Gluten Free – What’s All the Fuss About?
What is Gluten?
• Gluten (1) is essentially a protein component that can be found in wheat, rye and barley.
• The most obvious places you would find gluten are in bread, pastry, cereals and pasta.
• Gluten is a useful protein because it gives food elasticity, strength and the ability to hold food products together.
• For this reason, you can also find gluten in other foods such as ready meals, soups and sausages.
Disease or Intolerance?
Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition where people have an adverse reaction to gluten. Their immune system mistakes substance found in gluten as harmful to the body and attacks them, which in turn disrupts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
Although not necessarily life threatening this can cause severe pain and discomfort to those who suffer from it. Symptoms include: bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and feeling tired all the time. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people (4) suffer from the disease in the UK, which goes some way to explaining why gluten-free products are on the rise.
But why choose to remove gluten from your diet if you don’t suffer from Coeliac disease?
There is a difference between suffering from the disease and simply being intolerant to gluten. Some people may experience one or a few of the symptoms of the disease and not so regularly. This indicates intolerance to gluten or some gluten based products and is something that affects a much wider range of people.
Is it safe to go Gluten Free?
Although going completely gluten free can prove tricky, it is safe (5) to remove gluten from your diet. One of the main things to ensure when undertaking a gluten free diet is to eat nutrient dense and whole foods. Although gluten-free foods are now available in wide variety, they may not be as high in things like fibre, iron and b vitamins as their gluten-containing counterparts. This means if you do plan on undertaking a gluten-free diet it is important to eat a lot of foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry and fish.
What if I’m not intolerant?
Studies do show that there are a number of reasons to avoid eating gluten, even if you are not intolerant or never experience the symptoms. In fact, some go as far to suggest that we should all remove gluten from our diet where possible. Some of the main reasons behind such drastic thinking include;
- Wheat Gluten may be addictive: getting cravings for things like bread and doughnuts are not exclusive to the likes of Homer Simpson.
- Some brain disorders are associated with gluten: although it is not a proven fact that gluten can worsen or cause brain disorders, studies have shown that the brain responds well to a gluten-free diet in sufferers of Schizophrenia, Autism and Epilepsy (6).
- Gluten heavy diets can cause health problems: in some cases, gluten heavy diets have been linked with health problems such as an inflammation of the intestine.
- It can cause Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA): this is an irritation in the gut and can lead to premature cell death.
So what’s the alternative?
Not everyone should consider going completely gluten-free products available in most major supermarkets. It seems that everyone is becoming wise to the dietary needs and growing demand for gluten-free produce and it is not uncommon for major restaurants to offer gluten-free dishes.
Going gluten free also doesn’t mean you have to cut out things like bread and pasta from your diet. Gluten-free flours mean that you can still get your favourite meals without gluten, with gluten-free bread, pasta and cakes widely available. This is a market that is ever growing for people with health issues and those who just want to live a healthier lifestyle. Expect to see a growing demand and even wider availability of gluten-free products in the future.