What is gluten?
Gluten is the name of protein found in some, not all, grains. The name gluten derives from Latin glutin, for ‘glue’ and this describes that way gluten helps hold dough together so it is able to stretch and hold gas when the dough rises. Gluten is also used in other foods to help stabilise the food, provide an even texture (e.g. in sauces) and to hold it together (e.g. pasta). While most people know that gluten is the protein in wheat, it is important to know (especially if you have Coeliac Disease) that gluten in other grains as well, such as rye, oats and barley. The specific type of gluten in these grains is as follows:
- Gliadin in Wheat
- Hordein in Barley
- Secalin in Rye
- Avenin in Oats
The current tests for gluten can measure gliadin, hordein, and secalin but not avenin as it is a slightly different protein to the others. In Australia oats are considered as having gluten but this is not the case in all countries, so care must be taken when travelling and when purchased processed foods made overseas.
Gluten is also found in related grains and hybrid grains such as:
- products of these grains, such as malt, bulgur, couscous, pasta, freekeh, farro and semolina
Spelt and kamut are ancient grains, wheat in its earlier form, before it was hybridised. Whilst the grain may be different to modern wheat it stills contains gluten.
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires that any packaged food that has gluten-containing grains (as listed above) must declare that on the label. There are three ways you might see allergens declared in ingredients lists:
- In brackets: Wheat flour, sugar, margarine (contains milk), salt, flavour (contains wheat starch)
- In bold: wheat flour, sugar margarine (contains milk), salt, flavour (contains wheat starch)
- In a separate declaration: wheat flour, sugar margarine (contains milk), salt, flavour (contains wheat starch). Contains wheat and milk
Artisan bread and bread sold at a bakery is still required to note that the bread (roll, cake etc) contains gluten in either a sign or if asked by the person looking to buy the bread
What foods contain gluten
A gluten-free diet involves choosing foods that do not contain gluten in any form (i.e. not just the gliadin in wheat). Gluten is contained in the grains as listed above (wheat, barley, rye and oats) and their related grains (spelt, kamut, khorasan, farro, durum, emmer, einkorn, triticale), but the vast majority of gluten in our diet will be found in wheat.
Some of the places gluten hangs out are obvious, like pasta, but others are less obvious, like mint jelly; it will take a while but you need to learn what foods and products you can eat. It does get easier and one of the simplest ways to reduce exposure to gluten is to do most of your own cooking with loads of fresh fruit and veges, some fish/chook/meat, eggs, legumes and gluten-free grains.
Examples of foods that contain gluten:
- Breads and cereals made from wheat, rye and the other grains listed above
- Most breakfast cereals, wheat bran, oat bran
- Wheat flour (including wheaten cornflour, kumut, spelt)
- Wheat pasta, noodles
- Semolina, couscous, burgur, stuffing, breadcrumbs
- Wheat biscuits, cakes, pastry, scones, pancakes, crumpets
- Wheat crumbed and battered foods
- Wheat pastry foods e.g. pies, sausage rolls, pizza
Other hidey-holes for gluten
Gluten may be in the following products so it is necessary to check the label.
- Confectionery, including licorice and chocolate (but don’t worry, you can definitely find gluten-free chocolate)
- Sausages and small-goods, hamburgers
- Imitation crab (why is that even a thing?)
- TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- Seasoning packets and natural flavoring
- Stock cubes and liquid (not home-made), canned soup
- Sauces like, BBQ, fish sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce
- Salad dressings and mayonnaise, and condiments like jellies, chutney, relish and mustards
- Malt vinegar
- Yeast extract spreads, including Vegemite and Marmite
- Cornflakes and rice puff cereals
- Custard powder, icing sugar mixture, baking powder
- Ice cream
- Yogurt and other dairy products such as sour cream
- Some fermented kimchi (it is so easy to make, is much cheaper and you can avoid any unnecessary gluten)
- Beverages such as sports drinks or iced tea mixes, soy milk (may have malt or barley added) and malted and cereal drinks
- Beer, although some beers are made on rice and not barley and wheat malt and breweries such as Billabong Brewing and Wilde Beer (which is also low FODMAP)
In addition, corn tortilla chips and commercial hot chips and fried foods may have gluten in the seasoning or oil so need to be avoided unless sure.
Just in-case that wasn’t hard enough, gluten may also be found in the following (that is, some brands are fine but some are not):
- Pet food (this includes taking care when washing out your pet’s food bowl)
- Makeup, lipstick shampoos
- Filler in some medications and supplements
Finally, now for the good stuff! Over recent years there has been a significant improvement in the number and quality of gluten-free products available. You can buy items such as gluten free pasta, bread, biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals and condiments in supermarkets, healthfood shops and on-line. Products displaying the Coeliac Australia Endorsement Logo are endorsed by Coeliac Australia and are tested to be suitable for people with coeliac disease. In addition to specialty gluten-free products, the following are naturally gluten-free.
Gluten-free grains and pseudo-grains
- Rice (all forms, even glutinous – this describes the fact that it gets sticky and glue-like, not that it has any gluten in it); rice noodles
- Lentil and pea flours (besan, urid, gram flour)
More naturally gluten-free foods
- Fresh fruit and vegetables. And most canned and frozen fruit and veges as well, just check the label.
- Fresh meats, chicken, fish and other seafood
- Nuts and seeds
- Milk and cheese
- Fats and oils
- Nut butters, peanut butter, honey, Vege Spread
- Most vinegar
- Water! tea, coffee, most wines, spirits (eg gin)
- Products labelled ‘gluten-free’
Coeliac Australia has an extensive list of over 800 ingredients and 300 additives used in Australia and New Zealand and rates if they are safe for a gluten-free diet or not and they also have a useful ingredients app that can help when out shopping or reviewing recipes.