I was asked recently why so may of my posts are gluten free. It made me think, so I looked into it. Researching this post, has left me more confused than ever! This post has taken me longer than I thought to write! I’ll present the information and let you make your own decisions.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, barley and to a lesser extent, oats. Oats can be modified to ensure that they contain no gluten, so if you have a problem with gluten ensure you buy certified gluten free oats. It is an insecticide meaning that crops are bred to be gluten-rich and pest-free. The protein is what gives bread it’s elasticity, and is used as a thickener in all sorts of things from soups to lipstick.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease. When gluten is introduced into the body it triggers the release of antibodies. These antibodies attack the internal tissues and cause inflammation and damage to the small intestine.
Although Coeliac disease is not an allergy, nor a sensitivity to gluten, gluten is classified as an allergen in food labelling. Many people also believe that gluten is responsible for tummy-troubles such as bloating, gas and constipation or diarrhoea.
If you have Coeliac disease, you MUST go gluten-free. It is a life-changing experience, and sufferers really have my utmost respect.
The argument FOR gluten-free
Sarah Wilson argues that gluten is a poison. I have mentioned phytic acid which can be found in seeds and nuts, it is the plant’s defense against being eaten. Gluten does the same thing, it acts as a stressor to the intestine, gall bladder and bile production which means your body cannot absorb nutrients properly. This can lead to illnesses.
Some animals which eat a lot of grains evolved with a digestive system which can cope with gluten, humans haven’t.
Mark’s Daily Apple quotes:
Researchers now believe that a third of us are likely gluten intolerant/sensitive. That third of us (and I would suspect many more on some level) “react” to gluten with a perceptible inflammatory response.
Gluten is prevalent in our diets and has been for several generations now. Bread, bread products and wheat are everywhere: sandwich: of course; pizza: yep; pasta, check; how about breakfast cereal? It’s there if you start your day with Weetabix, Shreddies or Shredded Wheat. Then, as I mentioned above it is added to all sorts of foods where you wouldn’t expect it.
The argument AGAINST gluten-free
Some experts don’t believe that gluten-sensitivity exists. Sceptics will say that the symptoms are imagined. Others will argue that there are many other reasons for tummy-troubles associated with gluten-sensitivity. If a third of the population supposedly reacts to gluten in some form – that means 66% don’t.
Of course, some might suggest that it isn’t the gluten that is causing gas or bloating. Gas is part of the process of digestion, some things cause more of a reaction than others. The average person passes wind 10 times a day.
You could also say that maybe, it isn’t the slice of bread that caused bloating, but the bread, butter and processed filling in your sandwich. It wasn’t the flour, but the giant slice of cream cake. If you cut out gluten you are probably cutting out the associated calories: result = flatter tummy.
Before you decide to self-treat see your doctor for tests. If you DO have Coeliac Disease you must eat gluten for at least six weeks to ensure the antibodies can be registered in a test. If you suspect gluten intolerance or sensitivity, your doctor can test for immune responses through blood tests or a skin prick. If you want to try an elimination diet your doctor can guide you through the process, or refer you to a dietitian to ensure that it is done in a safe and structured way.
As with any elimination diet, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies (see my post on why carbs are good). Gluten free alternatives can be made with refined ingredients so you could be missing out on fiber, vitamins and minerals associated with wholegrains. Not to mention that many of these gluten-free are more expensive than their counterparts.
The Last Word
I’ll leave the last word with Gluten Free Gus who has first hand experience of Coeliac Disease and has come up with a list of unconventional reasons to go gluten free. Here are a few of my favourites:
Develop Empathy! You discover what it feels like to be in the minority when you decline the restaurant rolls, birthday cupcakes, “Casual Friday” office pizza, game-day beer or doughnuts. It results in the determination to be inclusive in a variety of situations, not all relating to food.
Enjoy the satisfaction of learning and practicing something new! We forget that education is life-long. Because food is elemental to our daily lives, altering one’s diet has immediate consequences. Cooking and eating GF will be easier than learning the violin. And the results will taste better!
Coeliac UK: www.coeliac.org.uk
Mark’s Daily Apple: www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-grains/#ixzz2X3rLOQfJ
Gluten Free Gus: glutenfreegus.com/top-ten-reasons-to-go-gluten-free/