Why has gluten become such a big issue? It seems that every other person you speak to is avoiding carbs, cutting out gluten-based products and going gluten-free. When I grew up I rarely heard of anyone suffering from a gluten allergy, but medicine has come a long way since then and maybe we just have a better awareness of food intolerances. But for many, avoiding gluten is a result of misinformation and a lack of scientific clarity. To put it simply, just because there are more gluten-free products available than ever before – doesn’t mean we should all be eating them.
Can going gluten-free be a good thing? Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue to hold foods together. It’s found in beer, breads, baked goods, soups, pasta, cereals, even salad dressing and sauces. But is it always bad for you? And why do so many people suffer from problems with gluten?
In actual fact, only 1% of the population suffer from coeliac disease – a serious, genetically linked autoimmune disease in which the small bowel is inflamed and made leaky by gluten, causing diarrhoea, weight loss, anaemia, osteoporosis and a small increased risk of bowel cancer. It is an incredibly serious and life-limiting condition. If you have any concerns about this illness it is important to be checked out and diagnosed by a medical professional. There are other levels of intolerance, from a diagnosed allergy to mild sensitivity – and if you suffer from symptoms, then cutting out gluten may be the best option for you.
But for those without symptoms who cut out gluten for ‘health reasons’ or to lose weight – it’s important to know the facts. Wholegrain, rye and barley are actually good for your diet and contain vitamin B, iron and fibre – which we know may reduce the risks of diabetes and heart disease when consumed within a balanced diet. For most people, gluten provides the body with essential nutrients and protein, without adding cholesterol to the diet. Ultimately, “Gluten-free” is not an indicator of healthfulness – and people without a diagnosed allergy or intolerance should think twice before eliminating it from their diet.