You may have heard of gluten free diets and seen the “free from” aisles in most supermarkets. Gluten free is usually suggested to people with coeliac disease and following research there is a suggestion that it could also help those with auto-immune diseases such as psoriasis. Yes, for once we have a bit of research on diet, emphasis on the bit. So in the name of science I went gluten free for a month to see if it made any difference to me.
So what is Gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. So all those things we love like sausage rolls, bread and pastries all contain gluten. A fairly simple thing then and you would think taking it out wouldn’t make much difference. Gluten is responsible for the elasticity in making dough, helping it rise, keeping it soft and helping with the chewiness. So actually, gluten is pretty much the key to good pastry and bread.
Is it easy to go Gluten Free?
At the start of my little test I found it quite difficult to find what to eat and there is a lot of misinformation out there about gluten free foods, which doesn’t make it easy. To start with, most of your basic foods and raw ingredients like vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, spices and such, are gluten free. If you search “gluten free foods” you will find endless lists on the internet giving you a full overview. So, if like me, you enjoy cooking from scratch it’s not actually that hard to go gluten free. I found that most of my evening meals were already gluten free.
The issue I had was breakfast and lunch. I like cereal or toast for breakfast and there is nothing like a fresh baked roll or loaf to make a great lunch so I was pretty much starving by the time I got home from work for the first week as I survived on salads and fruit. I upped my research and found some great sites and by luck was flicking through the T.V. channels when a programme by Hemsley & Hemsley came on. It gave a great insight to the free-from world and some very handy tips.
As a replacement for cereal, I did find an alternative to cornflakes which are made from maize, apparently this cereal does not contain gluten. I actually found that this kept me going longer than normal cereal too, so is definitely something I will continue to use.
What are the alternatives to wheat products?
Okay, I love food cooked in breadcrumbs, again a big no no if you’re going gluten free. Thanks to the ladies I mentioned above, I found a version of Southern Fried Chicken which is just fabulous. Instead of breadcrumbs you use a mix of ground almonds and spices. You use the usual process of dipping the chicken pieces in egg and coating them. To be extra healthy, you oven bake rather than fry. You can find the recipe for Hemsley & Hemsley's Pablo's Chicken here if you are interested in giving it a go.
My main problem with going gluten free was bread. Buying gluten free bread in the shops is very expensive, a usual complaint from many people who have to go gluten free. So, I tried making my own. The first attempt was like a brick – heavy, stodgy and not very enjoyable! I persisted though and found a recipe by Phil Vickery. Now before finding this I had seen that many recipes for gluten free bread have a lot more salt and sugar in them than normal bread. I got the feeling that for all the good I’m doing I’m putting as much bad stuff in my body. Whilst the bread was much lighter it had a bit of a sponge cake taste as it is still sweeter than normal bread. I did try some shop brought bread and found the multi seed ones to be the tastier.
Barbecues are quite easy too, especially if you cut out the bread. The meat you have will be gluten free and you can make all the salads you like, maybe even try grilling some vegetables such as courgettes and aubergine. See my previous post on healthy barbecue meals which, by luck, also happen to be gluten free.
Beer. Yes, a one word sentence. Beer is normally made from wheat and/or barley. The rest of the ingredients are actually gluten free and there are gluten free alternatives made with maize. Even though maize is considered a cereal, it doesn’t contain gluten. The alternatives I found were okay but I found gave me a headache even after just a couple. Be prepared for them to be pricier than normal beer. Most other drinks are fine, wine, spirits, cider and most soft drinks are gluten free.
So did I notice any difference with my skin? No, I found there to be no effect over the month, in fact I had two very small flare ups. What I did find was that I didn’t feel as bloated and I lost 6 pounds in weight, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. What it taught me was not to always go for the usual options as there are ways of reducing your gluten intake and a lot of very tasty alternatives. I did feel healthier and will certainly be cutting down on gluten if not going totally free, after all I do love a beer and a burger!
Avoid ready-made meals. You may find they contain gluten to help bind ingredients; even something like lamb hot pot might have flour in it as this is often used to thicken the sauce. Breakfast on the go is very difficult as a lot of yoghurts contain gluten when they have some kind of flavouring, however natural yoghurt should be fine. You just need to check the allergies bit on the back of the pack of the flavoured ones. Of course those with granola will usually contain gluten. Really if you’re out and about then fruit is your friend, seeing as you can’t indulge in a bacon roll or a pastry.
Don’t just shop in the free-from aisles. The items here are free from a lot more than just gluten and are often more expensive. I can only stress that you research gluten free, get an idea of which foods are naturally gluten free and make it fit your lifestyle. It may not have made much difference to me, but you never know if it will work for you unless you try.
This content is not intended to advise you about your health. Always seek advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professionals.
UK/IE MAT-04258. Date of preparation: July 2016