How can you find out if you are gluten intolerant?

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Previously published on 100% Gluten Free

photo by Rinina25 & Twice25

Bread is so much part of our lives [photo by Rinina25 & Twice25]

Many people suffer for years with the symptoms of gluten-intolerance, without any idea that their ill health is caused by bread, pasta, and other flour-based foods we all eat every day.

If you suffer from symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, wind, general aches and pains and even obesity – you need to check this out. Nobody should have to put up with this stuff any longer than they have to.

But how do you find out for sure?

First, the bad news. You cannot go to the doctor and get a blood test, or any other sort of test, to find out if you are gluten intolerant. The tests they provide in medical establishments are only useful for checking whether you have an allergy. And gluten intolerance (and lots of other food-related problems) is not an allergy. The immune system is not involved at all, so the tests can’t detect it.

There is a basic blood test for celiac disease. If positive, they then send you for a biopsy. But celiac disease is not the only auto-immune dysfunction caused by gluten. There’s evidence that it’s implicated in rheumatoid arthritis and various other things you might not expect.

Another problem you might come across is that many in the medical profession (particularly in the NHS) laugh at the possibility of any problem that can’t be measured, weighed, put in a test tube and filed away in a dusty filing cabinet. “Food intolerance doesn’t exist,” they may say, flying in the face of the many migraine-sufferers who daren’t touch a chocolate bar or an orange.

But the good news is the tide is turning. And you can test for gluten intolerance on your own, without Dr. Canute’s help. There are two methods you can use. The first involves keeping a food diary (see my article on keeping a food diary in next week’s issue). If you are experiencing symptoms as a result of eating gluten, in 2 or 3 weeks you should be able to see a pattern emerging.

The other method, if you think that gluten is the likely cause, is to simply eliminate it from your diet for a couple of weeks, take a note of the results, then very slowly and carefully bring it back and see if anything develops.

Of the foods likely to cause problems because of intolerance, gluten is number one, with corn and milk in joint second place. So gluten is a good place to start, if you suspect your health problem is the result of food intolerance.

Cutting gluten out of your diet completely is not easy – I know, because I myself am gluten intolerant. You will need to check every packet, jar and tin in your cupboard and every label on foods you buy. You can get gluten-free products, but most of them are horrible. It’s better just to decide to go without, at least for a few weeks while you test the water.

You need to avoid anything containing wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale or kamut – or flour made from these grains. So, bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and cookies, pizza and nan bread are all out the window. So, too are many tinned and packet foods, because they often contain hidden flour. Two other items you need to avoid are monosodium glutamate (the clue is in the name) and soya sauce, which is made from soy beans fermented with wheat (though there is at least one gluten free soy sauce available).

Gluten can often appear on labels as “starch”. You will find it in yoghurts, ketchup, and all manner of products you never expected. You may not expect to find it in your instant coffee, for instance, but if it’s a cheap brand, it may well be in there. Check the labels on everything, even if it can’t possibly have flour in it – I mean, did you think there was flour in crab sticks or grated cheese?

And if your head is reeling, and you’re wondering what you can eat, think potatoes, crisps/chips (be careful of the flavoured coating – check the label), rice and rice cakes (you can get chocolate coated ones) or corn cakes, lentils. These will give you the carbohydrates you are missing from the other stuff, and to thicken your gravy and sauces, you can use arrowroot, cornflour/cornstarch or rice flour (check the specialist shelves in the supermarket). Add fresh meat and fish, fresh fruit and veg, and you’re getting there.

It seems like a lot of work, just to find out if you have a problem, but the only way to check absolutely for certain for food intolerance is, first to eliminate it for a couple of weeks, and then re-introduce it a little at a time.

And if you find out you do need to cut out gluten using this method, you will be feeling so much healthier, it won’t seem a problem any more. I guarantee it!

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