A Guide to eating Gluten Free this Christmas
Tips and Advice on Preparing a Safe Gluten Free Christmas Feast
For Your Friend or Family with Coeliac Disease This Christmas
What is Coeliac Disease
Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition that affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide. It is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine and prevent the absorption of nutrients from food. This can lead to various symptoms and complications, such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, anaemia, osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage and even some types of cancer.
The only treatment for coeliac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for life. This means avoiding foods that contain wheat, barley and rye, such as bread, pasta, cakes, cereals, sauces and beer. There are many gluten-free alternatives available in supermarkets and restaurants, and some foods are naturally gluten-free, such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, rice, and potatoes. A gluten-free diet can help control the symptoms and prevent the long-term complications of coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is diagnosed by a blood test that checks for antibodies to gluten, and a biopsy of the small intestine that looks for signs of damage. It is not clear what causes the immune system to react to gluten.
What do I need to look out for?
Cooking for someone with coeliac disease or gluten intolerant can be challenging.
Here are some things you need to know when preparing a gluten-free feast for your guest:
Most of the foods that we eat at Christmas are naturally gluten-free so there are usually only a few small changes needed to make it a safe gluten-free Christmas. It is often easier to make everything gluten-free than to try and spend time keeping foods separate.
- When cooking for a coeliac, you need to be careful about cross-contamination, which means that gluten-free foods come into contact with gluten-containing foods or utensils. Even a tiny amount of gluten can trigger a reaction in a coeliac, so you need to take some precautions, such as
- Use separate chopping boards, knives, spoons, toasters, colanders, and baking trays for gluten-free foods.
- Wash your hands, work surfaces and utensils thoroughly before and after handling gluten-free foods.
- Store gluten-free foods in separate containers or shelves, away from gluten-containing foods.
- Use separate butter, jam, mayonnaise and other spreads for gluten-free bread and crackers or use squeeze bottles to avoid crumbs.
- Use fresh oil and clean frying pans for frying gluten-free foods or use a separate fryer.
- Use separate pots and water for boiling gluten-free pasta, rice or potatoes, or cook them first and keep them warm.
- Use gluten-free stock cubes, gravy granules, sauces and condiments, or make your own from scratch.
- Avoid dusting your work surface or rolling pin with wheat flour when making pastry or dough and use gluten-free flour instead.
- Avoid using oats in your recipes, unless they are certified gluten-free, as oats can be contaminated with gluten during processing.
- Check the ingredients of any ready-made or pre-packaged foods, such as stuffing, sauces, pies, puddings, cakes and chocolates, and look for the gluten-free symbol or label.
Things To Remember
Read the labels of products very carefully. Some foods may contain hidden sources of gluten, such as sauces, soups, dressings, marinades, and seasonings. Look for the gluten-free symbol or certification on the packaging and also check the ingredients list for any gluten-containing grains or additives. If you are not sure of an item it is best to avoid the product altogether, or double check with your invited guest.
If you are serving food to someone who is coeliac or gluten intolerant you need to check that there is no wheat, rye, barley or ordinary oats in it. Look for foods that say “gluten free” on the label or check the Coeliac Society Food List (your coeliac guest should have a copy). As gluten is found in many foods, such as bread, pasta, cereals, cakes, biscuits, pastries, sauces, soups and beer, and foods you may not expect. You need to check food labels of any processed foods for gluten-containing ingredients, such as wheat flour, barley malt, rye flour, oats, malt vinegar, soy sauce and modified starch.
I hope this helps you plan a wonderful gluten-free Christmas for your coeliac guest. Remember to always check the labels of any foods you buy or use, and to ask your guest if they have any preferences or allergies.