Two loaves of bread each sliced up to half way

How to learn to live without gluten

If you or a family member has gluten intolerance or has been diagnosed with coeliac disease, you’ll need to avoid or eliminate gluten from your diet. Here we show you how to live without gluten.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, and is a protein that “glues” food together. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include diarrhoea, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation and anaemia. Coeliac disease, which produces similar symptoms, is a serious, life-long autoimmune disease. While some people with gluten intolerance may be able to eat a small amount of gluten without symptoms, coeliacs must avoid all traces of gluten. If you need to avoid or eliminate gluten from your diet our advice will help.

Healthy alternatives

The only way to live symptom-free from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance is to avoid foods with gluten for life. Lots of healthy, nutritious food is naturally gluten-free – for example, meat (but not if it’s covered in breadcrumbs), fish, fruit and vegetables, most milk and cheese products (but check ice-cream and blue cheese), nuts, seeds and some grains (eg, rice and quinoa). Generally speaking, the plainer the food, the less likely it is to have any gluten on it or in it. Because you’ll be cutting out some foods from your diet to live gluten-free, it’s always worth speaking to your doctor, a qualified nutritionist or dietitian for help and advice.

Gluten-free labels

Most ready-meals, snacks and cereals contain gluten. In the UK and the EU, labels on all packaged foods are required to contain allergen information. If you eat food that has been processed or packaged in any way, you’ll need to become familiar with food labels.

The easiest thing to do is look for a 'gluten-free' label on food but, to allow you to eat a wider selection of food, you should learn which common ingredients contain gluten. Wheat, rye, barley, some oats, spelt and khorasan wheat (known commercially as Kamut) all contain gluten. Gluten can also be found in triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), malt, malt flavouring and malt vinegar. Manufacturers change ingredients often, so check the label every time you shop to make sure no ingredients that may contain gluten have been added. You may even find gluten in medicines, lip balms and vitamins.

Some ingredients made from a cereal containing gluten are processed in such a way that the gluten is removed, making them safe to eat. These include glucose syrups, wheat-based maltodextrins and distilled ingredients such as alcoholic spirits. Gluten-free baked goods often use brown rice flour, corn meal, bean and potato flour. See our recipes for baking and cooking without gluten here.

Eating at a restaurant

If you’re eating out, you’ll need to ask questions, even about the ingredients in spice blends. Breaded items, or sauces made with flour, will probably be out and, unless the restaurant or venue has two fryers to avoid cross-contamination, you won’t be able to order deep-fried food. You can ask if there’s a gluten-free menu or dishes. Supermarkets may also have a list of gluten-free products available. To avoid gluten altogether, remember that preparation areas and appliances must also be gluten-free. In your kitchen you’ll need a separate toaster (or toaster bags), boards and utensils.

Having said all this, knowing what to look for, and which questions to ask, will help you enjoy a gluten-free and problem-free lifestyle.

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