Gluten Free Foods

Gluten is the protein found in certain cereals, including all varieties of wheat, barley and rye. Pure oats does not contain gluten, but is often milled in the same mills as gluten-containing cereals and is therefore commercial oats is usually contaminated with gluten from other sources. Maize (or sweet-corn) does not contain gluten and is therefore used in much gluten-free food preparation. Other cereals which are gluten-free include millet, sago, buckwheat, tapioca and quinoa.

It is known that even the healthy human gut has great difficulty in digesting gluten. It has been shown that gluten-containing foodstuffs – but not gluten-free – are malabsorbed when eaten even by healthy young medical students! It is therefore unsurprising that gluten-containing cereals present particular difficulties in gut diseases associated with abnormal bacterial fermentation such as IBD and IBS. An abnormal immunological response to gluten is also the cause of coeliac disease, but this condition is of course, quite different from IBD.

Malabsorbed gluten passes down the small intestine to act as a nutritional substrate for the bowel microflora. It appears to stimulate the growth of many bacterial organisms and it is therefore unsurprising that 60% of patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) find difficulty in eating gluten. It is the most important single offender.

Nevertheless, not every patient with CD is upset by gluten, and it is important not to exclude such important cereals as wheat, rye and barley from the diet unless they genuinely cause trouble. Many people without IBD claim that they feel more comfortable if they follow gluten- or wheat-free diets, and in some centres these diets have even become socially desirable! It would be a mistake however, for patients with IBD to follow a gluten-free diet unless it has been clearly proven to benefit the function of their intestine.

To obtain further information on following a gluten free diet consult your doctor or dietitian.