So what does it really mean to be gluten intolerant? Read on to find out more.

The allergy

Gluten is most problematic for sufferers of coeliac disease, where gluten damages the tiny structures in the small bowel that absorb nutrients, says nutrition expert and author Catherine Saxelby.

What it means to be gluten intolerant

Gluten-intolerant people often suffer issues like bloating, indigestion and abdominal pain. “In these people, gliadin, one of the components of gluten, stimulates the release of a substance called zonulin when it makes contact with the cells of the small intestine,” says nutritionist and naturopath Sarah Luck. “Zonulin causes junctions to open up between these cells so that the wall of the small intestine becomes ‘leaky’. This allows gluten and all sorts of other stuff to enter your bloodstream. The leakiness usually only lasts a few minutes and a healthy immune system promptly cleans up before you’re any the wiser. But if your immune system is run-down or you’re eating gluten several times a day every day, your immune system might struggle to take up the slack, meaning you may experience symptoms.”

The main food offenders

While wheat, rye, barley and oats (unless certified gluten free) are obvious offenders, cross-reactivity or foods that mimic the effects of gluten can also be problematic. Watch out for hidden sources of gluten including durum, graham, kamut, semolina and spelt, soy milk containing barley, malt vinegar, MSG and soy sauce.

“Some people find that minimising or removing gluten from their diet substantially reduces symptoms such as bloating, constipation, fatigue and skin rashes,” says Luck. Eczema and psoriasis may also improve or resolve with a gluten-free diet, she says.

Want to know more about different intolerances? Here’s your guide to food intolerances.