit of forward planning it is absolutely possible to a have a comprehensive, varied and delicious gluten-free diet.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.

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