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How 'Gluten Free' are YOU?
Discover your rank in the realm of a gluten free life
Over the past years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people adopting a partial or complete gluten free lifestyle. Whilst some of these individuals avoid it out of choice, many are required to refrain from consumption of any wheat, rye, barley and oat products for life. This may be due to Coeliac Disease (an autoimmune disease where gluten cannot be tolerated by the individual, as consumption of gluten containing cereals flattens and inflames the villi in the small bowel), dermatitis herpetiformis (an extremely itchy rash made of bumps and blisters as a result of gluten consumption) or simply a gluten intolerance (where the body has difficulty absorbing nutrients from gluten-containing cereals).
More recently, particularly in Australia, we have seen a tremendous increase in businesses and brands offering gluten free products. This has, without a doubt, had an effect on more individuals choosing to go on a gluten free diet.
But how gluten free are you? If the answer isn't 'completely', then keep reading down. I have developed a self-ranking system. Individuals can always refer to this hub to see where they may rank on the ladder.
(Rank order 1-7)
1. The "fad" approach:
You're keen to give the gluten free diet a go, aren't you. You've heard all sorts of things about it. You've got to see for yourself. It may be to lose weight, become more physically attractive or feel less depressed. Your requirement is most definitely voluntary. You have intentions to keep it up for some time to see if it will make any difference to your health. You have a little bit of an idea of what needs to be avoided in your diet - flour and wheat. Whilst you intend to avoid foods which clearly contain gluten, you continue to find certain 'glutenny' foods just far too tempting to resist. So you'll sneak some of those old 'gluten-laden' favourites back into your diet from time to time. No mention of rye, barley or oats. You know very little, if anything at all, about interpreting ingredients listed on a product. If in doubt, you do all but 'leave it out'. You probably would not have realised (before reading this blog) that beer contains gluten; not to mention the Vodka, Whiskey, Rum and all the rest of it!
Example: You're at a party. Everyone's about to sing 'Happy Birthday' and they're ready to cut the cake! They're about to offer you some. It looks tempting! You feel as though you can't resist. You decide to give in. You 'gluten' yourself!
Another Example: You're keen to keep the bread away at breakfast but simply can't resist the divineness of crumpets, english muffins or croissants. You squeeze one or two into your so called 'gluten free' fad diet, and pretend to commit yourself to following a more strict diet in the future (usually failing to do so before the day is over).
You'll probably opt out of your gluten free diet before a week is over.
2. The "supposed" approach:
The doctor says that you need to go onto a gluten free diet, recommends alternatives and will usually only trial you on it it for a period of time if you haven't been 'officially' tested for Coeliac Disease. You don't seem to really want to avoid gluten. You love your bread and you simply can't give up that delicious italian wheat pasta that you've craved for all your life! Not to mention all the yummy goodies like donuts, baguettes, bagels, croissants, pies, sausage rolls, cakes and cookies. You may be willing to avoid these things but few go past this. You fail to realise that gluten is also present in rye, barley and oats. You probably eat all the flavoured potato chips and lollies, paying little attention to ingredient lists. It is disturbing how much you make life harder for yourself. You get increasingly depressed as you find it in more and more foods every day!
3. The "half-hearted" approach:
You are keen to support those gluten free brands. You certainly don't want to completely avoid gluten, as you already know how many things it's present in. But you certainly do like to make your intolerance to gluten a known fact. Getting pizza on a gluten free base but topping it with topping which aren't gluten free (because you think you know that you can tolerate a little bit of gluten) is an example of something you would do. You are pretty certain that high amounts of gluten cause discomfort and are normally quite willing to avoid most gluten-containing bread-based products, however you always enjoy the occasional gummi (usually with wheat starch in it) and probably are not too worried about cross-contamination. You have a reasonably good idea of what gluten is in. You may or may not avoid foods like gravy, depending on how you feel about it. You know that you need to work hard to go real easy on wheat, rye, barley, however you can't bear the thought of having to completely avoid all their products. You know a thing or two about oats. Some say they're gluten free while others say they aren't. You make a personal choice about oats based on these facts. You are far more gluten free than the average Australian, but far less gluten free than many on the diet.
4. The "risky" approach:
You avoid additions of wheat, rye and barley. You know that these can make you rather queasy and unwell at times. You avoid them at all costs if they're added to products. You can tolerate small amounts of it. You have sometimes been alright after consuming gluten and you're not too worried about if your product is cross-contaminated with small amounts of gluten due to the nature of cooking/processing/manufacturing. You're quite happy to indulge on those fries or potato wedges even if they're cooked in the same oil as battered foods. These small amounts of gluten present in the contaminated cooking oils don't worry you at this point in time. You're keen to have a normal social life so you 'frequently' go and buy pizza on a gluten free base from a franchise or pizza shop that discloses a disclaimer on their menu that the pizza may contain traces of gluten. You may or may not enquire about gluten free toppings, just depends on how with-it you are at the time. The pizza shop takes very little (if any) care to prevent cross-contamination.
