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A Guide to a Gluten-Free Diet: What You Should Know and How to Start

A Guide to a Gluten-Free Diet: What You Should Know and How to Start

Gluten free Diet - Featured

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This article is all about gluten and what you should look for when going gluten free. We have covered the basics of what gluten is and what it is not, the foods to avoid and how to start a gluten-free diet

Changing what you eat to not include gluten would most probably be the best thing you would ever do for your body.

What exactly is gluten?

What is gluten
Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye

Let’s start with the very basics. What exactly is gluten? Gluten is a type of protein found amongst the largest cereal grains being produced in the world. A cereal grain such as Wheat, per se, isn’t bad for your health, except for those who have limited tolerance to gluten. However, the viscous and elastic properties of gluten, has led to overuse of gluten by food manufacturers in almost any heavily processed and packaged food you would find in the supermarket. 

What do we mean by viscous and elastic properties? 

Let’s say you buy whole wheat from your supermarket, which is often relegated to the bottom most shelves. You bring it home and grind it into a fine powdery flour. This is how mum and grandmum used to make flour. 

You add water, and knead it to make whatever flatbread you want to make. It becomes elastic as you knead – this elasticity is from gluten. This process is called ‘developing’ the gluten. All you need is around 3 minutes to develop the gluten to make it into a soft dough. This is how the Indian flatbread of Phulka is made – add a bit of oil to tenderise/soften, and a bit of salt to flavour, roll the dough flat and pop it over your gas knob and turn to cook. Ultra-simple and wholesome.

Or, you add a teaspoon of the flour to whatever saucy meal you are cooking to make it thicken to your liking – this viscosity is from gluten. 

Is Gluten bad for you?

If you are doing just what we described above, on making a flatbread like Phulka (or similar) and if you’re not intolerant to gluten, you’ll do just fine. In many Asian cuisines, gluten is not part of their diet. For, example, South Indian cuisines are almost entirely gluten-free. A flour-based cake, or cookies, for example, is something that is made or had once a month or two. However, in western cuisines, this is completely the other way around.

Today’s children are exposed to hundreds of thousands of packaged snack options, and most of them have gluten in some form or other. The viscosity and elasticity from gluten is used to vary the consistency and texture of various heavily processed and packaged foods that are available for us to consume. 

This is exactly where gluten becomes bad for us. It has gotten to the point where use of gluten is normalised by its overuse – tack on ‘added sugar, added fat, added colours, added flavours, added preservatives, with not enough fibre which the body needs – we have been on a downward spiral without even noticing.

Why do people eat gluten-free?

Why do people eat Gluten Free
Eating gluten-free often helps to avoid highly processed and packaged foods

Gluten-free diet at some point, was entirely a ‘need-based’ diet for people who are intolerant to gluten. But, nowadays, considering gluten and other ‘added’ stuff is used most heavily processed foods, eating ‘gluten-free’ is considered a form of ‘clean-eating’. Because, almost every processed and packaged food almost always contains other added ingredients which we don’t need. 

And the food labelling that works around strict labelling claims doesn’t help either. Often, foods that are low in fat, don’t mention they are high in sugar. And, foods that claim low in sugar, don’t mention they are high in fat. Food labelling has to go a long way in correcting these aberrations, where packaged food manufacturers are allowed to highlight the good stuff while ignoring the bad stuff.

Therefore, starting on consuming foods that don’t have gluten is a great way to start avoiding added additives that are often not good for the body. 

If you look at the ingredient list of Tasteville Ready Meals, for example, you will notice that on top of the meals being gluten-free, they have no added colours (natural or artificial), no added preservatives (because freezing is amongst the best method of food preservation), and no added flavours (all the flavours come from ingredients themselves!)

What exactly does gluten-free mean?

Now that we’ve touched upon why people eat gluten-free, and why many others want to eat gluten-free, we need to understand what exactly does gluten-free mean?

Gluten-free can be achieved in many ways.

Firstly, going gluten-free can be done by mostly consuming naturally gluten-free food. Eating a lot of veggies and fruits, instead of breads, pasta, pizza, slices, cake, cookies etc.

Secondly, consuming a prepared food that doesn’t have a gluten-containing ingredient. By this, we mean, prepare a meal using mainly veggies, fruits, proteins such as lentils, meat, and grains such as rice, millet, quinoa etc.

Thirdly, by consuming food with a gluten-containing ingredient that has been processed to remove gluten – such as gluten-free oats. Gluten-free flour can be achieved in two-ways – either by mixing multiple gluten-free ingredients, or removing gluten from regular plain flour through further ‘processing’.

If you’ve grown up with a pizza night, pasta night, lasagne night for dinner, then moving away to a gluten-free night is something that requires more effort, specifically when looking at meals that don’t have gluten as an ingredient. However, you can start small. We’ll explain that further down below.

Is gluten-free healthy?

Is gluten free healthy
Gluten-free is just a beginning to a healthier lifestyle

Going gluten free is just the beginning of a healthy lifestyle. Today, gluten is found in products in almost every aisle of the supermarket. By choosing gluten-free, you will continue to stay away from heavily processed foods as much as possible. Which in turn, will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

What foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet?

The following are the foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet.

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye

In addition to the above, you would want to look out for the following to avoid.

FoodWhy it is not gluten-free
Bulgur Made from wheat
Couscous Made from semolina (see below)
Egg NoodlesMade with egg and wheat flour
EmmerA type of wheat
FarroA type of wheat
FreekehMade from wheat
GrahamNot the same as gram flour which is made with chickpeas. Graham flour is made with wheat
KamutA type of wheat
Ramen NoodlesMade with wheat flour
Self-raising flourMade using wheat flour and a raising agent to help it rise
SeitanDough made with wheat flour and starch is removed by washing
SemolinaMade from wheat (fine or coarsely ground). There are other semolina made from other grains such as millet (which is gluten-free).
SpeltA grain closely related to wheat
SourdoughSourdough is simply fermented dough made with regular flour
Soy SauceSoy sauce contains wheat
List of foods with other names, that are often not gluten-free

As always, lookout for wheat within the ingredients list of any processed and packaged product.

Can anyone follow a gluten-free diet?

Yes, Absolutely. Gluten free diet is not just for those who have a gluten intolerance. It is beneficial for anyone who is keen to cut down on heavily processed and packaged foods, which have wheat as an ingredient to vary the texture and mouthfeel.

How to start a gluten-free diet?

Start by including more veggies and fruits in your daily meals. Stay away from packaged food. If not, always check the ingredient list in the labelling. Try cuisines that are not western. Western cuisines are heavily based on gluten. Tasteville offers a 100% gluten-free flexitarian menu full of ready to eat portion-controlled meals.

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