What are free-form foods?

From gluten to dairy & more

what r free forms food

Go to your nearest supermarket and you’re more than likely to find a ‘free-from’ aisle – but what are these products for and why would you need free-from?

‘Free-from’ foods are made without one or more specific ingredients, making them suitable for people who have a certain allergy, intolerance or health requirement and may need to avoid certain food components. Removing something from your diet, unless it’s for health reasons, shouldn’t be something you do overnight or on a whim to follow a trend or celebrity. Like everything, it’s always best to make sure to do your research so you can find out whether removing something from your diet is right for you and your health.  Also remember if you are cutting out certain foods or a food group it is important you make appropriate substitutions to avoid missing out on essential nutrients for health. For example, if you are cutting out cow’s milk replace it with a calcium fortified plant milk to help support your bone health. So let’s have a look at some of the different free-from foods and why some people might need them.

Gluten free

So just what is gluten? It is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye and products that contain these grains. The majority of people can happily eat foods containing gluten, however the two main reasons people may avoid it are:

• Someone is gluten intolerant which means their body finds it hard to digest gluten which can cause digestive discomfort and other symptoms

• Or someone has coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune condition, not an allergy or intolerance to gluten, and is thought to affect 1% (1 in 100) of the population. Eating gluten for those with coeliac disease causes damage to the surface of the small bowel, which can disrupt the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food

They can both have similar symptoms but they are very different conditions. If you think you may be gluten intolerant or have coeliac disease you should speak to your GP. You may want to start noting down foods and symptoms in a diary so you can discuss them with your GP.

Someone avoiding gluten or following a gluten free diet will need to cut out wheat, gluten, barley and rye and foods containing these ingredients. In addition to these, those who have coeliac disease need to avoid standard oats and choose gluten-free oats (although very occasionally even gluten free oats are not tolerated). So when you’re next in the free from aisle, look out for gluten free products – but it’s always best to check the ingredients as some gluten free biscuits contain oats! It’s important to make sure your gluten free diet is a healthy and balanced one, and this is now much easier thanks to the great range of gluten free products available.

Dairy free

Dairy products are foods produced from or containing the milk of cows, goats, sheep, and include foods such as yogurt, cheese, and butter. Someone can choose to avoid dairy products for a number of reasons, whether that’s because they find dairy hard to digest due to lactose intolerance, they’re allergic or it’s a lifestyle choice. Lactose intolerance is a digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose (a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products). Those who are lactose intolerant usually need to avoid dairy milk, however some people who are lactose intolerant may be able to eat small amounts of lactose containing foods such as live yogurt or hard, aged cheese like parmesan, but this will vary for each individual. There’s also cow’s milk allergy which is different from lactose intolerant, as the cow’s milk protein is the allergen, rather than the sugar found in milk and dairy. So check ingredients and look out for products that are milk free or lactose free, depending on your allergy or intolerance.

If you’re looking for a dairy free alternative for your morning cuppa, then why not try:

• Almond milk

• Oat milk

• Coconut milk

• Hazelnut milk

• Cashew nut milk

• Soy milk

• Rice milk

Sugar free

How much sugar we consume continues to be a hot topic, but just what is sugar and is it actually healthier to go completely sugar free? Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington says, "Sugar is a source of carbohydrate and carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source. Sugar also plays an important role in providing flavour and texture to foods". Higher intakes of sugar can increase the risk of tooth decay and obesity. Cutting sugary food and drinks out of your diet and replacing them with sugar-free alternatives may mean they contain other sweeteners so it’s important to read food labels if you’re looking to cut down on the sweet stuff. In the UK on average we are all eating too much ‘free' sugar which could affect our health. This is not the sugar you find in dairy or whole fruit and vegetables but the sugar that is added to food during processing, when cooking or baking, at the table and foods such as honey, syrups, nectars and fruit juice. If you are interested in cutting down or removing free sugars from your diet, start with foods like biscuits, cakes, chocolate, fizzy pop, sweetened cereals, sugar in your tea – basically anything that’s had sugar added to it – rather than sugars found naturally in whole fruit and vegetables eg tomatoes, apples. It isn’t realistic for most people to remove ‘free’ sugar from their diet altogether, so try reducing the amount of sugar you have by making food swaps, choosing lower sugar, alternative sweeteners or unsweetened options or simply reducing the amount and frequency of sugary foods where you can. If you’re interested in learning more about sugar, we’ve got the information you need. As sugar is listed on food labels as ‘total sugars’ it’s hard to work out where it’s coming from and if it’s a ‘free’ sugar. Look at ingredients on food labels, as sugars added to food or drink can be listed in various ways including sucrose, glucose, syrup, dextrose, honey, fructose, treacle, molasses, lactose, corn syrup or fruit juice concentrates.

If you’re struggling to know how to reduce the amount of refined sugar from your diet, look out for nutrition labels and the traffic light labelling system when food shopping: 

• Something that’s high in sugar is 22.5g or more of the total sugar per 100g (or more than 27g of total sugars per portion) and will most likely be highlighted in red

• Something that’s medium in sugar is more than 5g or less of total sugar per 100g but 22.5g or less of total sugar per 100g and will most likely be highlighted amber

• Something that’s low in sugar is 5g or less of total sugar per 100g and will most likely be highlighted green

GM free

GM stands for Genetic Modification, and is used to highlight food that contains genetic material altered in a way that does not occur naturally– that’s not to say it’s not natural food though. It just means that genes can be inserted into a plant or animal for them to be used in a new way. GM foods are only authorised for sale if they are judged not to present a risk to health or mislead consumers and not to have less nutritional value than their non-GM equivalent food.But some people choose as a preference not to eat them or try to limit their intake of them. GM foods include meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed. So if you’re looking to try and avoid them, take a look at the back of the packaging and it will tell you if the food contains GM ingredients or sources.

Nut free

When someone thinks of an allergic reaction, it’s most commonly associated with nuts. Nuts are a biggie and the allergy should be taken seriously. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system mistakes the proteins in that nut as a threat, , and releases chemicals that cause symptoms of an allergic reaction. If you have this reaction seek medical help immediately and follow up with your GP.

• Always remember to check the labels of your food for your particular allergen and when eating out, always make sure to speak to the manager about any dietary requirements you may have before cutting anything out or making radical changes, and don’t be afraid to speak to your GP first (if you haven’t already).

• Always remember to check the labels of your food for your particular allergen and when eating out, always make sure to speak to the manager about any dietary requirements you may have before cutting anything out or making radical changes, and don’t be afraid to speak to your GP first (if you haven’t already).