It is estimated that around 10% of the UK population now follow a gluten free diet. This ranges from the 1 in 100 of us who have coeliac disease to those who just find they feel better not eating gluten.
Eating gluten free is more common now than ever! But if you’ve recently been recommended to eat gluten free, you’ve probably got some questions. Now, as a food brand passionate about good food we can all enjoy, we are not experts in coeliac disease. However, here we’ve compiled some recommendations and resources to help you on the first steps of your gluten free journey.
WHAT'S THE Difference between Coeliac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity?
One of the first things to get to grips with is the difference between coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity (used interchangeably with the term gluten intolerance).
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition, whereby the body mistakes gluten for something bad and it attacks the small intestine. For people with coeliac disease, gluten is dangerous - the damage to the small intestine is permanent. The only way to manage the disease is by following a gluten free diet.
Gluten sensitivity is different. People who are gluten intolerant (also sometimes called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity) may experience some of the same symptoms as people with coeliac disease, but crucially the body does not attack the small intestine. So while gluten may cause a fair amount of discomfort, it does not cause permanent damage.
For a more in-depth look at what gluten is and what it does, check out our blog post here.
How to adjust to the gluten free diet?
A gluten free diet is the only way for people with coeliac disease to manage their condition. And when you first start looking out for gluten, it isn’t a frequency illusion, gluten really is everywhere! Making that switch can feel incredibly hard.
First of all, you need to make sure you get the support you need from your community and also make sure you are doing the appropriate research. Below you’ll find some really great resources.
Get to know food labelling and what to keep an eye out for. To begin with, you might feel safer shopping in the free from aisle. If you see wheat, barley, or rye (or any of their derivatives) in a list of ingredients, give it a wide berth. Shop around for good gluten free alternatives for your favourites. We would of course suggest our 100% yellow pea pasta.
Make sure your kitchen is gluten safe, paying particular attention to cross contamination. When planning meals, remember there are hundreds of foods (including grains) that are naturally gluten free.
In some ways, it isn’t super useful to think of eating gluten free as a diet. A diet is something to try, it implies something temporary. For people with coeliac disease, it is a lifestyle. Making that mindset adjustment can be really helpful.
How to prepARE a gluten free kitchen?
When you’ve had a recommendation to go gluten free, preparing your kitchen is one of the first things you should do. This is an important step particularly if you live with other people or if you previously consumed gluten.
There are some items that no matter how much you clean will still hold on to traces of gluten. A cast iron pan (particularly if you don’t use soap to clean it), a flour sifter, cutting boards, and a can opener are some examples. If you live with people who are not gluten free, you should keep these items separate. Consider having a dedicated gluten free storage area and make sure you label your items.
Be aware that any wooden utensils (cutting boards, spoons, and bowls) are porous, so you should either have separate utensils or consider metal alternatives. Plastic is also an option, but obviously not as environmentally friendly.
A toaster is another appliance you should keep separate if you have a shared kitchen and buy a new one if you have previously toasted conventional bread in it. No matter how much you clean it, there will still be remnants of gluten cross-contamination.
Stainless steel or coated pots and pans, plates, and cutlery are all safe to be shared, so long as they are in good condition (no damage to the coating on pans, for example) and are thoroughly washed. A dishwasher is best, but if you don’t have one, careful and thorough wash-by-hand is ok too.
You might want to consider separate condiments like butter and jam or institute a “one scoop” rule where only clean knives or spoons are used in shared food items.
When in doubt, keep it separate, labelled, and clean. Separate utensils used for gluten and those used for gluten free. Label all items that are for gluten free cooking. Clean down surfaces after food prep.
What are the rules for gluten-free Labelling in the UK?
There is very specific law around allergy labelling in the UK and the EU. There are two parts to keep in mind when looking to buy gluten free products. And yes, this is a little technical, but important to understand nonetheless.
The first is that anything that is labelled “gluten free” must contain less than 20 parts per million per one kilogram of gluten. For context, that is a microscopic amount and is considered safe for those who have coeliac disease. When you see a gluten free label, you can rest assured that it is safe to eat if you are gluten intolerant.
The second is that gluten is not on the list of 14 known allergens that, by law, have to be emphasised on a list of ingredients. Instead, you will find a specific grain highlighted (usually in bold). These include wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats, and kamut. If you see these on an ingredient list, the food is not safe for you to eat.
