The gluten free trend hit Uganda a while back. Except, it’s not a trend, it’s a serious diet restricting condition for some . Besides knowing that gluten is a protein found in wheat and some cereals, there are still a lot of questions about gluten and being gluten free in Kampala in particular. Credible sources are few so we tracked down Maria Schaffluetzel, a nutritionist who herself has experience with preparing and eating Gluten free meals in Kampala, to answer some technical bits.
- Besides having Celiac disease, (if you have it, gluten is not your friend since it damages the intestinal lining of your gut) what other reasons are there to skip gluten?
Maria: If you suffer from “leaky gut” (increased intestinal permeability), you should avoid gluten.
The small intestine is where the nutrients from your food get absorbed into the bloodstream (through the intestinal wall). If the intestinal wall is too permeable, stuff can get into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there, this triggers an immune response and your immune system might produce antibodies to fight against the “foreign food invader”. This is how food sensitivities develop. People with a lot of food sensitivities usually have a “leaky gut”.
So whenever gut healing needs to be done, stay away from gluten since it’s an inflammatory food that a lot of people have difficulties with.
- Gluten intolerance means there are foods that you can’t eat without getting sick. So what can’t you eat. Besides bread? And beer! And Pizza!
Gluten is mostly found in grains: wheat, spelt, emmer, oat. So you should avoid all products made with those grains: bread, chapati, rolex, cookies, pasta, spring rolls, chicken nuggets (and everything coated in bread crumbs), samosa, crepes, cakes, muffins, breakfast cereals, porridge (with oats, although there are gluten-free oats)
Photo and baked by Anna Grodzki
The problem is that gluten is added to a lot of seasonings – due to its gluey properties (gluten = latin for glue) which hold breads and cakes together. For example a frappuccino from Starbucks (not in Kampala) contains gluten. Some ketchups contain gluten, chocolate can contain gluten. Celiac.com has a long list of products with hidden gluten.
- That seems like a lot that you can not eat. What can you eat?
Maria: You can eat plain chips without gluten-containing seasoning.
Cassava is gluten free. Maize (corn) and rice are gluten-free with an exception of sticky rice from the north of Southeast Asia. Pseudo-grains like: buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, chia seeds, millet, sorghum are gluten-free. Matooke and all starchy tubers (pumpkin, sweet potatoes, potatoes) are gluten-free.
You can also eat poultry and red meat.
Photo by Alex Munsell
- How expensive is being gluten free in Kampala or how easy is it to follow the diet?
Maria: A gluten-free diet is expensive if you buy extra manufactured products that imitate gluten-containing products like: gluten-free bread, gluten-free pasta, cookies, crackers and so on. The gluten-free industry really takes advantage of the rising gluten sensitivities and makes products unnecessarily expensive.
The traditional Ugandan diet is mainly gluten-free, so you don’t have to adapt a lot if you’re sensitive to gluten. In Uganda a lot of naturally gluten-free flours like cassava, millet, corn, sorghum and rice that in Europe and North America are sold super expensively and only found in specialized shops and marketed as “gluten-free” products, are quite affordable and available in every supermarket.
If you cook at home, it’s easy to;
– Make Chapati with corn and rice flour instead of wheat
-Make cakes, cookies and pancakes, (the Ugandan way) and mandazi with cassava flour instead of wheat flour.
4. Your regular market (katale) is good place get any of these foods but if you are looking for more specialized gluten free items, where can you shop while in Kampala?
Photo by Eka Sariwati
Maria: Shoprite sells gluten-free pasta, Holy crepe has gluten-free crepe options, the farmer’s market at prunes has some gluten-free products, Lugogo shopping center sells some gluten-free products.
Streetlight Pizzeria in Jinja also has gluten free pizza, they use Matooke flour to make the dough.
- Some people just prefer not to eat gluten and say they have more energy and feel lighter and cleaner. What if I choose to be gluten free?
Maria: With this one you have to be a bit careful. Gluten-free options high in hydrolyzed vegetable oils and sugar are definitely not healthier than real gluten containing sourdough bread or just, a proper Ugandan dish.
If you must, better to focus on foods that naturally don’t contain gluten. The typical Ugandan meal of Cassava, posho, rice, sweet potato, spinach, pumpkin, meat, fish is gluten-free and affordable.
Uganda just might be the best place to be Gluten free in the world.
Have any tips or recommendations for people that are gluten free in Ug? Leave a comment.