Wednesday, 4 December 2013

An Introduction to Gluten Free

I have often been asked why I have a gluten free diet. The most common reasons for these questions is because people think it's a weight loss option or a dietary choice. It's a common misconception. One of the reasons that people think this is because they don't feel bloated after they eat. If you actually look at the calorie count on gluten free breads it's not very different from normal. In fact, in some cases they contain more calories. So, the weight loss argument of a gluten free diet should be shelved. Forever. Unless you're giving up the bread and pasta completely... but I think they just call that a diet.

The second misconception is that it is a "choice" for the majority. It's actually a choice for the minority. In point of fact, most people on a gluten free diet do not do it by choice. They have a medical problem, be it coeliac or a form of IBS. 

The truth is that being gluten free can sometimes be a pain in the butt. The majority of the products are expensive and gluten makes you ill, physically ill. I am not discussing the ins and outs of it but it's not pleasant. For gluten intolerant people taking gluten out of the equation means a healthier digestive system, and, generally, a happier existence. 

When the idea of gluten free dieters being a "fad" carries into restaurants then there is a problem. At times, waiters and waitresses have asked questions about why I want my food gluten free. In some instances they are trying to gauge if I'm a "fad dieter" or actually intolerant. 

There have been instances where I have been treated as an inconvenience in restaurants. I know I need to avoid the majority of fast food chains because they simply do not cater, in most cases, but I have some expectation that there will be some sort of gluten free options in a restaurant. I remember one horrendous restaurant experience where they offered simple lettuce and a plain chicken breast for my starter and main course respectively. Needless to say, I swiftly left that place! Of course, there have been amazing experiences too but in the beginning they were few and far between. It helps when the restaurant staff know what is in the dishes on the menu. Always ask. I cannot stress that enough. 

Gluten intolerance is on the rise in Ireland. Just look at our diets on a typical day. For the majority breakfast consists of cereal, bread, or pastries. Lunch is a sandwich or a wrap. Dinner could be pizza, pasta, or simply covered in a gluten based gravy or sauce. It is extremely hard to start off on a gluten free diet. People underestimate this unless they actually have to do it. 

Personally, I miss bread like the stuff we grew up! For example, Brennans Bread with its "Today's Bread Today" slogan. As a kid I loved it as toast with lashings of butter. It's a wonder I wasn't a fatter child. But, there are some alternatives out there that are getting better. Not all of them are long life breads either. I'll get around to them soon, I need to finish tasting them!

Friends and family often do not understand what a gluten free diet involves for the first stretch. It's a learning curve for everyone remember! The 'normal' products such as OXO cubes, Bisto, or sausages are now firmly in the "NO" pile. In most cases, all of these products contain high levels of gluten. Every label needs to be inspected to see if it contains wheat flour and, in a lot of cases, malt flavourings, or modified starches. 

The gluten free dieter needs to start reading the labels, all of the labels. Sometimes the allergy advise says nothing about gluten but the box has omitted to print on it that it's gluten free. Not all companies print if their product is gluten free on it. In these cases the ingredients list becomes so important. That, and a leap of faith in your reading skills! Don't worry, as you get familiar with the product labels you'll begin to know which products to pick up and which not to. 

There we have it. A short introduction on what to expect starting off on your gluten free journey. It's more a "what to expect when you're starting" piece. 

Tweet me @dubglutenfree or comment if you've any queries! 

All images have been sourced via the google images resource. 

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