Text: Cila Warncke
What is gluten?
You may have noticed the ‘sin gluten’ (‘no gluten’) stamp on foods in the supermarket and wondered what it means. Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including varieties like spelt and kamut), rye and barley, and any product derived from these grains. Formed of long chains of molecules, gluten is what gives bread its characteristic chewy texture. Its ability to impart body and elasticity mean that gluten-containing products such as wheat flour are used as thickeners and additives in many soups, sauces and dressings. As a result the average diet is packed with gluten. If you have toast for breakfast; a sandwich for lunch; biscuits with your afternoon coffee; a stir-fry with noodles and a beer for dinner, you’ve eaten gluten at every single meal. Unfortunately our digestive systems are not adapted to process gluten and it can cause a number of serious health conditions.
People with gluten intolerance can suffer some, or all, of the symptoms of Celiac Disease (a life-threatening autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten), though there is no specific test for it. The most common complaints are bloating, diarrhoea, cramps and nausea; along with mood disorders, migraines, swollen joints, and hormone imbalances. All these problems are triggered by your body’s inability to process the gluten protein, so if you suffer from any of these symptoms it is a good idea to remove gluten from your diet for at least a couple of weeks and see if they improve. As with Celiac Disease, the only way to treat gluten intolerance long-term is to stop eating it.
Beware hidden gluten
The hardest thing about adopting a gluten-free diet is hidden gluten. You know to cut out bread, pasta, pastries, and cereal. But did you know that soy sauce, malt vinegar and corn chips contain gluten too? It also crops up in unexpected places like the coating for honey-roasted peanuts, liquorice, salad dressing, and microwave meals. Some flavours of crisps contain gluten, not to mention candy bars and alcoholic drinks such as beer and whisky. Cosmetic products, such as lipstick, may contain gluten, so if you are celiac or gluten-intolerant it is vital that you carefully read the labels of anything you are going to eat or put on your skin! The ‘Sin gluten’ logo is a useful aid in finding safe foods, but labelling is voluntary so it’s worth checking the ingredients yourself. Gluten-free labelling isn’t common in restaurants so be sure to ask about the ingredients in your food.
Going gluten-free is a huge lifestyle change. After all, it means cutting out staples like bread and pasta, as well as treats like cake or a cold beer. One way to handle it is to replace processed foods with whole foods. Most hidden gluten is buried in the ingredients list of things like tinned soup, condiments, and cooking sauces. Avoiding these products helps you steer clear of gluten, and reduces the amount of salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other food additives in your diet. A rule of thumb is to do most of your shopping on the edges of the supermarket, where you’ll find the produce section, butcher counter and dairy fridge, and skip the aisles where the tins, boxes and packages of processed foods lurk. Better still: buy your produce from the fruteria, your meat from the carniceria, and so forth. You’ll be less tempted by convenience foods and support local businesses into the bargain.
What you can eat…
The good news is that going gluten-free doesn’t mean going hungry. Ibiza is blessed with an abundance of wonderful produce and it never hurts to increase your fruit and vegetable intake. You can also enjoy fresh meat, fish, poultry, seafood, cheese, yogurt, rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes, all of which are packed with nutrients, as well as being gluten-free. Including olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado in your diet adds flavour, texture and healthy fat. Chocolate and ice cream are gluten-free, as long as they don’t have any biscuit in them, and if you fancy a tipple, wine, gin, and rum are gluten-free too.
With a little creativity you can also recreate your favourite dishes. Rice and corn pasta are available in most shops, and some supermarkets sell tasty gluten-free frozen pizzas. Gluten-free baked goods are hard to come by in Ibiza, but there is a wealth of recipes online if you want to make your own, and most health food stores stock gluten-free flours such as rice, almond or tapioca.