Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is present in any food or drink made from or containing these grains.
A gluten-free diet doesn’t contain any foods or drinks made from gluten.
Who can’t eat gluten?
It’s a common myth that a gluten-free diet is healthier than a diet containing gluten. This isn’t true, both can be healthy.
It’s vital for people with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet.
What to eat and avoid
If you’re following a gluten-free diet you need to ensure you’re only eating foods that don’t contain gluten.
Foods to avoid
The following foods and drinks contain gluten and should be avoided:
- pizza bases
- breakfast cereals
- squashes and fizzy drinks that contain barley
You can find gluten-free alternatives to these foods and drinks in your nearest supermarket, health food shop or on prescription.
Oats don’t contain gluten but they can easily become contaminated with other cereals containing gluten during the production stage. Because of this, people with coeliac disease are advised to eat specifically prepared uncontaminated gluten-free oats.
However, even with uncontaminated gluten-free oats, a small number of people remain sensitive to avenin. Avenin is a protein found in oats which is similar to gluten.
If you have coeliac disease you can choose to include gluten-free oats in your diet at any stage. If your symptoms return you must stop eating oats and seek the advice of a health professional.
Further information about oats and gluten
There are many foods and drinks that are naturally gluten-free, such as:
- fruit and vegetables
- dairy foods
- fruit juice and cordials
- flavoured water
- fizzy drinks
- spirits and liqueurs
A dietitian can help to identify which foods are safe to eat if you’re unsure.
Gluten-free food prescriptions
If you have a confirmed diagnosis of coeliac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis, you can access gluten-free foods on prescriptions through your GP or Scottish Gluten-free Food Service.
How to register with the gluten-free food service
By law, foods labelled as ‘gluten free’ can contain no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten and are safe for you to eat.
Always check that food and drink is gluten-free before buying. You can do this by checking the label. A dietitian can help to explain the labelling of gluten-free foods if you’re unsure.
If you eat a gluten-free diet, it’s important to not contaminate your gluten-free food with other foods that contains gluten.
Preventing food contamination
To stop cross-contamination, wipe down surfaces and always clean pots and pans with soap and water.
When preparing food, always use:
- separate breadboards to keep gluten-free and gluten-containing breads separate
- a separate toaster or toaster bags
- different butter knives and jam spoons to prevent breadcrumbs from getting into condiments
You should also use separate containers when storing or freezing gluten-free and gluten-containing foods.
When dining out, always tell the staff that you require a gluten-free diet to ensure your food and drinks are prepared without gluten or cross-contaminated with gluten-containing foods.
Try to choose dishes from the menu that are more likely to be gluten-free such as rice or potato based dishes. Try to avoid pasta or flour based dishes. If you’re unsure, ask the waiter which menu items might be suitable.
Many restaurants and takeaways now offer gluten-free meals as part of their menu. By law, restaurants and food outlets must tell you which items may contain gluten.
You might find it useful to phone ahead to explain:
- why you need a gluten-free diet
- what foods you can eat
- how the food should be prepared and served to avoid cross-contamination
If there’s nothing suitable on the menu, chefs are usually happy to cook something specific once they know why.
If you’re going into hospital on a planned admission then you should let pre-assessment staff know that you need a gluten-free diet.
If it’s a non-planned admission then staff need to know you require a gluten-free diet before you eat any hospital food.
All medications and drugs that your GP prescribes are gluten-free.
Over-the-counter medicine’s that have a product licence (PL) number on the packet are gluten-free. Your pharmacist can tell you if a medicine has a PL number.
The side effects of some medications are similar to the symptoms that occur after eating gluten. If you have any unexpected side effects, speak to your GP or pharmacist.