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Is A Gluten Free Diet Good For You?

There are a few common things that irritate the delicate balance of “good” and “bad” gut bacteria in our digestive systems.

Things such as prebiotic foods, probiotic foods, antibiotics, high sugar intake, FODMAP foods, stress, and low fibre diets. But there’s a bigger issue at play. Our food supply.

Changes in farming practices over the last 50 years has resulted in reduced crop diversity – meaning major farmers and manufacturers are focusing on growing a limited number of food crops. Typically to get more bang for their buck – from both a seed purchasing side, as well as being driven by the manufacturer’s wanting cheap products to use in their food items.

So what does this mean for us? It means that for the most part, the majority of the food supply lends itself to 5 key ingredients. Wheat, barley, canola, corn, rice and soy. With the largest Australian crops being wheat, barley and canola.

Being gluten-free, we need to cut out wheat and barley from this list, so our flour options, and therefore packaged product variety, is even more restricted. Not to mention the supermarket take-overs that keep seeing our favourite brands disappear off the shelves, only to reappear as supermarket branded options. Seriously, what is up with that?!

Just take a look at some common gluten-free packaged products. They contain so many of the same ingredients, and most are from the top 5 crops.

Examples of Gluten Free Food Ingredient Lists

Glutino Sea Salt Crackers

Brown rice flour, brown sugar, sesame seeds, long grain white rice flour, long grain brown rice flour, corn and/or canola oil, flaxseeds, corn starch, quinoa seeds, amaranth seeds, tamari soy sauce (soybeans, salt, maltodextrin), sea salt, natural flavour.

Udi’s White Sandwich Bread –

Water, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, canola oil, egg whites, potato starch, modified food starch, tapioca maltodextrin, dried cane syrup, tapioca syrup, yeast, gum (xantham gum, sodium alginate, guar gum), salt, locust bean gum, cultured corn syrup solids and citric acid (mold inhibitor), enzymes. Contains: egg.

Carman’s Deluxe Muesli

Dried fruit 24% (sultanas, raisins, dates), rice flakes 21% (rice Flour, fructose, salt, emulsifier [471]), seeds 20% (sunflower seeds, pepitas), puffed rice (rice flour, rice bran), honey 8%, sunflower oil, nuts 3% (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans), psyllium husks, cinnamon, natural vanilla flavour, antioxidant (307b, soy).

Yes You Can Buttermilk Pancake Mix

Maize starch, maize flour, sugar, buttermilk (4.5%), whole egg powder, whey (from milk), raising agents (450, 500), vegetable oil, mineral salt (341), iodised salt,  thickener (415).

Melinda’s Chocolate Brownies

Dark chocolate (23%) (sugar, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, emulsifier (soy lecithin, 492), flavours, Cocoa solid (12%)), gluten-free self-raising flour (maize starch, tapioca starch, soy flour, rice flour, raising agents (575, 501, 500)), brown sugar and cocoa powder.

Then you have corn chips, rice crumbing, cake mixes full of starches, maize, soy flours and more. Not to mention tinned tuna and canned vegetables in vegetable and canola oils; soy milks, processed soy meat alternatives, soy protein bars, and the copious choices of vegetable oils for cooking (which I don’t recommend using!).

There’s big money where those products come from because so many of their ingredients are produced with such high volume, that everybody wins. Except, for every body that regularly ingests a diet high in these foods, without much else.

You see, if we limit our food choices to a high intake of these packaged, processed, and ready-made food items, despite what they look like, we’re still eating the same things!

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Same same but different

You can have gluten free cereal for breakfast, then a gluten free sandwich for lunch, then gluten free pasta for dinner. Three completely different meals, all with the bulk of the meal being made up of the same key ingredients.

What is poor dietary variety doing to our health?

Aside from reducing the amount of vitamins and minerals we can get from our diet, which could lead to malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, it turns out we’re affecting the health of our gut as well. That’s bad news for chronic disease prevention.

New research suggests that the reduction of variety in our diets has changed the diversity of our gut bacteria, believed to be because our gut bacteria strains adapt and change in numbers to match what we’re eating.

So in a nutshell, it appears that healthier people have a more diverse microbiome due in part, to a diet with a higher variety of foods and nutrients.

Why does a diverse microbiome matter?

Many studies are now finding that a lack of diverse gut bacteria is correlated to a number of disease states such as obesity and metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel diseases. The theory being that a greater bio-diversity of gut bacteria will be much more resilient to anything that your lifestyle or diet throws at it.

So aside from looking after your gut bacteria with:

  • Foods rich in prebiotics (where possible, as for some, these food items cause stomach problems i.e. they tend to be high fodmap foods),
  • Including probiotic sources such as cultured yoghurts (dairy, coconut or otherwise),
  • Fermented drinks (kombucha, kefir),
  • Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, traditional pickles)
  • And probiotic supplements…

It seems a diet rich in variety is also important, not just for your overall nutrient intake, but the health of your gut, and in turn, the health and wellbeing of your entire body.

The Bottom Line

While the above products listed are gluten-free alternatives, and fine to have on occasion, it’s important to match them up with a range of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, a mix of protein sources, and homemade baked goods using alternative flours to ensure you’re getting the widest variety of different foods possible.

Some alternatives to the main 5 to try:

  • Wheat and rice flour – swap for – Tigernut flour, almond meal, quinoa flour, buckwheat flour
  • Soy protein – swap for –  pea protein, grass-fed whey protein, brown rice protein
  • Soy and rice milk – swap for – almond, macadamia, coconut, tigernut milks
  • Canola oil – swap for – olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, avocado oil
  • Rice and barley – swap for – quinoa, cauliflower “rice”, buckwheat groats, wild rice
  • Corn (predominantly as maize or corn starch) – swap for – tapioca/cassava/arrowroot flour, glutinous rice, agar agar

This type of research further highlights the need to really #colouryourplate! I always get asked “what’s the one thing I should do to start getting healthy?” and without getting into lots of detail, boring them with facts, or sitting them down to do a detailed dietary analysis, my answer is always the same.

Colour your plate.

You can find plenty of colourful gluten and dairy free inspiration over on my Instagram @thebodydietetics if you’re looking for some ideas 🙂 Plus, use the hashtag #colouryourplate to be found so I can share your creations too!

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