Should YOU Go Gluten Free?
Seems like everyone’s going gluten-free. You might be wondering if you should be avoiding it too. Could cutting it out really improve your energy, boost your mood and help you lose a kilo or two?
What is gluten?
Basically, it’s a protein that gives pizza and bread its unique elasticity and springiness. Unfortunately, for some people, it also acts like an opiate on the brain, stimulating appetite and food cravings. Gluten is found not just in wheat, but in other grains such as durum, emmer, spelt, farro, kamut, einkorn, rye and barley. Going gluten-free means forsaking all those wholegrains too – and reading lots of food labels.
Fact or Fad?
It’s become trendy to blame gluten for all that ails you. So how did a food as traditional as wheat (our main source of gluten) suddenly become so evil? Much of the negative hype is the result of smart marketing, internet gossip and too much talk from too many people who know too little about nutrition.
Celiac disease versus sensitivity
Celiac disease is an immune reaction to gluten that causes massive damage to the small intestine. It’s a very real health condition that can cause very real problems for approximately 1% percent of the population and these people need to strictly avoid gluten. A much larger group of people have gluten sensitivity, a condition linked to fatigue, abdominal bloating, weight gain and even depression.
As a nutritionist, I see many patients’ symptoms improve after reducing or eliminating wheat. I believe there are several reasons for this:
- We’re overexposed to gluten: Modern wheat combines different strains of wheat to create a product that’s unnaturally high in gluten. The food industry loves it because it’s ideal for making soft, white and fluffy products. Gluten is also used in many processed foods as a thickener and filler.
- Our bread is different: These days it’s leavened very quickly with yeast, rather than classic sourdough fermentation. Research suggests that sourdough fermentation breaks down the proteins that are responsible for gluten intolerance. Perhaps we need to start making homemade bread again!
- Poor gut health: Many people have imbalances in their microbiome (gut bacteria) due to poor eating choices, stress and over-reliance on refined and processed foods. It’s no coincidence that gluten intolerance is increasing along with rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.
Beware of commercial gluten-free products
We have been eating gluten-rich grains like wheat and barley for as much as 3.4 million years and science that supports their many health benefits. Yet we now have a $16 billion gluten-free industry that is promoting more processed foods.
I do not recommend gluten-free products unless you are gluten-sensitive, as eliminating the offending ingredient means replacing it with something else for texture or taste. Many gluten-free products have less fibre, less protein and more sugar and sodium than their supposedly less healthy counterparts.
If you choose to be gluten free, avoid the commercial gluten free products.
The decision to go gluten-free shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you feel that gluten or wheat (or any other kind of food) may be triggering pain or any other kind of physical reaction I recommend you see a property trained nutritionist to help you identify the source of the problem – without putting you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. You wouldn’t take antibiotics without seeing a doctor. Take the same precautions before making major changes to your diet.