Coeliac disease affects roughly 1 in 100 people in the UK, making it much more common than previously thought. It is an autoimmune disease triggered by intolerance to gluten – a protein found mainly in wheat, rye and barley.
During the Second World War it was noticed that some sickly children with persistent diarrhoea improved as their diet became more restricted and they were unable to get bread. Eventually, it became clear that the gluten in wheat severely damaged the lining of the gut and reduced the body’s ability to take up nutrients from foods. This intolerance to gluten leads to the inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract where the body’s immune system reacts by attacking its own tissues.
Coeliac disease is usually a lifelong condition, requiring a strict gluten-free diet. Some people with coeliac disease may not be able to tolerate oats.
If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to nutrient deficiency related problems, including anaemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, tooth decay, weight loss and osteoporosis.
Check Labels Carefully
The most obvious gluten-containing foods are breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, flour, pastry and pizza. More unlikely foods include ice cream, soup and yoghurt.
Hidden sources of gluten can also be found in processed foods. Checking labels carefully is essential, although it is not always fool proof. Compound ingredients, which make up less than 25% of the food (found in products such as tomato paste or mayonnaise), could contain traces of gluten-containing grains that don’t need to be labelled.
The best way to ensure a gluten-free diet is with items that have no ingredients list: i.e. whole foods. Fresh meat, eggs, potatoes and pulses, and fruit and vegetables ensure that everything ingested is gluten-free.
Grains that can be eaten freely on a gluten-free diet include Corn (maize) and rice. But there is a range of more unusual grain products that can also be tolerated by most coeliacs, and make highly nutritious replacements for wheat.
Buckwheat grains can be served as an accompaniment in place of rice or pasta. The flour is traditionally used in French crêpe and Russian blini recipes.
Amaranth seeds contain twice as much iron and four times as much calcium as wheat grains. They can be boiled to yield a spicy-tasting cereal accompaniment for vegetables, meat or fish. Amaranth flour makes an unusually moist and sweet pastry.
Millet four can be used to make flat breads, and the grains can be added to soups and stews. It makes a delicious and nutritious ‘porridge’.
Polenta (corn maize ground to a meal) can be served in place of pasta, or rice or shaped into pieces when cold and fried or grilled.
Quinoa is particularly rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids required for healthy skin and hormone production. It needs to be boiled and is excellent with stir-fries and salads.