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Nutrition and Hydration Week (N&H Week) 2016 – Gluten

shutterstock_181201646For each day of Nutrition and Hydration Week 2016, our in-house Dietitian Ruth Smith will be offering up a daily healthy tip. Today in the four of this five part series, she looks at Gluten.


What is Gluten? Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley, wheat being the most commonly consumed.  When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This glue-like property makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when baked.

Why is Gluten Harmful for Some People?

Most people tolerate gluten just fine.  Coeliac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance affecting about 0.7–1% of the population.  It is an autoimmune disorder that makes the immune system attack gluten in the digestive system as well as the lining of the gut; this can cause damage to the gut wall, and may cause nutrient deficiencies, anaemia, severe digestive issues and an increased risk of many other diseases.  The most common symptoms of coeliac disease are digestive discomfort, tissue damage in the small intestines, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, tiredness, skin rashes, depression, weight loss and foul-smelling faeces.

How do you know if you’re Gluten Intolerant?

Digestive discomfort is the most common indication of gluten intolerance. You may also have anaemia or trouble gaining weight. If you think you react negatively to gluten, you should consult with your doctor to see if you have coeliac disease.

There are two main ways to find out if you have coeliac disease:

  • Blood tests: There are several blood tests that screen for antibodies. The most common one is called the tTG-IgA test. If that is positive, a tissue biopsy is usually recommended to confirm the results.
  • Biopsy from small intestine: A small tissue sample is from the small intestine, which is analysed for damage.

If you don’t have coeliac disease, the best way to find out if you are sensitive to gluten is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve.  Then, introduce gluten back into your diet and see if your symptoms return.  If your symptoms don’t improve on a gluten-free diet, and don’t get worse when you re-introduce gluten, then the culprit is probably something other than gluten.

Which Foods Are High in Gluten?

  • The most common sources of gluten in the diet are:
  • Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Beer
  • Cakes, cookies and pastries

Wheat is also added to all sorts of processed foods, reading food a label is a good practice to get into.

Which Starchy Foods are Gluten-Free?

In addition to potatoes, there are a few grains and seeds that are naturally gluten-free. These include:

  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Flax
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Tapioca
  • Buckwheat
  • Arrowroot
  • Amaranth

A gluten-free label does not automatically mean that a food is healthy.  Gluten-free junk food is still junk food….!

Disclaimer: This information is provided to promote healthy eating in the workplace for healthy individuals.  It is not intended for the use of anyone who is pregnant or has a medical condition.  For individual advice, please see your GP for referral to a Registered Dietitian (RD).

Posted in: Dietitian - Ruth Smith, News

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