The importance of being sensible if you’re going gluten-free

Lisa's bechemel lasagne

It’s an undeniable fact that when you cut out foods and food groups from your diet, you can run the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies as well as causing some other problems if things aren’t done “properly”. Considering it is coeliac awareness week, I thought it would be a great time to talk about some of the rarely discussed issues with cutting gluten out of your diet – especially if you’re not really sure why you’ve cut it out.

Things to be mindful of when cutting out gluten:

Rule out coeliac disease first!

If you cut gluten out or down before you have testing done it can result in a false negative – (in other words render the test useless as it may come back saying you don’t have coeliac disease when in fact you may). According to the Coeliac Australia website 1 in 70 Australians have coeliac disease and around 80% are diagnosed. Coeliac disease requires a life long avoidance of all food sources and traces of gluten from the diet. There can be some pretty serious long term health consequences of untreated coeliac disease and so it is prudent to get properly tested before cutting the gluten out of your diet. What this means in practical terms is that if you aren’t tested for coeliac disease (and it turns out that you do have it) you don’t realise just how careful you actually have to be with regard to avoiding all traces of gluten. Because a lot of people who are cutting out gluten for perceived health or aesthetic reasons aren’t as stringent about avoiding traces of gluten too. There are a broad spectrum of symptoms for coeliac disease including but not limited to fatigue, low iron, joint pain, reflux, bloating, and even constipation so it’s important to get properly tested before cutting the gluten out of your diet.

What kind of diet did you have before cutting out gluten?

Many commercial gluten containing products (like breads) are fortified with iron, iodine, folate and other B vitamins and other whole foods like oats contain fibre. Many of the organic gluten-free alternatives aren’t enriched. So if you were more of a processed food eater before cutting gluten out of your diet, you run the risk of developing deficiencies of these nutrients so it’s important to understand where you stand nutritionally with these nutrients before you cut out gluten (best done with a discussion with your doctor and nutritional healthcare practitioner).

Don’t just go and supplement these nutrients because not everyone needs a supplement – it’s more important to find out what you need and also to make sure that if you have a medical reason to cut out gluten that you’re eating widely from the foods you can eat.

  • Food sources of iron if you’re vegetarian or vegan consider foods like spinach, cashews, sun-dried tomato, chia seeds, lentils, amaranth and dried apricots. Also eating foods which contain vitamin C will help you better absorb the plant-based iron, some Vitamin C foods include kiwi fruit, guava, strawberry, capsicum, oranges, canteloupe (or rockmelon) and papaya.
  • Food sources of folate avocado, spinach, mung beans, adzuki beans and lentils
  • Food sources of iodine kelp, nori, dulse, iodised salt
  • Food sources of B vitamins nutritional yeast and brewers yeast are a good source of B vitamins generally as well as other foods which contain the array of B vitamins, like sunflower seeds and pine nuts for B1, almonds and meats (if it suits your diet) for B2, rice bran, peanuts with their skins for B3, peanut, mushroom and soy flour for B5 and banana, potato and chickpea for B6. If you’re vegan, make sure you get your B12 levels tested regularly with your doctor and take a B12 supplement rather than relying on plant based food sources.
  • Food sources of fibre there are different kinds of fibre, so including a range of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes will cover your bases with fibre.
  • Food sources of calcium as osteoporosis can be a long term consequence of undiagnosed coeliac disease some plant-based sources of calcium include: sesame seeds (and tahini), nuts, legumes, broccoli, seaweeds, enriched dairy milk alternatives. It’s also important to reduce the things which can increase the loss of calcium from the body like salt, coffee and stress.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for some plant-based food sources of these nutrients.

If you’ve got coeliac disease and you’ve been missing some of your old favourite foods, well keep watching our episodes because we’ve got a whole lot of ideas .

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