With gluten-free cereals, breads, chocolate, cakes and even pet food available to buy, it is obvious that there must be a clear market for these types of products. But what is gluten and why do you need to know? What does it really mean to be gluten-free? Have you been buying into a health ‘trend’ that you don’t need to? It’s time to get clued up.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the name given to the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, and acts almost as a glue, allowing foods to hold their shape. The most common sources of gluten in the everyday diet are bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits, cakes, flour and pastry, however gluten can also be found in processed foods such as sauces, ready meals and sausages.
Should I go gluten free?
Our modern day diet can be very high in refined wheat products, and as a result can be very high in gluten. Despite this, not every individual is affected by gluten in the same way, and therefore not every individual needs to abide to a gluten-free diet.
For people who are sensitive to gluten, eating foods high in gluten can cause a number of digestive symptoms. These symptoms include bloating and stomach cramps, which is why they may choose to eliminate certain types of food from their diets. A gluten sensitivity or intolerance however, is different from an actual gluten allergy. People who have an allergy to gluten experience a condition called coeliac disease, a serious illness in which gluten causes the lining of the gut to become damaged, meaning it is difficult for sufferers to properly absorb essential nutrients from their food.
If you have been tested and are negative for coeliac disease, however you are still suffering with bloating and stomach aches when eating gluten rich food, you may want to try to slowly cut down on the amount of gluten you consume, or try to cut it from your diet completely. It can be difficult to avoid gluten all together, as wheat is so widely used in manufactured, ready-made foods, however when walking through your local supermarket, you are sure to see the designated ‘free from’ aisle. Filled top to bottom with gluten, dairy and wheat free products, it is more than likely you will find a (often lot more pricey) gluten free alternative to your favourite foods.
If you do not have a sensitivity to gluten, however are thinking about following a gluten free diet because you believe it will be better for your health, there is unfortunately very little research to support your thinking. Although there are a wide range of gluten-free products stocked on supermarket shelves, these products are likely to be lower in fibre, iron and B vitamins when compared to their gluten containing equivalent. These vitamins and minerals are essential for a healthy, functioning body so if you are choosing gluten-free products, you need to ensure you are still eating a diet that is high in nutrient dense, whole foods to make up for these lower levels. Another downfall to a gluten-free diet that you should consider? ‘Free from’ gluten products tend to be higher in calories, sugar and fats to make up for the loss of gluten, meaning it is possible that you could actually gain weight when making this originally believed ‘healthier’ choice.
If you believe you may have an intolerance or allergy to gluten, you should make an appointment to see your doctor who can test to see if this is the case. For accurate test results, this should be done before trying to eliminate gluten from your diet.