Have you blacklisted gluten? Read this before parting ways with wheat
Can going gluten-free do more harm than good? It's certainly big business. Designed for just one per cent of the UK population, the gluten-free market is now worth £4.3 million but, if you don't have coeliac disease, how wise is it for us to ditch this dietary staple?
Many of us have been there: Go for pizza with friends and, in a fit of cosmopolitan vigour, you order a gluten-free base. Has a medical professional ever diagnosed you with coeliac disease? No, but that enthusiastic girl you met at spin swears by ditching gluten for a happy gut which is free from bloating. But growing evidence suggests that this innocent or trend-led aversion could be doing us more harm than good as we miss out on the nutritional party that gluten foodstuffs offer.
The potential risks of going sans gluten were made plain in a 2017 study by Harvard and Columbia University. The researchers tracked participants over 30 years and concluded that: “The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without coeliac disease should not be encouraged.”
Kaitlin Colucci, @themissiondietician, explains that adopting a gluten-free diet is necessary in two situations. One is when you have a confirmed diagnosis of coeliac disease and the other is if you’re part of “a very small number of the population who have a condition called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity”.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition where the gastrointestinal tract is adversely affected when the sufferer eats gluten. In this case, omitting gluten from their diet will help with the stomach pain, diarrhea and bloating that accompanies the disease.
In the UK, a tiny percentage of us suffer from coeliac disease yet the gluten-free market has grown by 800% in 12 years. So how did products containing gluten, such as pasta, bread and cereal become blacklisted by so many of us and do they deserve their tarnished reputation?
A little bloating after a meal, particularly a large or high-fibre one, is normal
“Gluten is often one of the first foods blamed for causing bloating and low energy levels,” Kaitlin explains. “This may be because we tend to eat large portions of these foods, such as pasta, and large meals can often make us feel full and sleepy. We must remember that a little bit of bloating after a meal, particularly a large or high-fibre meal, is normal.”
So the tendency to feel a bit of a bloat and think that eating gluten-free foods will ease our discomfort, in the same way it does for sufferers of coeliac disease, is mistaken. Avoiding gluten also means avoiding the abundance of vitamins and minerals found in foods such as wholegrains.
For example, generic brown bread contains gluten. “As a result it’s a great source of energy, containing B vitamins, iron and dietary fibre,” Kaitlin says. Indeed wholegrains are packed full of essential nutrients with calcium, iron, fibre, zinc, vitamin B12, folate, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, among some of the nutritional goodies available when we tuck into some quinoa.
There is a risk of skipping fibre when going gluten free
Kaitlin adds: “If you exclude whole food groups unnecessarily from your diet, you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies, constipation and low energy levels.” Noted. So if we want to bag the healthiest gluten on the market, what foodstuffs should we be seeking out? “Oats, brown bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, pearl barley,” she says.
There's also a risk of skipping fibre when going gluten free. Multiple studies have found a link between lower consumption of wholegrain foods and a greater chance of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and excess weight. Kaitlin explains: “For every eight grams' fibre increase in your diet, your risk of heart disease is lowered by 19 per cent and your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is reduced by 15 per cent.”
As always, it’s recommended to speak to your GP before cutting any foodstuffs out of your diet and gluten is no exception to that rule. Eliminating products so rich in nutrients can cause more problems than it solves, so reach for the bread bin without shame – it’s go time.More info
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