Gluten-free diets are important for those living with coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity that has been diagnosed by a healthcare professional. However, for those without a gluten sensitivity, consuming foods containing gluten (particularly wholegrains) can provide many important nutrients and fibre. A healthy balanced diet is possible both with or without foods that contain gluten.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats if they are processed in the same factory as other gluten-containing cereals. These cereals tend to be found in foods including:
- Breakfast cereals
- Biscuits, cakes and pastries
- Some sauces (including soy sauce), soups and ready meals
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease, which affects around 1 in 100 people across Europe, is a severe sensitivity to gluten whereby the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues after consumption. This response can damage the lining of the gut, meaning the body can’t efficiently absorb other nutrients.
This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and could potentially affect the growth and development of children if left untreated. Many people also experience uncomfortable gut symptoms, with others experiencing tiredness, unintentional weight loss and itchy rashes.
Sometimes even a small trace of gluten can lead to these symptoms. This is why those with coeliac disease often have to use separate butter or oil-based spreads if sharing with others who spread these on gluten-containing breads. Therefore, seeking advice from a healthcare professional and following a gluten-free diet is really important for those living with coeliac disease.
What is the difference between an allergy, intolerance and coeliac disease?
An allergy involves an immune reaction and symptoms can appear outside of the digestive system – that said, an allergy doesn’t tend to damage the gut lining like with coeliac disease. This is because coeliac disease, unlike a food allergy, is autoimmune. A wheat allergy is often mistakenly called a gluten allergy, but an allergy to wheat can also involve a reaction to other components of the wheat grain and not just the gluten. This means some gluten-free products can still potentially be harmful for those with a wheat allergy.
An intolerance can cause similar digestive symptoms to coeliac disease including stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, but an intolerance doesn’t involve an immune response and doesn’t cause damage to the gut lining.
Coeliac disease is different to an allergy or intolerance. It can be diagnosed by using specific tests in medical settings. However, a gluten intolerance is less easy to diagnose as there are no accurate diagnostic tests. Excluding certain foods under the supervision of a healthcare professional for a trial period may be helpful in understanding the intolerance.
It’s also worth being aware of commercial allergy and intolerance tests being sold by non-healthcare professionals as these are not scientifically proven and can provide misleading results.
How can you tell if something is gluten-free?
All prepacked foods must provide a food label, listing all deliberately used ingredients in order of quantity. As gluten-containing ingredients are classed as allergens, they should be highlighted on the ingredients list in some way e.g. CAPITALISED or in bold. This means the product’s list of ingredients will state the specific gluten-containing grain used, but will not necessarily mention that it contains gluten, so be aware of grains such as:
If a product is sold as gluten free, it will have been tested for it and will carry a label saying it is gluten free.
Some products will be naturally free from gluten including rice, potatoes or corn. However, they might not be labelled as such, so it is always best to check the ingredients list or allergy advice section on the pack, just in case the product contains traces of gluten or other gluten-containing ingredients.
How do we produce our Birds Eye ‘Gluten-Free’ alternatives?
We have a variety of tasty gluten-free products including our potato waffles (which are naturally gluten free – potatoes aren’t a source of gluten), gluten free chicken nuggets and gluten free fish fingers.
To make our gluten-free products we use non-gluten containing ingredients such as rice or gram (chickpea) flour, instead of wheat flour. Our gluten-free labelled products undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet the definition and thresholds set by the European Commission for gluten-free products and can therefore be labelled as such.
Our natural veg and natural fish ranges are naturally free of gluten, and so are also great options when following a gluten-free diet. However, because we do not test for the presence of gluten in these, we cannot label them as gluten-free.
Should I avoid gluten if I am not intolerant, allergic or coeliac?
For those who aren’t gluten sensitive, there is absolutely no harm in eating gluten, as diets with and without gluten can be healthy.
Foods containing gluten are often wholegrains, which are great sources of vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins, which can help the body to unlock energy from food. Wholegrains also help to provide fibre, which is particularly important for digestive health, by helping to bulk up stools. As such, reducing intake of wholegrains would likely decrease our intake of fibre, which is something Europeans are generally lacking in as a whole.
Despite many people believing gluten-free foods are healthier, some gluten-free alternatives can actually be higher in fat, sugar and salt - nutrients which we are recommended to reduce. It’s always advisable to read the label to check. To find out more about foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, visit our guide to HFSS.
Overall, gluten-free diets are important for those with coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity that has been diagnosed by a healthcare professional. However, for those with no sensitivity to gluten, eating wholegrains and foods containing gluten can form a healthy part of a balanced diet, helping to boost fibre intake.
To find out more about ingredients, nutrients and minerals within Birds Eye products, visit our nutrition hub. Plus, take a look at our collection of recipes if you’re keen to jazz up your lunches and dinners!