Gluten Allergy & Intolerance

🌾 What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in cereals like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. It helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten is often mistaken for a carbohydrate, however carbohydrates are actually sugars and starches.


ℹ️ What is a gluten allergy?

A gluten allergy is an adverse response or overreaction of the body’s immune system to the gluten protein or products that contain gluten. When gluten is eaten, the body sees this protein as a foreign invader, sending out chemicals to defend against it. Those chemicals are what cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

👥 How common is it?

Most people tolerate gluten just fine. However it can cause serious problems for people with certain health conditions, including coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance.


❗️Coeliac Disease

Coeliac Disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease affecting around 1 in 100 people. When someone is suffering from coeliac disease, their immune system will mistake certain substances found in gluten as a threat and start attacking it. This response inflames and damages the lining of the gut, which in turn affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The only treatment for people suffering coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet.

❓Non coeliac gluten sensitivity

Non coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition where neither allergic or autoimmune mechanisms are involved. However, elimination of gluten from the diet is used to relieve symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, headaches, and joint pain. Recent surveys report about 10% of adults currently start a gluten free diet for different reasons, however many of these cases are self-diagnoses. The real prevalence of NCGS is still unknown.

🍞 Gluten free as a lifestyle diet

There is an increasing number of people choosing to initiate a gluten free diet as part of a ‘healthy lifestyle choice’ which may be harmful due to how restrictive it is. You may be missing out on fibre, vitamins, and minerals, and gluten-free products often have higher quantities of fat, salt, and sugar.

Although a gluten free diet is healthier for people with gluten-related disorders, there is no evidence to suggest that it is beneficial for people who do not have these conditions.

If you’re considering cutting out gluten, you should consult with your GP or a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian first.


Symptoms of Gluten Allergy

An allergic reaction to gluten can bring on many symptoms. Because coeliac disease is a disease of the digestive system, symptoms include indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea or constipation. As nutrient absorption is also an issue, other symptoms can include fatigue, malnutrition, and weight loss.


If you are concerned that you or your child may have an allergy, including Coeliac Disease, you should consult with a medical professional or a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian. If your child is positively diagnosed, it’s important to inform all people involved in the child’s care. This includes their nursery, school, and after-school clubs, as well as grandparents, relatives, and the parents of their school friends.


Managing A Gluten Allergy Or Intolerance

🔎 What to look out for

Gluten is found in cereals like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. It can be found in many types of foods, even ones that you wouldn’t expect. Following a gluten-free diet may be challenging to begin with and you will have to read the labels on everything you eat to ensure it doesn’t have any gluten-containing ingredients.

Some non-gluten containing grains such as oats can be easily contaminated during the manufacturing process. Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may need to also keep an eye out for any ‘May contain gluten’ warnings as well.


🛒 Store bought food

The most obvious sources of gluten in our diet are: breakfast cereal, bread, biscuits, cakes, pasta, and pizzas. However it can also be found in other processed foods such as soups, sauces, ready meals and sausages. Most beers are not gluten free either as they are often made from barley.

🍽 Eating out

Because some people suffer more adverse effects from gluten than others, a lot of care should be taken when preparing meals. People with high sensitivity can at times be ‘glutened’ from cross contamination in kitchens that may not be immediately obvious. This can include airborne flour particles or sharing equipment like toasters or wooden spoons for preparing both gluten containing and gluten-free food.

It’s also important to understand that cooking or frying gluten at a high temperatures does not render it harmless to people suffering coeliac disease.


✅ Replacements

Many gluten containing food are rich in carbohydrates. For those on a gluten free diet there are plenty of other sources such as potatoes, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and many beans.

Over the last number of years there’s been a substantial increase in gluten free alternatives to popular foods. The free-from range in many supermarkets now often includes products such as breads, cakes, and pasta made with rice flour or other gluten-free flour blends.

There are also some simple swaps that can also be made outside of the free-from aisle. Soy sauce can be swapped to gluten free tamari or liquid aminos, couscous can be replaced by quinoa, and ground linseed (flax meal) or oatmeal can be used in place of breadcrumbs.


  • 🇬🇧 For more information on Coeliac Disease in the UK:

Please note: This Spoon Guru Fact Sheet should be used as a source of information only. It should not be used as a replacement to nutritional advice from an accredited medical professional. 

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