Tired of feeling sick, sore and bloated? A new seven-day challenge aims to lift the lid on underlying gluten intolerances

If, like me, you find yourself bloated, sore and lethargic on a daily basis, it might be time to give up gluten.

According to recent research, at least five per cent of us are either gluten intolerant, or suffer from the more serious coeliac disease.

“I believe it’s higher than that, but a lot of it is undiagnosed,” says nutritionist Sarah-Jane Purnell, who has formulated a seven-day gluten-free challenge in partnership with manufacturer PureBread.

“It’s probably closer to eight or nine out of a hundred. You can even have coeliac and not know it, as some of the symptoms can be mild,” she says.

Gluten-free diets are having a bit of a ‘moment’, but Purnell warns against using it as a weight-loss measure.

“You’re doing it to stop all the uncomfortable, potentially damaging symptoms, not to lose weight,” she says.

Gluten is a protein found in most wheat-based products, such as pastas and breads, and anything with wheat derivatives – including soy sauce, wheat-based whiskeys and bourbons, and a surprising number of mainstream sweets.

“A lot of people don’t realise gluten is the culprit….we tend to overeat wheat-based products in our diet, so it’s no wonder our systems are saying ‘enough’,” says Purnell.

Classic symptoms of an intolerance include temporary stomach cramps, loose or blocked bowels, vomiting and general malaise.

Coeliac disease, on the other hand, has more serious consequences, and can result in permanent damage to the stomach lining.

“It’s important to get tested properly, which can be done through a biopsy,” says Purnell, “but eliminating gluten for a short trial period, and monitoring the results, is the first step.”

First off the list is the obvious stuff – all gluten-rich breads, pastas and crackers – as well as less-obvious, insidious products: tomato sauce, frozen yoghurt and instant coffee.

“It’s important to identify where gluten may be hiding, so you can properly eliminate it,” she says.

Purnell is also on hand to offer dietary advice to participants, as well as a personal health assessment.

I lasted six days on the gluten-free challenge: on day seven, I caved and had a thick slice of buttered sourdough toast (it was delicious).

After 20 minutes, I felt the familiar clenching of my stomach muscles. “It’s good to re-introduce it once you’ve done the challenge, and felt better, because if your reaction is very pronounced you know gluten is to blame,” says Purnell.

My overall verdict? I felt instantly better after eliminating gluten, even after heavy, dairy-rich meals of (buckwheat) pasta carbonara, or potato cakes with béarnaise sauce and bacon.

Let’s see how long I last without sourdough toast…

Treats that don’t contain gluten (and saved me during my own challenge):

  • Nutella
  • Coles-brand salted caramel ice cream
  • PureBread gluten-free bread
  • Kettle potato chips
  • Potato cakes
  • Aioli
  • Raw nuts
  • Hummus
  • Buckwheat pasta – which I had with a rich, creamy sauce
  • Crust’s gluten-free pizza base

Foods to avoid:

  • Baked goods – cakes, pastries, slices, donuts, cookies, pies and scones
  • Breads – All that are wheat, rye, spelt and kamut based.  Includes focaccia, Turkish bread, wraps, pita and flatbread. Pizza bases and pastas
  • Cereals – most on the supermarket shelf. It must say gluten-free on the packet. Note: oats contain a tiny amount of protein that is structured like gluten. It is estimated that 20% of coeliacs may react to this protein, so to be safe avoid this grain
  • Sides – Cous cous and semolina, cracked wheat found in tabouli
  • Snacks – Potato chips, chocolates, liquorice, some lollies, ice creams, frozen yoghurts
  • Meats – Any prepared meat such as sausages, rissoles, burger patties, meatloaf, seafood mix, pre cooked seafood, frozen seafood
  • Condiments – Asian sauces, soy sauce, salad dressings, tomato and BBQ sauces, marinades, soup mixes, any prepare a meal in a packet type product
  • Drinks – beer, spirits made from grains (gin, whiskey, and some vodka), instant coffee, tea or hot chocolate mixes