After my tutorial with one of the coeliac disease dietitians, I realised how difficult it could be to read labels with a naked eye.
We went through this guessing game created by my supervisor where I had to look at the product, not from the "Free from" section and guess if its gluten-free (GF) or not.
** These contain 'malted barley extract', a flavouring often added in small amounts to breakfast cereals and chocolates (Mars bars contain the same ingredient but gluten levels exceed the safety levels) which were deemed gluten-free by Coeliac UK during my initial post date.
HOWEVER, Coeliac UK has retracted this statement early in 2021*** meaning that these products with fermented/hydrolysed gluten are no longer 100% guaranteed to be gluten free making it more so confusing for patients.
"This action has been taken to encourage more manufacturers to make a public declaration and commitment to producing gluten free that goes beyond the reassurances given to Coeliac UK and is easier to manage. The outcome is to improve options for gluten free consumers and make it easier for them to make a gluten free choice."
Hence, ALWAYS be aware of changes posted by the Coeliac UK and product reformulations by manufacturers.
Back to the original post
For this reason, I decided to go on a gluten-free diet for a week to see how difficult it is to read labels and adhere to the diet.
Planning my meals and snacks for next week surely does take time - it took me two hour looking at what I currently had in my cupboards that were GF and what I wanted to have next week.
As I'm never hungry in the mornings, I like having something simple and quick like instant oats, boiled eggs and a banana before I leave the house. However, as oats are likely to be contaminated during the manufacturing process, I will have to find some GF oats.
I love making big batches of food which I tend to mix and match over the week. I have preplanned 6 different dishes, a mixture of cuisines as you can see, over the week. Having some GF ready meals in the freezer would be ideal if I do not have time to cook.
Tom yum soup vermicelli with prawns
Congee (rice porridge) with minced pork and pearl mushrooms
Lasagna with store-bought sauce with veg
Beef pho with veg
Steak with mushroom sauce, potatoes and veg
Madras curry with chicken, rice and veg
I also have to find GF alternatives for my condiments as well. I do not snack often but I'm excited to try some GF snacks! Over the summer, I found some chocolate biscuits (Prewett's) which were sold in Aldi for a pound. Never knew that they were GF but my first bite has made me fallen in love with them ever since.
It will be interesting to see how much I will spend this week compared to my usual weeks as well.
The best thing to do is to analyse your diet before making any changes and I definitely found some alternatives:
**Full breakfast - Doublecheck canned baked beans (Heinz is GF) and sausages if they are GF
Did you know most hash browns are GF? (remember to doublecheck labels) - as noted by my supervisor!
As I am not a fan of bready items, I was fortunate not to have to make big changes to my meals. GF bread is quite expensive for those who eat bread! From this, I can't imagine how difficult it must be when adapting something you've been accustomed to for your entire life to something more expensive which tastes different.
I do enjoy pastries like flaky buttery croissants and pastries which is hard to find and expensive - unless you have the time to make it from scratch by using GF flour or buy GF ready-rolled puff pastry - again £££.
** Supermarket brands can be quite cheap!
You know what - I've always thought soba noodles were GF but definitely not the ones found in supermarkets - they're a mixture of wheat flour and buckwheat flour. Despite the name "buckwheat", it's actually GF! Soba noodles that are 100% buckwheat are GF. That's why it is so important to check labels.
+ As for soups, this can be trickier - cream of tomato and mushroom soup tends to be GF and veg, carrot & coriander tends to have wheat in them - ALWAYS doublecheck.
Thicker sauces tend to have wheat as a thickener but in general, tomato-based pasta sauces tends to not have gluten listed in their labels.
Supermarket own-brand frozen chips tend to be GF as well and it's a good item to have in the freezer.
** Barley malt vinegar after fermentation contains extremely small amounts of gluten (<20ppm threshold for gluten) and is considered safe for people with coeliac disease and it is normally consumed in very small quantities - however, some people have commented that they still have adverse symptoms afterwards so again it depends on the individual.
If you're looking for a thickener to thick up your soups, stew or dish, use cornstarch :)
For snacks, check out rice and corn varieties of crisps! Popcorn is a good option as well.
When I strolled through Aldi and Lidl, there were loads of GF versions of snacks for a decent price as well - biscuits, cookies, candies, chocolates :)
Any beer drinkers out there? I love my beers but there are GF options out there -
Stella, Brewdog, Peroni, Old Speckled Hen from the GF aisles - MAKE SURE it's clearly labelled "gluten-free"
For a thorough list - click here
What about flavoured coffee? - yup it has gluten as well so make sure you check your powdered drinks as well!
Also, NEVER assume a product is gluten-free even if it is from the "free-from" aisle! I found this wheat-containing organic spaghetti hanging around the free-from section and it has similar packaging to all the items in this aisle.
So my overall weekly shop turns out to be around £33 or £27 if the wine isn't included (£25 from Lidl, £8 from Morrisons with the products I couldn't find at Lidl - this was with the 10% off NHS discount at Morrisons). I did splurge out by buying prawns and steak though.
I feel like by having the skills to properly navigate around a nutrition label helps save up £££! This is why as dietitians, we should educate patients on label reading as this could potentially prevent them from overspending in the "Free-from" section - not that this is a bad thing but this is especially true with people with limited income. Additionally, it is actually quite time-consuming (coming from a student dietitian) especially if you don't have the energy to do so after work.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to experience how it is like when eating out due to the second national lockdown. Having a look at Ubereats and Deliveroo, there aren't many choices out there. After applying the GF filter on Ubereats (I can't do this on Deliveroo), there was only one restaurant who did GF options. If someone who had limited cooking skills or did not have the equipment, this diet would be extremely difficult to adhere to especially in these times.