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Gluten Free & HealthyGluten Free and Healthy

Gluten free, and worried you might be missing out on vital nutrients? Nutrition Consultant Sarah Elliott has advice on optimising your diet

Q: Does following a gluten free diet leave us vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies?

Yes it does. I liken it to becoming vegetarian. You can't just take meat out of your diet without knowing what to replace the missing nutrients with. Those following a gluten free diet need to know which foods they need to be including in their diet.

Q: What nutrients are people following a gluten free diet most at risk of being deficient in?

Fibre would be top of the list as wholegrain bread, cereal and crackers are common and easy sources of fibre. Unfortunately many gluten free products are made from low fibre alternatives such as potato starch, maize starch and white rice flour. Iron
is another important nutrient to be aware of as approximately 40% of our iron comes from wholegrains. Wholegrains also provide B vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1) and folate.

Q: Fibre, iron and B vitamins – why do we need them?

You may have heard of the gut microbiome, the good bacteria which live in our digestive tracts. Fibre is a valuable food source for these bacteria and helps to keep them (and therefore us!) healthy.

Fibre also helps lower cholesterol and keeps us regular.

Iron is essential because it binds to oxygen and transports it throughout the body. (In New Zealand, approximately 20% of women are iron deficient.) B vitamins perform a wide range of functions such as helping the body utilise fats and protein.

B vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver, and they also help the nervous system function properly.

Q: If we're following a gluten free diet, how do we ensure we're getting all the nutrients we need?

Learn to replace gluten-containing grains with good alternatives such as quinoa or buckwheat. Choose wholegrain options where possible, such as brown rice and grainy gluten free bread. If you don't have to follow a strict lifelong gluten free diet (such as with coeliac disease), then experiment to find your personal tolerance level. Also learn to love legumes and lentils as they are full of fibre, B vitamins and iron...

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Issue: Autumn 2016