Gluten is a protein found in foods that contain wheat, barley or rye. Following a gluten-free diet means avoiding eating any food that contains these ingredients.
Who should follow a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is the main treatment for managing coeliac disease. If you've been diagnosed with coeliac disease you should always follow a gluten-free diet, even if your symptoms are mild. This is because untreated coeliac disease can lead to more serious long-term complications such as certain types of anaemia, osteoporosis, and a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.
If you have gluten intolerance, a gluten-free diet can help you avoid the unpleasant symptoms brought on by eating gluten.
Which foods contain gluten?
Gluten is found in foods and drinks made with wheat, barley or rye. The following foods all contain gluten and should be avoided if you want to stay gluten free:
• Pizza bases
• Wheat, barley or rye flours
• Breakfast cereals
• Bread, cakes and biscuits
• Gravy and sauces
• Squashes and fizzy drinks that contain barley
• Lager, stout, ales and beer
Many processed foods use products that contain gluten as an added ingredient (for example, to thicken or bind the product). Processed foods will say on the label if the product contains gluten, so remember to check the labels of all the foods you buy.
Most large supermarkets have a range of specialist gluten-free alternatives available. Some Doctors may also be able to provide gluten-free foods on prescription.
Which foods don't contain gluten?
Plenty of the foods you already enjoy eating are naturally gluten free. These include:
• Meat and fish
• All fruit and vegetables
• All rice and potatoes
• Dairy foods
• Pulses like lentils and chickpeas
• Fruit juice and cordial, flavoured water, and fizzy drinks
• Cider, wine, sherry and port
• Spirits and liqueurs
How long will it take to feel the effects of a gluten-free diet?
If you have coeliac disease, you may start to feel better within a few weeks of starting a gluten-free diet, although it can take up to two years for your gut to heal completely. If you have gluten intolerance you should find your symptoms stop when you stop eating gluten.
What if I accidentally eat food containing gluten?
If you have coeliac disease, eating even a very small amount of gluten can lead to a return of your previous symptoms and you might feel quite poorly.
However, even if you don't experience symptoms with small amounts of gluten, you should always follow a gluten-free diet if you have coeliac disease to avoid long-term complications.
If you have gluten intolerance you may find you can eat small amounts of gluten-containing food without bringing on any symptoms. If you eat a small amount of gluten and don't experience symptoms it's unlikely to have done you any harm. If you have any questions, you can talk to your pharmacist.
• Gluten is found in all foods and drinks made with wheat, barley and rye
• To follow a gluten-free diet, you need to exclude all foods containing these ingredients
• Always check the labels of processed foods, as they may contain gluten as an additive
• If you have coeliac disease, you should follow a gluten-free diet even if your symptoms are mild, to avoid long-term complications