Skip the bread: following a gluten-free diet

gluten free

Food allergies are on the rise in Europe, so be aware of what you’re eating and learn where to source gluten-free foods.

Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from grains. Anyone with a medical diagnosis of coeliac disease knows that their condition is caused by an allergic reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. In these cases, removing gluten from the diet is the only successful treatment.

While it’s true that many people can’t tolerate gluten, their numbers form a tiny fraction of Europe’s population and don’t fully explain the current enthusiasm for eating gluten-free.

As we become more aware of the holistic approach to well-being and look to eat healthily, gluten is being linked to numerous issues including autism, dementia and depression. Recent studies have shown that many Europeans believe gluten-free foods are ‘cleaner’ than processed foods, and still others believe shunning gluten will help them lose weight. *

So what is a gluten-free diet?

Fundamentally, a gluten-free diet involves complete avoidance of wheat, rye, barley, oats and semolina, effectively cutting out staples such as bread, pasta, cereals, pastry, sauces with flour in them and gravy. Those with a sweet tooth should also skip cakes, biscuits and chocolate – although much recent progress has been made in the artisanal production of gluten-free breads and cakes.

Other sources of gluten include processed meats, soy sauce, various condiments and beer. It can even be traced in some medications, toothpastes and shampoos.

When a simple mistake can spark off a painful physical reaction, it pays to be vigilant of what you eat. But never fear; in these days of heightened allergy awareness, there are tight rules on gluten-free labelling in food shops and you’ll find that the majority of European restaurants clearly indicate gluten-free dishes on their menus.

I have a gluten allergy. Can I still dine out in Europe?

The answer to that is – of course – yes. France, Italy and Spain take their culinary pleasures very seriously, and they can still be enjoyed even if the gluten is missing. Indeed, gluten-free options are pinpointed among the baguettes and croissants, rich sauces or pasta and pizza dishes that feature on southern European menus.

Think of all those delicious gluten-free cheeses in France, where you can also feast with confidence on mussels and fries, ratatouille made from the freshest aubergines and sweet tomatoes, or socca pancakes cooked with gluten-free flour made from chickpeas. For sweet treats, choose crème brûlée or macarons.

It’s easy to stay gluten-free in Spain: order all manner of tapas including spicy patatas bravas, tortilla omelettes and fried calamari, or opt for paella – the country’s most famous dish just happens to be free of gluten! Follow with a staple Iberian dessert, delectable crema de caramelo flan.

A visit to Italy wouldn’t be the same without pasta and pizza, but thankfully gluten-free options are readily available across the nation. If in doubt, plump for dishes based on polenta (boiled cornmeal) or pick a delicious insalata Caprese with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Dodge the temptation for a post-prandial gelato as many flavours contain gluten, but you’ll be safe with frozen granita iced drinks.

* Caveat: Scientific evidence does not support the use of a gluten-free diet to lose weight. If you are not coeliac, following such a regime long term may have negative effects on your health.

(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes.