We are increasingly aware of what we eat and many people follow a free-from diet. Some people have food intolerance and avoid a common ingredient accordingly whilst others simply choose to avoid some foods. Ten years ago we didn’t seem to hear much about free-from diets but now food products for a variety of free-from plans have their own aisle in the supermarket. Combined with social media, it seems that we all know someone who is avoiding something, but what are the most common free-from diets and what benefits do they have, if any?
Gluten is made from gliadin and glutenin, both proteins which, when combined, create a gooey bond that gives baked goods flexibility, volume and texture. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye.
Gluten intolerance is known as coeliac disease which is thought to affect 1 in 10 of us. When a coeliac has gluten the specific proteins aren’t tolerated in the gut and reduce the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. This can lead to diarrhea, bloating and dry skin as well as symptoms often linked to IBS.
A gluten-free diet means having alternatives to regular foods, such as pasta or bread, made from flours that are naturally free from gluten. For example, pasta or breads made from rice or lentil flour.
Wheat is the most commonly avoided grain but some people choose to avoid wheat only, not gluten, so they can eat foods that are naturally wheat free such as rye bread rather than the standard loaf, or rye crackers in place of the more familiar wheaten crackers.
Some people feel that wheat ‘irritates’ the lining of the digestive system, which can cause discomfort. Whilst this may be a rare condition wheat free diets are increasingly common. As they are not as restrictive as a full gluten free diet, a wheat free one is easier to maintain as there are more choices.
Dairy intolerance can be to the whole food or to the presence of a milk sugar known as lactose. If it’s the latter then they can choose to have dairy made from lactose-free milk but if it’s a wider intolerance to all dairy, then there are now alternatives. Dairy is found in the obvious places but sometimes in confectionery, condiments and prepared foods so avoiding it can be challenging at first.
Dairy-free milks, yogurts and ice creams can now be easily found, made from nut, soy or rice milk, all of which are suitable for anyone on a dairy-free plan.
If you are on a dairy-free diet then do remember that calcium may be in many other foods, but calcium from dairy is in an especially easily absorbed form.
If you get a free-from diet right then there is no reason why it can’t be as nutritious as the best diets, but do take advice from a nutrition professional to guide you through the early stages. And during that period you might want to take a good multi-vitamin and mineral whilst you get used to what you can and can’t eat.