Is My Gluten-Free Diet Nutritious?
When you change from a wheat-based diet to a gluten-free diet, you can unwittingly leave yourself short of certain essential nutrients. This may apply even if you carefully plan a balanced, healthy gluten-free diet for yourself. The best way to ensure your new diet is nutritionally adequate for your particular needs is to consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Dietary deficiencies can occur because wheat-based products and wheat flour contain certain components that may not be present in the alternatives you’ve chosen. Here are some tips to watch out for when changing to a gluten-free diet.
Thiamine: Thiamine (vitamin B1) gives you energy and is necessary for heart, muscle and nervous system functioning. Whole wheat flour is an excellent source of thiamine (0.55mg per 100gm). However, in the highly processed flour used for most bread-making in Australia and New Zealand, much of the thiamine has been processed out and so it’s fortified with extra thiamine.
It’s not compulsory for thiamine to be added to the flours used in baking gluten-free bread. Some gluten-free breads and bread mixes are fortified, but many aren’t. You can easily find out by checking the label.
If you bake your own bread, the amount of thiamine it contains will depend on the flours you use. The best sources of thiamine are brown rice flour, soy flour, chickpea flour (besan) and sorghum. White rice flour, arrowroot or tapioca flour, millet, quinoa and cornstarch provide less thiamine. Other good sources of thiamine are pork, liver, brown rice, eggs, legumes and potatoes.
* Other vitamins and minerals: A recent study revealed that after one year on a gluten-free diet, many individuals were low in folate, magnesium and calcium. Women were also low in iron and vitamin A, while men were lacking adequate zinc.
Choosing a gluten-free bread that contains wholegrain flours rather than starches should help to rectify this. Eating adequate dairy food (choose low fat) will help raise your calcium levels.
Fibre: Many of the gluten-free breads on the market contain starches rather than wholegrain flours and some can be low in fibre. Look for bread that is multigrain or wholegrain and if these aren’t available, choose a multigrain cereal for breakfast and add some nuts and seeds to your meals or as an in-between snack.
Brown rice contains far more fibre than white rice. Try to make the change to brown rice by firstly mixing white rice with brown rice (cook as for brown rice) until you get used to the texture. After a few meals of brown rice you’ll probably want to continue eating it for its chewy, satisfying texture and flavour. Vegetables and fruit are also high in fibre, especially if you leave the skin on where suitable.