As I’m sure you’re all aware gluten has been in the spotlight for awhile now – and not in a good way. In fact, it seems to have become the villain on the health scene over the last couple of years… But is it really that bad for us? Let’s take a look at the facts!
What is gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.” [For those of us who can not eat gluten, we know that last sentence all too well! *sob*]
Is gluten bad for you?
The answer may surprise you! If you do not have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), coeliac disease, a wheat allergy or any other medical condition that is relieved from a gluten-free diet, then there really isn’t any need to avoid it.
As always, in the health community, information gets misconstrued. If you don’t have any problems digesting gluten, then it is fine for you to consume it. It’s not the fact that gluten itself is bad for you, it’s more so the fact that there are healthier options out there that just so happen to be naturally gluten-free.
It’s easy to see where the confusion has set in seeing as a vast majority of unhealthy foods contain gluten, BUT it’s not the gluten itself that makes these foods unhealthy, it is simply the excessive processing as well as the refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, added sugars, preservatives and additives.
*Just a little side note – you’ll find most recipes on this blog are gluten-free and that is because I am severely intolerant to gluten and I am the one taste-testing the recipes 😉
Then why do some health professionals follow a gluten-free diet even though they don’t have Coeliac disease?
This could be because they are either sensitive to it or they stray away from refined wheat flour and processed foods and instead have a diet rich in wholefoods including wheat-free whole grain alternatives such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, rice etc., that just so happen to be naturally gluten-free anyways… and healthier!
Is a gluten-free diet healthier?
Well if you follow a diet like the one I mentioned above – one rich in whole foods including wheat-free whole grain alternatives – then yes it certainly can be healthier. BUT it completely depends on how you go about it. if you’re simply just swapping the products (like chips, sauces, biscuits, crackers, etc.) in your diet to the gluten free versions — then it’s most likely not healthier.
Just because a product says it’s gluten free does not make it healthier than it’s gluten-filled counterpart, unless of course it is produced by a health conscious brand that only uses healthy ingredients. This is where you have to pay particular attention to ingredient labels. You’ll find that a lot of gluten-free foods, actually have more added sugar and fat in them to make up for the fact that most gluten-free flours have a not-so-pleasant taste (like, really not pleasant!). Plus, if you don’t have much understanding of nutrition, you’re more likely to develop deficiencies on a gluten-free diet, due to food restriction.
Can I lose weight on a gluten-free diet?
Again, it all depends on how you go about it! Some people have lost weight on a gluten-free diet, but this is generally because it either makes them consume more whole foods (which is just a healthy diet, not necessarily a gluten-free diet) or they are restricted for choice when dining out and grocery shopping and therefore they eat less.
In saying this, some people actually gain weight with a gluten-free diet because they assume gluten-free equals healthy. Gluten-free white bread, cakes and biscuits is still just like regular white bread, cakes and biscuits… Like I mentioned earlier, some of the gluten-free products are actually unhealthier because of the added sugars and fats!
How do I know if gluten is making me sick?
If you’ve been struggling with chronic diarrhoea/constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, anemia, fatigue or bone and joint pain (these are just the most common symptoms) then there is a chance you could have coeliac disease, or perhaps NCGS. In which case, it would be best for you to go to your local doctor to arrange to be tested.
If you just feel bloated and sluggish after eating gluten, perhaps try different foods/brands to see if you get the same reactions, because it could be the excessive processing and unhealthy ingredients found in the foods that you are eating that are to blame instead.
Another interesting note if you’ve been experiencing digestive discomfort and find relief from a gluten-free diet would be to look into irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and FODMAPs. IBS is typically caused by an inability to break down a group of sugars that naturally occur in food that has been given the nickname FODMAPs. Research has shown that avoiding FODMAPs can improve the symtoms of IBS. Interestingly, fructan (also found in wheat) is apart of the FODMAPs hence why a lot of people suffering from IBS find relief from a gluten-free diet.
I hope this has cleared up some confusion for you all!
Until next time,
P.S. Look forward to lots more Gluten-Free posts coming soon, as I’m starting a Gluten-free segment on the blog for those of us with Coeliac Disease, NCGS or wheat allergies!