How to follow a gluten-free diet
Catering to a gluten-free diet? Coeliac blogger and author Laura Strange shares how eating a gluten-free diet can be varied, inventive and delicious
Want to know what to eat on a gluten-free diet? Laura Strange, diagnosed with coeliac disease 25 years ago, is an award-winning recipe writer and blogger who shares her own experiences with enjoying a varied and balanced diet without gluten. Laura was a guest on the olive podcast where she gives some great practical advice and tips on cooking and eating gluten-free including how to spot some sneaky sources of gluten, the 'magic ingredients' she uses to perfect her recipes, and why it’s a less restricting way to eat than we commonly think. Here we pick out some highlights.
Listen to our interview with Laura on the olive podcast here:
Getting the best out of a gluten-free diet
Foods containing gluten
If someone is trying to cut out gluten, they should be avoiding anything that contains wheat, barley, oats, and rye, unless those oats are specifically stated as being gluten-free. For coeliacs in particular, whose immune system will attack itself if they consume even a trace of gluten, they need to watch out for 'may contain' warnings on products. Unless you can question the manufacturer directly about how something is made, a product could be made on the same line as something containing gluten.
Common sources of gluten are foods like bread, biscuits, cakes, pasta, flour and beer. There are also some sneakier sources of gluten that people might not be aware of. Soy sauce is one, but there's a fantastic substitute for that as you can use tamari instead as a really easy swap. You can even find small quantities of gluten in Smarties, for example, due to the coating, as well as some crisps, sausages and frozen oven chips.
Watch out for gluten cross-contamination
If you're catering for a coeliac, make sure that you're washing your hands, using clean chopping boards and utensils and wiping down the surfaces, as even one crumb could be detrimental. For example, if you're cooking pasta for someone gluten-free at the same time as regular pasta, use a separate pan and utensil for their pasta and don't mix them up. Gluten is a protein, not a bacteria, so heat or antibacterial gel won't kill it. The same can be said for deep-frying, meaning gluten-free foods must be fried in separate oil.
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Naturally gluten-free foods
The easiest way to cook gluten-free meals is to cook with ingredients that occur naturally without gluten. There are so many foods that are naturally gluten-free. Even the household basics, such as meat, fish, potatoes, rice, and grains like quinoa, buckwheat and polenta, are all gluten-free. You do need to be careful to check the packaging for cross-contamination, though.
Easy gluten-free swaps
Some recipes can easily be tweaked to be gluten-free, such as swapping out soy sauce for tamari, or using cornflour to thicken a sauce rather than regular flour. With those tiny swaps you can make a meal accessible to everyone, rather than making lots of separate meals for each person in the family.
A few key, lesser-known ingredients are important when creating delicious meals while following a gluten-free diet. One of these is psyllium husk, a naturally derived plant husk that turns into a stretchy gel when combined with water. Gluten, in its purest form, is really tough and stretchy, so if you're removing the gluten then you need something to replace this consistency. An ingredient like psyllium husk is wonderful for gluten-free bread because it gives the dough pliability so you actually knead and shape it. Psyllium husk is also great for digestion, too.
Xanthan gum is another handy ingredient to have on hand, and can easily be found in the free-from section of the supermarket. It helps with cooking gluten-free pastries or cakes and you only need a very small amount. Add it in to transform a potentially dry and crumbly cake into like a fluffy, bouncy, wondrous sponge.
For gluten-free flour, tapioca starch occurs naturally without gluten. Brazilian cheese bread is traditionally made with tapioca starch, which gives it its lovely stretchiness. Codex wheat starch is wheat starch that has had the gluten industrially removed from it, making it suitable for coeliacs and makes really fluffy gluten-free bread. For making homemade gluten-free pizza dough, Laura recommends Italian brand Caputo Classica.
The breadth of a gluten-free diet
Laura firmly believes that eating gluten-free doesn't have to restrictive. She makes filo and puff pastry, as well as gluten-free sourdough. Patience is key when it comes to gluten-free sourdough, as the starter takes longer to mature to the right level of strength, however once it's going in theory you can keep it alive in the fridge for as long as you would with a regular starter.
There are so many other wonderful gluten-free breads, too, from easy yeasted breads like focaccia to bagels and babka. Gluten-free bread can be a challenge when you buy it from the shops, whereas freshly baked gluten-free bread at home can be amazing with the right recipe and ingredients.
Laura also enjoys recipes such as her teriyaki salmon sushi bowl, made with glazed pieces of salmon on a bed of sushi or basmati rice with avocado and edamame beans. You can vary the veg depending on what you've got and it makes a really quick and easy midweek meal. Other recipes can be easily substituted with shop-bought gluten-free pasta (or homemade gluten-free pasta) or are naturally gluten-free, such as our prawn and black pepper curry or mushroom stroganoff. All you need are a few easy gluten-free recipes in your repertoire to take the stress out of cooking gluten-free dinners on a daily basis.
Coeliac UK provides lots of helpful advice and resources for those who think they might have the symptoms of coeliac disease. Now, discover our best ever gluten-free recipes and gluten-free breakfasts.