Should you avoid gluten?
Unless you have medically diagnosed coeliac disease (auto-immune condition) or you don’t feel well after eating foods that contain gluten (which you need to have investigated in case it is coeliac disease) you do not need to avoid gluten. The rest of us can digest gluten perfectly well, it does not cause damage to the lining of your small intestine or leaky gut syndrome.
Do you know what gluten is?
Gluten is a type of protein found in the grains wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Although oats do not contain gluten, in Australia it is advised that those with coeliac disease avoid them for two reasons. First, they are usually processed on the same equipment as those grains that do, so they can contain traces of gluten. Also one of the proteins in oats is similar in structure to gluten which can also be a problem to some people with coeliac disease.
And why are so many people avoiding gluten?
These are some of the reasons why I have seen people avoiding gluten:
First, most of us eat too much wheat – think weetbix for breakfast, a muffin for morning tea, sandwiches for lunch, a biscuit for afternoon tea and pasta for dinner. Now too much of anything usually isn’t a good idea!
Many people struggle to break down that much wheat and can end up with irritable bowel-like symptoms like bloating and issues with constipation and/or diarrhoea. Or some people just don’t feel comfortable when eating that much wheat, which I say is their body just asking them to vary their food intake!
There is no need to avoid wheat if this happens, just reduce it and see what happens.
Other people think that it is healthier to not eat gluten. Most of these people when asked however do not know what gluten is!
What I find is that most people who cut out gluten end up eating more fruit and vegetables which is a great thing. Most will report feeling better as a result – no rocket science here as they are consuming foods which provide them with many more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc. However it doesn’t take giving up gluten to do this!
Are gluten free products even slightly healthier?
If you are talking packaged foods then NO! Not all, but most gluten free breads, biscuits, cakes etc are made from rice flour and/or cornflour. Neither of these flours contain much fibre at all, many contain large amounts of fat and sugar, most of these products are high GI (broken down quickly in your body which can contribute to weight gain) and gluten free products are more likely to have more preservatives and artificial colours, flavours etc.
Bottom line is if you think you have a problem with wheat or other foods that contain gluten, do not cut them out before being tested for coeliac disease. If you still have these problems but coeliac disease has been ruled out, book in to see a dietitian who specialises in gastrointestinal issues – they can definitely help you to work out what is going on.