Do you really need to avoid gluten?

Gluten free has become well known in the world of diets, and while about 1% of Kiwis are living with Coeliac Disease and medically must follow a gluten free diet, up to 10 times this number report following a gluten free diet in New Zealand.

So what exactly is gluten and should you be cutting it from your diet? It’s time to look past the hype and get down to the facts.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. It’s the ingredient which gives bread its fluffiness and elasticity, and is commonly used as a stabiliser in food products to prolong shelf life. A gluten free diet means avoiding all gluten-containing grains, all foods containing related ingredients and any food that may have been cross-contaminated with gluten.

Who needs to go gluten free?

People diagnosed with Coeliac Disease must follow a strict gluten free diet for life. The smallest exposure to gluten can cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and difficulty concentrating. For people with coeliac disease, eating gluten can also compromise nutrient absorption, causing nutrient deficiencies like iron-deficiency anaemia, and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

A gluten free diet may also be recommended for people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. People with NCGS show all the symptoms of Coeliac Disease but have no detectable immune reaction to gluten. For this reason, it can be very hard to diagnose, but generally these people feel considerably better avoiding gluten.  Fermentable carbohydrates can also trigger similar symptoms, including for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so it’s important to know if it's gluten or FODMAPs that are causing symptoms.

If you believe you would benefit from a gluten free lifestyle it's best to consult a medical doctor or registered dietitian before making any major changes to what you eat.

Download our free nutrition fact sheet for expert dietitian advice on coeliac disease.

Is it healthy to go gluten free? 

It's important to understand that being gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean being healthy and for people without Coeliac Disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity there’s no evidence that following a gluten free diet is better for your health. Gluten free diets tend to be lower in fibre, wholegrains, and some key vitamins and minerals, all of which are important for a healthy gut and overall wellbeing.

You may have heard the hype around gluten free diets reducing inflammation or supporting weight loss. A gluten free diet certainly reduces inflammation in those with Coeliac Disease, however there is very limited evidence to say that this is the same for those without Coeliac Disease. If wishing to explore ways to protect against inflammation including more plants and embracing healthy fats in your diet.

Evidence does not support the claim that a gluten free diet is beneficial for weight-loss and it is shown that for individuals without gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease, the consumption of a gluten-free diet appears to have no nutritional benefit. For someone with Coeliac disease, a gluten free diet can actually cause weight gain as the small intestine lining heals and is better able to absorb and use food. Often weight loss occurs on a gluten-free diet by just being more aware of food that is being consumed, reading labels, and ultimately choosing healthier options.  

Eating gluten free

There are more menu options for those who need to follow a gluten free diet than ever before. There is also a growing number of gluten free products available – just keep an eye out for product labelled ‘gluten free’ or which displays the Crossed Grain Logo.

It’s important to get advice from a dietitian to ensure your gluten free meals are nutritionally balanced and as varied as possible.

 There are plenty of wholesome grains that are naturally gluten free including sorghum, corn, rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat. These grains also form the basis of most gluten free products. Look for options that are high in gluten free wholegrains such as sorghum, brown rice, and quinoa, and provide a source of fibre.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy foods, nuts, seeds, fish, meats and oils are also naturally gluten free.

What about oats?

Oats and products containing oats cannot be labelled gluten free in New Zealand. Oats are not recommended for people with Coeliac Disease because there is a high risk of cross-contamination from other gluten containing grains as standard oats are processed in the same place as wheat, barley and rye. While oats naturally do not contain gluten, they contain a protein called avenin which is very similar to gluten, and around 1 in 5 people with Coeliac Disease also react to avenin.

For more information on coeliac disease or following a gluten free diet check out the Coeliac New Zealand website.

Looking for some gluten free recipe inspiration?

Try one of these tasty snacks... 


Berry nice muffins

Gluten free berry nice muffins are packed full of juicy raspberries and blueberries, and perfect popped in a lunchbox or enjoyed with a hot drink.


Ginger snowballs

A great treat for kids' parties, school lunchboxes or that after school snack.


Peanut butter chocolate squares

This easy to make treat is dairy and gluten free and makes an excellent Easter special occasion  food.


Crunchy french toast

Give your weekend French Toast an extra crunch-factor with the goodness of Weet-Bix Gluten Free!


Bite sized pizzas

These cute mini gluten-free pizzas are perfect for bringing along to any type of get together.


Choc clusters

These easy to make gluten-free clusters are super crunchy and nutritious.

For more information on nutrition and lifestyle advice for people living with coeliac disease and other health conditions, check out our latest downloadable nutrition fact sheets.