Gluten free diets started as a vital treatment for diagnosed Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity, and quickly became a trend diet amongst many health conscious people in the belief that gluten free is a healthier way to eat. But is it?
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some other grains. Trace amounts are also found in a number of grains due to cross-contamination, such as oats, spelt, bulgur and triticale. These are all healthy wholegrains, providing a number of micronutrients, fibre and a good source of complex carbohydrates, making them a valuable part of a healthy diet.
For many people gluten doesn’t appear to cause any issues or symptoms. However for some, gluten can be difficult to breakdown and digest causing a a range of digestive disturbances from mild (such as bloating) to being highly reactive (causing a wide range of allergy symptoms and unexplained gastrointestinal issues). Many of these people find that eliminating gluten from their diets make them feel and function better. Those with diagnosed Coeliac disease, must eliminate gluten from their diet completely as consuming gluten causes their immune system to react and “attack” the microvilli lining the small intestines causing decreased absorption of nutrients and inflammation. There have been anecdotal reports of gluten contributing to a number of conditions including leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, autism, multiple sclerosis and obesity. However there have yet to be sufficient studies and scienfitic evidence to support this.
If gluten doesn’t appear to cause you any issues or symptoms, then choosing to eliminate or even partially reduce gluten from your diet is a personal choice. There are a number of high-quality nutrient rich wholegrains that are gluten free that you can subsititute with. Ancient grains such as quinoa, buckwheat (don’t be tricked here – it’s not “wheat”), millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum and chia (seed), are all rich in many nutrients, fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates. Not only do they each have their own unique set of health benefits, but can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes or ground into a flour for baking.
The problem is that the gluten free trend has created a market for commerically made processed “gluten free” products that are marketed as a healthier option. If you walk down the “health food” section of the supermarket and you will find packets of gluten free biscuits, cereals, sauces with preservatives, etc. These products are usually just as overly processed as their gluten containing counter-parts and certainly no healthier. Ditching gluten isn’t a quick fix to health. If you choose to eliminate or even reduce the amount of gluten in your diet, ensure you are replacing it with nutrient rich wholefoods – foods as close to nature as possible with minimal processing and additives.
If you experience any unexplained gastrointestinal or other symptoms then you should seek professional health-care advice. Ultimately, everybody is unique and different. Understanding your body and learning what works well for you and makes you feel good is the best way to go.
Written by Tristen Van Der Kley
Balanced Body Nutrition
IG: @balanced.body.nutrition https://www.instagram.com/balanced.body.nutrition/