Monday, 9 September 2013

Gluten-free glutton

Soba noodles are an option in a gluten-free diet.

Soba noodles are an option in a gluten-free diet.

The gluten-free diet.

IN this experiment, I opted to try out the gluten-free diet because I had heard so much about it.

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, rye and barley and a gluten-free diet is recommended for people who are allergic to gluten or those with celiac disease – a condition in which the smaller intestines are damaged and cannot absorb nutrients such as fat, calcium, iron and folate.

According to the Mayo Clinic, those on a gluten-free diet should avoid all food products like bread, pasta and beer that are made from those grains.

It doesn’t stop there.

As the grains are the main suspects, it is also advised to avoid breaded food, imitation meat and other processed foods as these may contain traces of wheat.

So what can you eat on a gluten-free diet?

Lots, apparently. Dairy products like milk and cheese are safe to eat and going gluten-free does not mean giving up the ultimate Asian staple and comfort food – rice.

In fact, rice and potatoes are allowed in a gluten-free diet.

Fresh fruits, nuts, beans, vegetables, meats and poultry are also gluten-free but be careful on how they are prepared.

If the dish is smothered in soya sauce (which is sometimes prepared with wheat) or covered and fried in bread crumbs then it’s off the gluten-free list.

There are many resources to refer to when you decide to go on a gluten-free diet.

Whenever I found myself questioning whether something is gluten-free, blogs and apps that suggest gluten-free foods and recipes came in handy.

Going on a gluten-free diet also means keeping a sharp eye on the ingredients in the food you eat.

Seemingly gluten-free foods made of corn, rice or other gluten-free friendly grains may contain some gluten brought in by other ingredients.

I found out when I was shopping for cereal to replace the wheat-based ones that I have every morning that your everyday bowl of cornflakes contains malt flavourings, and spent at least 15 minutes in the cereal aisle looking for one that didn’t.

Not many foods are prominently marked gluten-free which is why you will likely spend a bit of time reading the ingredients. Those that are clearly marked, however, may cost a little more.

When it comes to cakes and desserts, people on a gluten-free diet have alternatives. However, I found gluten-free baking too taxing as it involves a combination of several flours, some of which are not easy to find.

Flours like sorghum (also known as jowar), for example, are often used. I heard that it is available in Indian speciality stores in Kuala Lumpur but the only one I knew was in Brickfields and I was not willing to go there for a bag of flour.

But a gluten-free diet didn’t put a damper on my social life.

Although beer was off the list, I could still have other gluten-free drinks like cider or even a cocktail because many spirits are gluten-free.

Planning a meal when dining out was also new to me as I had to figure out what to eat.

Korean and Japanese restaurants, for example, have gluten-free options like bibimbap (spicy “mixed rice”) and soba (buckwheat) noodles.

The regular mamak is trickier for someone trying out the gluten-free diet.

I know rice is safe but I had to question the dishes that come with it. The servers are always busy shouting orders to the kitchen before attending to another customer, so interrogating them isn’t easy. Perhaps it’s a good idea to bring your own prepared meal (if it’s allowed) and just order a drink there.

A gluten-free diet is hard to follow but if there is one thing to learn from this experience, it’s training a keen eye to look at the ingredients as well as the a food’s nutritional value.

Also, during the week, I had more servings of fruit and vegetables than ever before because those were among the easiest gluten-free foods I could find at home.

However, I love my bread too much and would probably not go on a gluten-free diet unless advised by my doctor.

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Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Health , Gluten free , diet , celiac


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