It wasn’t so long ago that most of us had never heard the phrase ‘gluten-free’ and yet now it’s become a buzz phrase in the world of weight loss and health. So what is gluten and why are people avoiding it?
In a nutshell gluten is a mixture of two proteins found in wheat, barley and rye grains and is what generally gives baked products its doughy, elastic texture. I’m not going to discuss the details of gluten too much in this post but you should know that gluten is not bad for all people so you don’t necessarily need to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon.
Some people have varying degrees of gluten sensitivity, but as with sensitivities to many foods, it’s quite common to not realise that gluten is the culprit responsible for your foggy brain, constipation, lethargy, diarrhoea, bloating, headaches and so much more, or you may have a diagnosis of IBS.
However, some people are severely intolerant which means their bodies produce a negative immune response to it during the digestion process. If you have this kind of response you probably already know that you have celiac disease, whereby eating gluten causes your body’s immune system to attack itself.
So we’ve established that going gluten-free is either beneficial or even imperative for certain people but what next? Well the purpose of this article is really to inform you that should you be eating or considering eating a gluten-free diet, this doesn’t automatically make it a healthy diet! There are three main concerns to consider:
- Food manufacturers have taken advantage of this relatively recent phenomenon and are producing all kinds of gluten-free versions of standard food products. What they don’t broadcast on the packets is that if it comes in a packet/jar etc., it is still likely to be a processed food and will still be subject to all the other nasty added ingredients such as sugar, colourants, preservatives etc. which is the same for standard processed foods. A packet of biscuits is a packet of biscuits – gluten-free biscuits are not a health food. Yes, there will be the odd product that is pretty harmless, but otherwise gluten-free only means it doesn’t contain gluten so it shouldn’t automatically be considered a healthy food which is the most common misconception.
- If you eliminate gluten and opt for a clean eating, fresh foods diet, you should see negative symptoms disappear pretty quickly and you are likely to lose weight which is often the reason for people trying out a gluten-free diet in the first place. However if you rely on packaged gluten-free products, whilst you may see an improvement in some of those negative symptoms, you are just as likely to experience no weight loss or even weight gain, due to the added sugar so it’s important to consider your food source. This applies to no matter what regime or diet you follow.
- Eating a gluten-free diet may cause nutrient deficiencies. If you had previously been eating wholegrains you would have been consuming an array of vitamins and minerals that you may now not be getting so it’s important to understand what else may now be missing from your diet.
So is gluten-free a good idea?
Despite the warnings, absolutely! Like I said, for some people it is imperative and for others it is highly beneficial, especially as us Brits tend to rely too heavily on bread products which is the main source of gluten for many, so I recommend everyone pays attention to their intake and if they are experiencing common symptoms of gluten sensitivity, to experiment with cutting out gluten for a short period to see how they feel. But what they must do is avoid the manufactured replacements and opt for fresh, whole foods, including non-gluten grains or their by-products such as flour. Common ones are quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, millet and oats (make sure oats are certified gluten-free as there is often cross-contamination during the production).
So in conclusion, yes, eating gluten-free can contribute to a healthy diet, but it’s only a small part of the puzzle. You will still need to pay attention to the rest of your diet and your food sources to complete the overall picture.
Do you eat a gluten-free diet? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences!