We’ve all been there. You invite your favourite group of friends over for dinner, spend hours salving at the chopping board and steaming at the oven only to be informed last minute that one awkward friend has made the decision to go ‘gluten free’. Once an unheard of choice is now more fashionable that the latest Prada. You’re almost an anomaly if you’re not gluten free. Supermarkets hold back entire isles for ‘free from’ products and most restaurants mark clearly and proudly their ‘GF’ options. But unless diagnosed with a disagreement, how beneficial is this Gwyneth Paltrow inspired change?
Firstly, what is gluten? It’s a combination of two proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats. It can also be found in many processed foods (beer, pasta, soy etc) and some medicine. These two proteins are produced by the endosperm of the grain and create a starchy structure which gives many baked goods, like bread, their humble chewiness.
When a GP suggests you to remove gluten from your diet it is usually due to one of three things:
- Wheat allergy – You are allergic to one of the proteins in wheat, including but not limited to gluten. When consumed your body launches an autoimmune response.
- Celiac disease – This is an autoimmune disorder where your body over responds when gluten is ingested. Your body in response attacks the villi in your digestive systems which in turn reduces nutrient absorption from the gut.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – This is the placebo effect that occurs when someone without a gluten intolerance consumes gluten. They trick their brain into believing they have an intolerance and so incur symptoms due to psychological reasons.
So why are so many people choosing to go gluten free when their doctor has proven they do not suffer digestive issues with those proteins? This is mainly due to condition number 3; Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Due to the stigma of bloating, nausea and diarrhoea that surrounds gluten, many people just panic themselves into experiencing these symptoms. So when they remove gluten from their diet they have a more relaxed approach to food and therefore the symptoms subside. Another popular reason for going GF is a huge part of this… its popularity!
If you experience no problems when eating gluten, have no fear! There is nothing wrong with this and so you should not feel guilty for including it in your diet. There is no research to prove that there is an adverse effect of including gluten in your diet if your body can process it without problem. So put down that gluten free cake, it doesn’t make it any healthier, in fact truth is it probably contains more sugar and additives than normal cake! Instead tuck in to a wholesome bowl of whole wheat noodles with soy and honey salmon! Many gluten containing foods are packed with iron, vitamin B, vitamin D, and fibre.
If you suffer from a wheat allergy or are celiac then follow your doctor’s orders. However if you suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity or IBS then there are been a lot of research into reintroducing gluten into the diet. The low-FODMAP diet is a process by which all poorly absorbed short chain carbohydrates are removed from the body by following a low gluten diet for 6-8 weeks. One by one different foods are reintroduced to the diet. This helps to identify if the individual has a reaction to gluten or just another protein that is often present in gluten containing foods.
Whatever you opinion is towards gluten, do what makes your gut happy! And remember to always consult your GP or register dietician before making drastic diet changes.