How can I have a gluten-free diet that is heart-healthy?
I have recently gone gluten-free. Do you have any advice for how to
do this in a heart-healthy way? Are there any foods you recommend?
BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. As well as bread and pasta (which come in gluten-free versions), it crops up in less obvious products, such as sauces, soups and beers. There are a number of reasons why people avoid gluten.
Coeliac disease is the most serious and is an autoimmune condition caused by an intolerance to gluten, requiring the lifelong removal of this from the diet. Some people report a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten but haven’t been diagnosed with coeliac disease, while others adopt a gluten-free diet as a weight-loss strategy.
If you think you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, consult your GP
If you think you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, you should consult your GP. The charity Coeliac UK reports that only around a quarter of people who have the condition have been diagnosed.
If you’ve gone gluten-free simply to lose weight then be aware that it’s unlikely to be the gluten that caused your weight gain in the first place. People may lose weight when they adopt a gluten-free diet, but this is probably because many of the foods they cut out are also high in fat and sugar – things like pizza, pasta with creamy sauces, pastry, cakes and biscuits.
If you buy gluten-free versions of these foods, they’re likely to be equally high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and therefore calories. As with all foods, check the labels and choose the healthiest options.
To keep a gluten-free diet heart-healthy, eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as well as low-fat dairy products and protein such as lean meat, fish, eggs or pulses. One third of your food should be starchy carbohydrates – gluten-free options include rice (brown if possible for more fibre), quinoa, buckwheat, polenta and potatoes (with skins on).
For more information, visit the Coeliac UK website or call 0845 305 2060.
Meet the expert
Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.