You’ve got to hand it to gluten – it just tastes great. Bread, pasta, pizza, donuts, cream crackers, cakes – we can’t get enough. And this is really the problem: the modern diet is overloaded with gluten and it isn’t just the carbs that we hold so dear – gluten is also a compound used in food processing meaning it is found in everything from sauces, sausages, beer, ice-cream and hot chocolate.
The protein component of grains like wheat, barley and rye, gluten has special elastic properties that help it create airiness in bread, thicken sauces and acts as a stabilizer and emulsifier. It is this same elastic compound that can also cause trouble in the body.
A small percentage of the population are coeliac which means they should 100% ditch gluten altogether. This is because it triggers autoimmune reactions that cause the body to attack itself and whilst this primarily causes issues with digestion, it can also trigger skin conditions, foggy head, fatigue, bad moods and radical weight loss.
Even if you aren’t coeliac, it is also possible to be intolerant to gluten and there are many ways it can illicit undesirable effects on the body when ingested. Even if you have no intolerance or allergy, consuming too much can also trigger inflammation and damage the all-important gut lining, which may prevent us absorbing nutrients.
Given it is a bit of a pain to digest, many people find they can get uncomfortable symptoms when they eat too much in one go… We’ve all been there.
Recent high quality research has also linked gluten with conditions such as schizophrenia, thyroid autoimmunity, Crohns/Ulcerative Colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis – with definitive evidence that even minimal consumption worsens symptoms significantly.
Is gluten pure evil?
Aside from all of this, gluten isn’t always the bad guy. When you consider that much of the gluten we eat contains yeast (bread, cake, pizza, bagels etc) that can also trigger issues such as bloating, it’s becomes clear that often poor old gluten is just an unlucky scapegoat. Much of it has also been heavily processed with added sugar, preservatives, gums and other nasties, none of which the body likes very much either.
And don’t assume that just because you got bloated after you ate that huge plate of carbonara that you have gluten intolerance – it may just be that you don’t digest food very well, and frankly, you ate too much. My advice is to always get tested if you want to know for sure – and make sure you get tested properly.
Having a gluten free diet is a tricky undertaking and as with any restrictive diet, it should be done with caution to prevent deficiencies. If you are going to remove it, you have to do it 100% as even a tiny amount can trigger issues if you are indeed intolerant or have coeliac disease.
For most people without an intolerance, supporting digestion is key if you do struggle with bloating, and then just don’t overdo gluten intake, with no more than one or two portions per day. Avoid processed and refined foods, and cook from scratch where possible to minimise exposure.
Don’t assume that because it’s gluten free it’s healthy
Gluten free is big, big business and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. As easy as this makes a GF lifestyle, be cautious as those GF cookies are just as bad for you as their glutinous counterpart. Infact gluten free products like bread often contain a lot more preservatives, fats and additives to make them taste as good as the real thing.
If you do it properly, gluten free eating can, by default be much better for us and often means the diet is more diverse and exotic. Legumes, GF wholegrains and starchy veg are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, fibre and often also contain more protein, all of which is essential for good health.
Healthy gluten free replacements:
(If shopping in the UK, most of these are stocked on Ocado)
Grains – Quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, teff, GF oats
Crackers – ‘Easy Bean’ lentil crackers, GF oat cakes, ‘Raw Health’ flax crackers, ‘Kallo’ wholegrain rice cakes
Bread – ‘Biona’ millet bread, rice flour wraps, coconut flour wraps as well as products made by Artisan Bread Organic
Pasta – ‘Explore Asian’ pasta and noodles, buckwheat pasta, quinoa pasta
Legumes – Beans, pulses, chickpeas, hummus, edamame and lentils
Starchy veg – Sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnips
Baking – Almond flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour
For more information about how to find out if you have a gluten intolerance and what to do about it contact firstname.lastname@example.org