​​A gluten-free diet may be a fashionable way to stay healthy or even maybe lose weight, but for some people – those with gluten intolerance – it is the only way to control their bodies’ allergic reaction to gluten.

​Dietitians do not know the exact cause of gluten intolerance but it is often hereditary. People with gluten intolerance need to give their diet a complete overhaul and eliminate gl​uten from their diet.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, oats and rye, and is commonly used as a stabiliser, thickener and emulsifier in processed foods. Being on a gluten-free diet means removing a number of unhealthy and processed foods from your diet; foods such as breads, pastas, pizzas, cookies and desserts such as cakes, pies and muffins.

What you need to know about gluten intolerance

"Gluten intolerance, also known as coeliac disease, is a digestive disorder in which the inner lining of the small intestine is destroyed by the body’s allergic reaction to foods containing gluten," say dietitians from Dietetic & Food Services, Changi General Hospital, a member of the SingHealth​ group.​

Symptoms of gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance symptoms vary from mild to serious. They include:

  1. Diarrhoea
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Bloating and gas
  4. Weight loss
  5. Stomach upset
  6. Fatigue and weakness
  7. Slow growth rate (children)
  8. Foul-smelling stools

Some symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas and bloating may be caused by digestive problems and not gluten intolerance, so it is important to get this condition properly diagnosed.

Treatment for gluten intolerance

There is no cure for gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. A gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment.

Go for a blood test to determine if you are really allergic to gluten before going on a gluten-free diet. Consult a dietitian who will carry out a nutritional assessment and then devise a proper meal plan suitable for you.

Complications of gluten intolerance

People suffering from gluten intolerance or coeliac disease may suffer from malnutrition and small bowel ulcers. They also have a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers.

Look out for signs of anaemia, recurring weight loss and abdominal pain as these may suggest complications of the disease.

8 diet tips to manage gluten intolerance

  1. Avoid all products containing wheat, rye and barley (e.g. breads, pastas).
  2. Avoid baked foods (e.g. pies, cakes, cookies).
  3. Read food labels carefully and avoid foods with dextrin, emulsifiers, stabilisers, corn starch, malt and modified wheat starch.
  4. Check all seasonings, thickeners and marinades for gluten-containing additives.
  5. Avoid processed foods and meats (e.g. luncheon meats, salad dressings, vegetarian mock meats, soup stocks).
  6. Eat more whole grains – rice, white rice, millet, buckwheat, beans, seeds and nuts.
  7. Increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
  8. Choose fresh meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

Making the switch to a gluten-free diet may be difficult initially as there seems to be a long list of foods to avoid. But there are now many gluten-free alternatives for pastas and noodles, such as soba, buckwheat and kelp noodles. There are also gluten-free flours made from potatoes, tapioca and arrowroot.

Ref. N18