I’m going gluten-free – what can I eat?

Photo by James Petts

Photo by James Petts

Good question.

It would be easier to say what you can’t eat!

But the question is, what can you eat. So let’s start there.

Well, for a start, obviously you can eat meat, poultry and game. That’s unprocessed meat. Avoid burgers, sausages, grillsteaks and similar items, as they almost always contain filler which is wheat based (though the highest quality may be gluten free – check the label for anything like wheat, flour, starch, and in particular monosodium glutamate).

If you like gravy, ketchup or sauce with your meat, take care. These products are almost always made with flour. Gravy granules and powders might be thickened with cornflour, because it mixes with boiling water more quickly than wheat flour, but you do need to check, particularly with the cheaper varieties. Soya sauce (except for the gluten free variety) is also off the menu, because the soya beans are fermented with wheat.

Next on the list: fruit, raw or cooked, but without thickened sauces (custard may be ok, check the label to make sure any thickening is either corn or egg based). You can also have cream, but not if it’s squirty cream containing starch to thicken it.

Vegetables are usually pretty safe. Potatoes, green vegetables and roots are almost always served without any thickening added. Again, if it’s a processed product, check the label! Watch out for coatings and fillers in frozen potato products. If you use packet mash, read the label carefully, best go for the top quality brands.

Salad prepared by your own sweet hands is great. Prepared salads are also fine, so long as you don’t use any dressing packed with it, unless you first check the label to make sure there is no wheat flour, unspecified starch or monosodium glutamate in it. Dressings you buy to put on your salad need to be checked as well. Good quality mayonnaise should be fine – Hellman’s for example – but be careful of low fat varieties of anything, as thickener is often added to make up for the lost viscosity of the oil they removed, and this is usually based on some variant of flour.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt should be fine – but again, be careful of the low fat varieties, for the reasons already mentioned. Also, don’t buy grated cheese, unless you see the deli grate it in front of you, as the pre-packaged variety is coated in – you guessed it – flour.

You can eat gluten-free bread and cakes, but these are mostly ridiculously expensive, and not very nice. A good substitute are Corn Thins from Real Foods Pty, an Australian company. They have a page on their site listing stockists around the world, including major supermarket chains. Alternatively, if you don’t mind eating food that squeaks, you can eat rice cakes. Kallo do a chocolate coated rice cake that is probably very nice, but as I do object to my food squeaking, I haven’t tried them.

As far as takeaways go, you can eat Indian food, but not the breads and chapattis. Poppadoms are fine, though. You need to check that they don’t use any thickening in their food (apart from chickpea or lentil flour), or ask them to make you a version without.

Another takeaway style that you can go for is Chinese – no noodles, apart from rice noodles (sometimes called Singapore hot noodles), and ask them to leave out the “taste powder” (monosodium glutamate). I’m afraid fortune cookies are off the menu as well, although there’s nothing to stop you reading the contents and throwing the cookie away! Like I said earlier, soya sauce must be the gluten free variety, so get them to leave it out and add it yourself at home.

All drinks except for whisky, beer, and malted drinks like Ovaltine, Milo and Horlicks should be fine, but avoid the cheaper varieties of instant coffee, as flour is sometimes used as a filler.

So there you are, a pretty good selection of gluten-free foods you can eat to your heart’s content.

Bon Appetit!

What makes you think you’re gluten intolerant?

Photo by by Rinina25 & Twice25

Photo by by Rinina25 & Twice25

Awareness of gluten intolerance is rising. Lots of people who have had obvious symptoms, with no really obvious cause are waking up to the fact that they might be a sufferer, as well.

I grew up thinking that regular diarrhea was normal. It’s not, of course, but it’s not something you really chat about, even with your closest friends. It was normal for me, so I just assumed everyone else had the same problem.

It was only a couple of years ago, when I started trying to get an online business going, dedicating almost all my income to the cause, that I started to get other symptoms. I had pretty much reduced my diet to pasta, bread and potatoes, with just a little protein. I started to get serious aches and pains in my bones and joints.

I’ve been interested in nutrition for a long time, so I had come across literature connecting arthritis with gluten intolerance. As I wasn’t suffering from arthritis at the time, the information lay dormant in the back of my mind until the symptoms of possible arthritis flared up. I was hurting, I was online, so I started surfing for data, and found the connection.

It was a bit of a blow, because being able to keep body and soul together for under a tenner a week was quite useful, but I decided to go for it, and cut out gluten completely for a few weeks to see what happened.

My aches and pains went away. The diarrhea stopped pretty much completely. And I started to lose weight, without making any real effort to cut down on calories (which was odd, as I was actually eating more, much more, than I had been for the previous 6 months).

Do you think I was pleased with these results? Of course I was! Even though, as the daughter of a chef and a bit of a gourmet on the quiet, it meant I had to completely revise all my cooking methods, styles and recipes.

I used to like takeaways as well, but almost all of them have flour in some form or other. Luckily, Chinese takeaways almost all sell rice noodles (as well as rice), though they don’t always say so. But if you ask for Singapore rice noodles you will get a very nice noodle dish, made with very fine noodles and spiced with chilli. Yummy. It makes a meal in itself, or you can use it as one part of a Chinese meal.

You can eat almost all Chinese dishes – except the deep fried ones which are mostly coated in batter, chow mien noodles and prawn toast. You also need to ask them not to put monosodium glutamate or soy sauce in your food. But the Chinese are so adept at making food tasty, all this is a small sacrifice.

Indian food is ok, as well, so long as you avoid the breads: nan, chapatis and so on. But you can eat the poppadoms, as they are made with lentils, not flour. Ask them not to thicken your food with flour – but they can use gram flour (made with chickpeas).

As I live in Scotland, I can also get haggis, which is made from oats. Some people who are gluten intolerant can’t eat oats, but I don’t have a problem with them. However, the local chip shops always coat them in batter before they cook them, so I really need to pick that off.

What makes me think I’m gluten intolerant? Well, when I eat gluten, I get nasty health problems that go away when I stop.

What about you?