Before 2021, this law did not apply to prepared foods like sandwiches bought in coffee shops. Now, all pre-packed food sold in shops and cafes must also have an ingredient list with allergens emphasised.
More information on food labels can be found here.
How to cope emotionally with Coeliac Disease?
If you’ve had a new diagnosis of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, you might feel a great sense of relief. For a long time, possibly years, you’ve had unexplained symptoms that now have a cause! On the other hand, you might feel totally overwhelmed and paralysed by a new diagnosis. How will you cope with cutting gluten from your diet? How will your friends react?
No matter how you feel, optimistic or apprehensive, try to give yourself time to feel what you feel. A diagnosis of a chronic problem does take some time to get to grips with and the kinder you are to yourself, the easier it will be. Make sure you are speaking openly to the health professionals in your life so that they can offer you appropriate resources. If you’re concerned about what you can and can’t eat, a great starting place is our starter list.
Try to be proactive! If you’re invited out to eat somewhere and they don’t have gluten free options, suggest somewhere else. Explain your new diagnosis to friends and family, stressing that eating gluten free will let you live your life without debilitating symptoms.
Lastly, we all feel better when we feel we are not alone and that other people are going through the same things we are. Thankfully, there are lots of resources out there! One of the great things about the modern world is how social media has come to connect us with others. Have a look a little further down for some recommendations.
Tips for parents WITH KIDS DIAGNOSED WITH Coeliac Disease
Having a new diagnosis of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease for your child can be particularly challenging. As a parent, you might feel all kinds of things from grief to anger to relief at finally being able to pinpoint a reason for certain symptoms.
Children are incredibly resilient and adaptable. As parents, it’s our job to make sure they feel safe and they have as much empowerment as they can. Teaching them what to look out for, how to approach eating, and how to read food labels is teaching them to be safe.
When talking to teachers or other carers, don’t apologise. Thank them for being accommodating and remember your child (and you!) didn’t choose this, adjustments are necessary for their health. Children also hear everything, so do try and stay as positive as possible.
Coeliac UK have a really helpful breakdown of resources for parents of children with coeliac disease, here. It includes a template letter to send to your child’s school, information on helpful language to use with your child, and resources for your child’s school as well.
The best gluten free resources online
Here are a few excellent online resources for those who have been recently diagnosed with coeliac disease. These are great places to start for general information and research-led knowledge. If you have a question, we are confident that one of these websites will almost certainly be able to answer it
Coeliac UK are undoubtedly the gold standard for information on and support with gluten free living. As a partner with Coeliac UK, ZENB heartily recommend them - whether you’re looking for information on diagnosis, gluten free accredited restaurants, or the latest news in the gluten free world.
The NHS has a comprehensive and technical overview of what coeliac disease is and how the NHS approaches diagnosis. If you suspect you have coeliac disease, you will need to be diagnosed by your GP.
On the Coeliac Sanctuary blog, you’ll find a little bit of everything: recipes, restaurant recommendations, and travel tips. In their online shop, they also have some really useful translation guides for going abroad. And of course, the most recent news for the gluten free community.
Influencers to follow for amazing Gluten free recipes
Even if you have only a passing interest in social media, you’ll know that we live in the age of the influencer. They have the power to bring people together and make us all feel less alone, all while offering tips, recipes, and more. Here are a few of our favourite influencers to follow for gluten free recipes.
My Guten Free Guide, Laura Strange
Laura Strange has a background in recipe development and food photography. Diagnosed with Coeliac disease 20 years ago, Laura’s goal is to share her hard-won knowledge with you. On her page, you’ll find tips for gluten free living, recipes, product reviews, and travel ideas.
- Facebook: facebook.com/myglutenfreeguide
- Instagram: @myglutenfreeguide
- Pinterest: pinterest.co.uk/myglutenfreeguide/
Gluten Free Alice, Alice Wiggins
Alice is a gluten free food blogger based just outside of London. Both gluten and dairy free, she aims to show you that you don’t have to miss out on delicious food. On her pages, you’ll find recipes, meal ideas, and tips for eating out - her gluten and dairy free millionaire’s shortbread look delicious!
- Facebook: facebook.com/glutenfreealice
- Instagram: @glutenfreealice
James Wythe, Health Living James
James Wythe is a health coach and food blogger. On his page, you’ll find 30 second recipes you’ll actually make (TexMex quinoa salad, simple Puttanesca pasta, miso salmon burgers to name a few). About 12 years ago, James discovered he had a range of food allergies including gluten - so all his recipes are gluten, dairy, and egg free.
