A small percentage of Australians are allergic to gluten, but many more have become gluten intolerant due to stress. Here are some tips to help you cope.

If you’re like most Australians, your life can be pretty stressful and juggling work and family responsibilities can be tough.

But did you know that stress can compromise the integrity of the gut? According to South African dietician Gabi Steenkamp, this can cause gluten intolerance.

Signs and symptoms
Gluten allergy or intolerance can produce the following very divergent symptoms:

    • Symptoms of the skin – rash, eczema, itching, swelling or hives

    • Symptoms of the respiratory tract – swelling of the throat, the bronchi and lungs, causing breathing problems and production of mucous

A gluten-free diet
The best advice for anyone who has a gluten allergy, sensitivity or intolerance is to avoid all foods that could possibly contain wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt or kamut.

Because we live in a world that runs on processed foods, loaded with wheat or wheat derivatives, the gluten-sensitive person is left with a diet that contains the following foods:

    • Meat, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, other cheeses, sour/fermented milk, and yoghurt

    • Fresh and dried fruit and vegetables

    • Maize meal, maize grits, sorghum meal, rice, baked products and sauces that have been made with rice, maize flour, potato flour, soya flour and gluten-free flour

    • Gluten-free bread

    • Legumes (dry, canned or cooked beans, peas, lentils and soya products like tofu). Always check the processed legume products for added wheat (e.g. sauce thickeners used in canned beans or soya products).

    • Fats and oils

Foods to avoid

    • All wheat/rye bread, rolls, cakes, pasta, biscuits, pastries, tarts, snack foods

    • Most processed foods and ready-to-eat meals

    • All breakfast cereals that contain oats or wheat

    • Foods with labels that list words such as: wheat, gluten, malt, starch, modified starch, thickener, stabiliser, flour, wheat germ, wafer, biscuit, shortcake, food starch, semolina, breadcrumbs, batter, binder, rusk germ, wheat germ, germ oil, whole grain, whole wheat

    • People who are also allergic to bran (which doesn't contain gluten per se) may also have to avoid foods labelled as containing bran, wheat bran, oat bran, digestive bran and miller’s bran.

A few practical tips
Steenkamp has many useful tips for people with gluten allergy/intolerance. Here are a few:

a) Use gluten-free flour for baking
Use gluten-free flours such as corn flour, corn meal, potato flour, rice flour, soya flour and gluten-free flour during baking.

The following table shows how you can substitute these flours for wheat flour in baking:

Volume Substitute flour Comment
250ml Corn flour Not suitable for diabetics
185ml Maize meal/maize/corn meal Not suitable for diabetics
150ml Potato flour Not suitable for diabetics
200ml Rice flour Not suitable for diabetics
150ml Rice flour plus 80ml potato flour Not suitable for diabetics
250ml Soya flour plus 175ml potato flour
375ml Soya flour/gluten-free flour

b) How much liquid to add to gluten-free flour
Steenkamp emphasises that, when you bake with gluten-free flours, it can be difficult to determine how much liquid to add. The key is to add the liquid slowly until your dough has the right consistency. You may have to experiment until you achieve the right ratio of liquid to gluten-free flour (remember to make a note of the volume of liquid you use for future reference).

c) Preparation of tins
Gluten-free flour mixes tend to stick to baking tins, so you’ll need to grease your tins with oil, and dust them with corn starch. Another option is to line the tins with wax paper and grease and dust with corn flour.

d) Baking times
Bake cakes and breads made with gluten-free flours slowly at a slightly lower oven temperature. Your finished product may not brown as well as a wheat product.

e) Raising agent
When baking with gluten-free flours, use slightly more raising agent than normal. Steenkamp recommends using 2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder per cup of gluten-free flour.

f) Storage
Bread and cakes baked with gluten-free flours tend to be very crumbly, so store them in the fridge or slice and freeze in portions that can be defrosted when required.

g) Sauces and crumbs
To thicken sauces, gravies and puddings, she recommends that each tablespoon of wheat flour should be replaced by ½ tablespoon of corn flour or ½ tablespoon of potato flour. To avoid having to use breadcrumbs, use crushed cornflakes or crushed potato crisps instead.

h) Tips for diabetics
Diabetics with gluten allergy or intolerance should be careful when using gluten-free flours. Except for soya flour, which has a low GI, all the others are high-GI foods. To lower the GI of baked goods made with gluten-free flour, diabetics can use skim or low-fat milk or yoghurt as the liquid in the recipe.