(I recently visited a family-owned pizza venue in a very backward area of Australia. There was a sign out front that said "GLUTEN FREE PIZZAS AVAILABLE!" Kids of about 9 or 10 years old were working there because they can't get any better workers in this sort of community. They offer gluten free bases that are bought in. There was very little knowledge amongst these kids about 'gluten free' so the manager came out to talk with me. I asked about gluten free toppings. He said there was no guarantee and was surprised I was so sensitive to gluten. We discussed some of the toppings ingredients etc. and found some that were safe. He then dropped the gluten free base in a heap of flour on the bench because there was no room elsewhere. I told him he'd have to start again because it was no longer gluten free due to contamination. He told me he had basically had enough and that I would either get it 'pretty gluten free' or 'not at all'. I chose the latter and refused to pay. The manager was annoyed I wasted his time but after all, if the term GLUTEN FREE is going to be used, it should be used legally and properly.)
5. The "low-risk" approach:
You are in the majority. Most gluten free individuals would place in this category. You are keen and willing to avoid gluten, and will always ask whether something is or isn't gluten free if unsure. You avoid oats and usually check ingredients reasonably thoroughly on products and are careful and particular about brands you choose. You are keen to keep away from gluten and try to avoid it at all reasonable costs. You are very trusting of places, and sometimes not quite as discerning as you could be. You may have a reaction if a mistake occurs between foodservice staff/chefs. You avoid barbecues at all costs (especially if sausages are cooked on the grill) as well as possibly french fries which contain residual gluten due to deep fryer oil contamination as mentioned earlier. While you are pretty willing to avoid gluten, you still enjoy the occasional gluten-free/friendly pizza from Domino's, Eagle Boys, Crust Pizza, Pizza Capers, or somewhere that offers pizzas of the sort. You, of course, ask about toppings (if you remember) but generally don't worry about cross-contamination in this instance. You only treat yourself to a pizza once every 2-3 weeks anyhow. You entirely trust the Coeliac Society of Australia (CSoA). You rarely look elsewhere for your gluten free advice. You appear to be fine with Wheat Glucose Syrup (as the CSoA, declares it as 'gluten free'). But most of all, you enjoy your gluten free diet.
6. The "Coeliac Disease Management" approach.
You are most likely subscribed to the Coeliac Society of Australia. You thoroughly look through all of their publications and receive the monthly magazine. You are very attentive to looking after your gluten free diet. You are especially careful when preparing your own gluten free sandwiches. You either use toaster bags (available at www.toastabags.com) or a dedicated gluten free toaster. You assume you will be ok if you use separate utensils for preparing your gluten free meals and avoid the four key gluten-containing ingredients namely, wheat, rye, barley and oats. You may or may not be aware that it is currently impossible to accurately measure the gluten content in barley and oats. You therefore avoid all ingredients derived from barley and oats. You probably do not, however, avoid all wheat-derived ingredients. According to the Coeliac Society of Australia, Wheat glucose syrup, Caramel Colour (from wheat), MSG (from wheat) and Dextrose from wheat are essentially gluten free due to being highly processed. You are somewhat discerning when it comes to buying pizzas promoted as 'gluten free' or 'gluten friendly' and may be hesitant to buy one unless you're really stuck for a meal. It may be contaminated... You are very discerning and always do your very best to look after yourself on the gluten free diet.
7. The "dedicated" approach
You are one of the few [ED or perhaps NOT so few (based on some of the below comments)] individuals at the top end of the ladder. You know the gluten free diet inside out, and you're not going to give in, regardless of any circumstances. You are very discerning and know that the Coeliac Society should not be solely relied upon (they use a disclaimer on each and every publication, in case some of you may not have previously been aware of this). You question practices offering gluten free meal options to seek the truth. You avoid all ingredients derived from wheat, rye, barley and oats including those as deemed safe by the CSoA (i.e. wheat sugar syrup, wheat colourings, wheat MSG, etc.). You know your rights as consumers. You are always right. Companies and businesses have to conform to you. Perhaps making your voices heard would help enhance the safety and quality of a gluten-free lifestyle. Remember, though well respected by many bodies around the country and the world, the CSoA definitely has its flaws. This is the rank at which I would situate myself at this point in time, and I would encourage more of the fellow coeliacs out there to work toward the top level. Not only will it keep the Coeiliac Disease symptoms under control but, with persistence in finding meals to suit your needs and desires, you will be able to eat again confident in the knowledge that you are taking all necessary measures to look after your disease!
Rank your status: How Gluten Free are YOU? (please read the above article before answering!!)
Answer the Poll ----------------->
The above levels of approach outline some common scenarios of individuals who identify themselves on a 'gluten free' diet. If more of us move up the rank we may be very surprised at how our needs are met in society. Join me in this post by leaving a reply and adding your 'gluten free status' to the poll. You could specify where you think you might fall in the ladder...
(look forward to seeing what you have to say!)