Is going gluten-free really the best thing for our bodies?
PUBLISHED: 16:50 31 October 2016
There is a growing trend - especially with the whole 'clean eating' drive - to cut our whole food groups and yet many of us don't actually know for sure why we're doing it
Along with dairy foods, gluten is arguably the most demonised of food groups and it seems we are quitting it in our droves; 12% of us Brits say they or a member of their household avoids gluten and the market in gluten free goods in the UK has reached a staggering £247 million.
But is there a valid reason for giving it up? You can be sure there is many a quitter out there who doesn’t even know what gluten is so let’s begin by shedding some light on the so-called monster.
Gluten is a protein found in various grains such as wheat, barley, rye and some oats. It is the component within the grain that makes our bread and cakes soft and springy, but its use has also spread to products such as biscuits, stock cubes and even some chocolate. So if you are genuinely intolerant, it can be difficult to avoid.
Allergy or attack?
Now back to the real issue, is it really so bad? Well that very much depends on whether you have a genuine condition such as coeliac disease which is an autoimmune disease (not an allergy) and causes damage to the gut lining if gluten is consumed.
Coeliac disease can be tested for and diagnosed but unfortunately cannot be cured, therefore a gluten free diet is essential. However, more recent studies have seen the rise in something referred to as ‘coeliac light’ whereby tests show negative, but similar symptoms are apparent. This condition is known as Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) and symptoms can include bloating, fatigue, skin rashes, nausea and abdominal pain.
The most important thing is to get tested as there are a number of other conditions such as NCGS, IBS, and other food allergies that may be the catalyst, before blaming gluten for waging war on your health.
Remember we are all different and what works for the skinny dairy-free, gluten-free, devotee to kale may not work for you. To put it into perspective only about 1% of the population has coeliac disease so the other 11% may be missing out on that lovely warm bread basket for nothing.
Think beyond the label
Of course there are other reasons why gluten doesn’t work for some of us but it isn’t necessarily about attacking the gut. Many devotees of a gluten free diet swear by it for weight loss but that may just be because they are avoiding that generous slice of Victoria sponge!
While we’re all for cutting out the refined carbs (you may recall our rant a few issues back about white bread, pasta and rice having a similar effect on our body’s insulin response as sugar), there is a lot to be said for whole grains which are rich in B vitamins, iron and fibre, and along with a balanced diet may reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
So the point is: don’t just jump on the band-wagon. If you experience any symptoms that make you feel unwell or under-par, get them checked out. And besides, giving up gluten may push you towards that very expensive gluten free range, most of which is padded out with not-so-great stuff anyway. Give us real crusty wholemeal bread over tapioca starch substitutes any day.