- Facebook: facebook.com/healthylivingjames
- Instagram: @healthylivingjames
Dubbed “the queen of gluten free” by Nigella Lawson, Becky Excell’s experience with gluten free began over 10 years ago, when she had to give up gluten. Fast forward to today, and she is still posting delicious gluten free recipes - we don’t know about you, but if it's good enough for Nigella, it’s good enough for us.
- Facebook: facebook.com/beckyexcell
- Instagram: @beckyexcell
GFblogger, Sarah Howells
Sarah’s tagline is making easy gluten free recipes and the food coeliacs miss. Think Scotch eggs, Satay chicken, cinnamon rolls, even gluten free focaccia. Her content is accessible, good to look at, and helpfully, the recipe is always in the caption!
- Facebook: facebook.com/gfblogger
- Instagram: @gfblogger
Social media communities to follow for useful tips
On a very basic level, social media communities bring people together to allow larger conversations to happen. You often can get a wider view from a large group than a small one, after all. Here are a couple of gluten free communities to keep an eye out for.
Reddit is great for asking questions and getting in depth and broad answers. There are over 106 thousand (yes, you read that right) members of the Reddit gluten free community. You’ll find recommendations, recipes, frustrations, and more. If Reddit is your jam, this is where it’s at.
Gluten Free UK, Facebook
With around 36 thousand members, this Facebook group is a thriving hub of all things gluten free. Expect more recipes and food recommendations and less symptom chat.
Personalised to you…
Remember, your social media is personal to you! Where you live, your age, if you have kids, what your interests are - all influence your feed. Use those search tools, you’ll find your tribe.
Stay up-to-date with these newsletters
Of course, sometimes social media can be overwhelming. Maybe you prefer reading a longer article. Maybe you want to stay up to date on the news. If that sounds familiar, newsletters straight to your email inbox are the answer. Curated for the best digestible content, here are a couple of suggestions.
Gluten-Free Heaven is a magazine dedicated to all things gluten free cooking and baking, as well as the latest news in the gluten free world, such as the latest gluten free offerings from food retailers (did you know Twix are launching a gluten free cookie?). You can sign up for their popular newsletter on their main page.
Healthy Living James Newsletter
We mentioned James earlier, in our who to follow section, but we’re mentioning him again here because if you sign up for his newsletter, you get 15 free recipes! Sign up below.
The Guardian and the Independent
Resources from outside the UK
So far in this article, we’ve focused on resources and people inside the UK. However, there are lots of coeliac and gluten free content outside the UK! While some of the particulars may not apply, a lot of the information is transferable and super helpful!
Beyond Celiac is a bit like Coeliac UK’s American cousin - their aim is to raise awareness of coeliac disease, provide the latest information, and fund research into causes and possible cure. Their website is a veritable fount of information. If you want to stay up to date with them, they also have an email newsletter.
Gluten Intolerance Group
Also based in the US, the Gluten Intolerance Group is dedicated to making the lives of people who are gluten free easier. They have in-person support groups across the US and online toolkits tailored for parents, schools, young people, and GPs.
Danielle Walker is a New York Times best selling author and self-taught chef. On her Instagram and Youtube, you’ll find approachable and healthy recipes like grain free pancakes, gluten free pumpkin pie, and many instant pot recipes. Her husband and children often feature in her content, giving it a homely comforting vibe.
- Instagram: @daniellewalker
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/AgainstAllGrain
Jackie McEwan, Gluten Free Follow Me
Jackie McEwan started Gluten Free Follow Me after her own coeliac diagnosis in her early 20s, while navigating a finance job in New York City. Her goal is now to make navigating the world of gluten free easier than ever. On her instagram and TikTok, you’ll find handy tips on eating gluten free at popular restaurants like Five Guys and Starbucks as well as recipes and gluten free hacks.
- Instagram: @glutenfree.followme
- TikTok: @glutenfreefollowme
There is no doubt that a new diagnosis of gluten intolerance feels like, well, a really big thing. The period of adjustment will take a little time, both to sort out practicalities and deal with the emotional impact.
As with most things in life, smaller steps are more manageable. Once you have organised your kitchen, got to know food labelling, tried a new favourite recipe, found a delicious restaurant, and joined a like-minded community, it will all start to feel infinitely more feasible!
If you found anything on this list useful, why not tell us about it? Find us on Instagram @zenb_uk!
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