What is gluten and what foods contain it?

Gluten is a composite of protein and starch commonly found in cereal grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and malt. It can cause digestive issues for anyone with gluten intolerance, and serious intestinal damage for people with Coeliac disease.

Gluten is most obviously present in cereals and baked goods, like bread and cakes, but also shows up in unexpected places, like sauces and soups, which often use wheat flour as a thickener; in processed meats such as sausages and salami; in malt-based beer, and in pasta. This can make it tricky to avoid gluten consumption. 

Going gluten-free

There are alternatives to gluten-containing foods, like swapping pasta for rice, or couscous for quinoa.

Alongside increased awareness about gluten intolerance, there has also been tremendous growth in the number of name-brand and supermarket-label gluten-free products available in the UK – and there are now “free from” alternatives to a range of foods.

Food manufacturers use laboratory tests for detecting gluten. For consumers, there are portable devices that can alert you to gluten in dishes at restaurants or when travelling – and even home testing kits that can identify cross-contamination.

The simplest way to ensure gluten-free dishes is to prepare food at home using gluten-free recipes, such as those collected by the Coeliac Society.

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from coeliac disease, your GP can offer you a blood test to investigate.

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