Gluten is once again widespread in the media and there’s a whole whirlwind of varying opinions about its place in (or removal from) an every day diet.
Three things we know for sure:
- Coeliac disease = you MUST go completely gluten free.
- Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity = you SHOULD reduce your gluten intake to manage symptoms.
- Other autoimmune diseases (diseases where the body attacks itself) = you SHOULD reduce or avoid gluten to manage symptoms.
As for the rest of the population with fully functioning guts and showing no real symptoms of gut or bodily distress e.g. chronic inflammation, aches/pains, fatigue, frequent bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhoea, constipation, excessive gas, abnormal stools, etc. The overall verdict of current research says gluten is fine to consume.
Cue the shocked faces, strong opinions, and blatant refusal to think that gluten-free isn’t the ‘toxic’ product we are being led to believe.
I’ll admit to almost being one of these people. I’ve placed a target on gluten’s back for a long time now, just waiting to say “A ha! I knew it! You’re the evil in our food making us all chronically ill!”
But I can’t.
Yes, gluten is a gut irritant in some people. Including myself. It makes me tired, cranky/moody, bloated, and messes up my gut function. But that’s because my gut doesn’t tolerate it. I went to the gastroenterologists, had the x-rays, the blood tests, the test to see if I have the gene for coeliac disease, the diet trials and examined the research. I don’t have the gene, so it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever develop coeliac disease. I also have an incredibly sensitive gut in regards to certain food components, including FODMAPs, gluten, and lactose. I’m what they call non-coeliac gluten sensitive with an irritable bowel (hence the need to limit the FODMAPs)…… I’m really not that difficult of a dinner guest though, I promise!
Basically I get the same/similar symptoms of a coeliac, but without the dangerous long term side effects such as infertility, anaemia, and increased risk of osteoporosis, when I ingest gluten (and other food components).
So what is gluten?
It’s a protein. Just doing its thing, helping stuff stick together and be elastic, like a ‘glue’. Naturally occurring in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats (oats contain gluten’s cousin ‘avenin’, which should generally be avoided in coeliacs – long story, I’ll tell you later!).
Why the fuss?
This is what I found in a quick internet search for gluten:
- gluten makes you fat
- gluten free for: kids, me, weight loss, dummies
- gluten free is: bad, a fad, stupid
- going gluten free for: weight loss, a week (one of my favourites!), adhd, acne, arthritis
- gluten free dunkin donuts
- no gluten, no problem
- gluten is the devil
- gluten is bad for you
- gluten is good for you
- gluten should be: avoided, banned
The list goes on. And on.
People that report going “gluten free” list benefits such as:
- weight loss
- better skin
- improved sleep
- enhanced mood
- more energy
- better focus
- reduced bloating
- reduced headaches
- better digestion
- etc etc etc
For that individual that may be true. They may have undiagnosed coeliac disease, a different autoimmune disease, a sensitive gut, IBS, or something we haven’t quite discovered yet. I’m thrilled for them that they’ve found something they could change to make them live a more fulfilling, healty and happy life – I truly am.
But guess what? It’s not just in bread. Or pasta. Or pizza.
It’s often in:
- cereal and baking products – wheat, wheaten cornflour, semolina, couscous, wheat bran, barley, oats, porridge, breakfast cereals containing wheat, rye, oats or barley, corn or rice cereals containing malt extract from barley, some icing sugar mixtures and some baking powders
- pasta and noodles – spaghetti, pasta, lasagne, gnocchi, hokkien noodles, soba noodles and two-minute noodles
- bread, cakes and biscuits – all bread, cakes and biscuits prepared with flours from a gluten source
- meat products – any products prepared with breadcrumbs or batter, sausages and other processed meats or smallgoods (unless labelled gluten free), thickened soups, meat pies and frozen meals
- dairy products – malted milk, ice cream in a cone and some soy milks
- fruits and vegetables – textured vegetable protein (found in some vegetarian products) and fruit-pie filling
- condiments – malt vinegar, some mustards, relishes, pickles, salad dressings, sauces, gravy and yeast extract from barley
- snacks – liquorice, some lollies and chocolates, packet savoury snacks and some flavoured potato chips and corn chips
- drinks – coffee substitutes made from cereal, and some milk-drink powders
- alcoholic drinks – beer, stout, ale, Guinness and lager (most beers contain gluten, but a range of gluten-free boutique beers are now available in Australia). (Source: Better Health Victoria)
It’s highly likely that you feel better from eliminating bread, pasta, pizza, cake, biscuits, chips; and as a result increased your intake of fruit, vegetables and other healthy options. This dietary change DOES contribute to a variety of health benefits. The same as the ones listed above and more.
But if you’ve recently gone “gluten free” because of a friend, an acquaintance, a magazine, a blog article, a friend of a friend, or because you heard someone else’s doctor told them to do it and they felt great. Stop and think for a minute.
Have you REALLY cut out gluten? Or just the crap?