Is a gluten free diet a fad, or is it a healthy way to eat? Maybe it’s just another marketing ploy?
One thing’s for sure, with 513 million results on google for “gluten free” (GF) and multi-million dollars in annual sales of gluten-free products, it’s certainly popular and here to stay!
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats; it’s generally high in foods such as bread, pastas, cookies, cakes, pies, pastry, crackers, cereals and some snack foods. You might also find it in beers, lollies, gravies, salad dressings, soup mixes and hidden away under different guises in many other foods.
You don’t have to suffer from coeliac disease to benefit from the avoidance of gluten, as leading researchers support the existence of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Understanding Coeliac Disease
Coeliac disease is a serious and lifelong condition where dietary gluten damages the small intestine, inhibiting nutrient absorption leading to gastrointestinal and malabsorptive issues. Even small amounts can impact the body.
Whilst only 1.5% of the general population is affected by this disease, worryingly around 80% of this figure are undiagnosed as having this food intolerance, and are still consuming gluten.
Sufferers may experience intestinal symptoms such as bloating or nausea, and/or a myriad of extraintestinal symptoms ranging from iron-deficient anaemia or peripheral neuropathy to neurological or psychiatric manifestations.
Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is when people who have intestinal symptoms and/or other symptoms, related to eating gluten-containing foods, experience improvement in their symptoms when they avoid these foods.
Their gut symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, or bowel irregularity while extraintestinal manifestations may include foggy brain, headache, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and/or joint and muscle pains, to name but a few.
Why is gluten sensitivity on the increase?
With increasing numbers of people reporting a sensitivity to gluten, it doesn’t seem that gluten-free is a fad.
Unfortunately, due to factors such as exposure to toxins, poor diet, and the overuse of antibiotics, our internal microbiome which supports our immune system has become compromised. Our microbiome is full (or should be!) of good bacteria that live in harmony with our human cells to protect us and keep us healthy.
Another reason is that we are consuming way more gluten-containing foods than ever before; I’ve found it’s not uncommon for clients to have cereal for breakfast, a muffin for morning tea, sandwich for lunch, a few crackers in the arvo and pasta for dinner. All that gluten certainly adds up and takes its toll on your body.
Add to that the effects of modern farming techniques involving the hybridisation of wheat, the routine application of glyphosate (a herbicide linked to health problems), and the increased gluten content in wheat-derived products and it’s no wonder that the immune system’s unable to respond in a normal manner when exposed to gluten-containing foods.
It’s “gluten free” so it must be healthy – or is it?
A word of caution, just because a food is labelled “gluten free” doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily healthy, especially if it’s processed and comes out of a cardboard box! Many manufacturers are taking advantage of the popularity of gluten free foods and marketing their products as “gluten free” even when the product is one that naturally lacks gluten.
Many gluten free packaged products are overloaded with refined flours, sugar, artificial additives or hydrogenated oils, which come with their own set of health hazards. Choosing foods closest to their natural state will avoid this problem.
Eliminating gluten from your diet can be a bit overwhelming at first, but with some careful planning it needn’t be; just keep to the same general nutrition principles that everybody should adhere to: fresh fruit and veggies, lean meats and poultry, nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs and seafood etc.
Gluten grains to avoid:
Gluten-free grains to eat:
- Black rice
- Brown rice
Living Gluten Free?
With coeliac disease, there is no alternative but for life-long avoidance of gluten. Those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate some gluten, particularly the ancient grains in their diet as their gut health and microbiome improves.
To avoid ongoing nutritional deficiencies, and their associated health ramifications, it’s important for everyone to ensure that they are eating a nutrient-dense and quality fibre-rich diet. In some instances, supplementation may help but is no replacement for a wholesome diet.
Eating the right foods and keeping your gut healthy are important for a health body AND mind, so if you’d like to find out more and work with a nutritionist, please make an appointment with me.
Author: Beverley Dorgan, BHSc Nutritional Medicine, ANTA.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Coeliac Australia https://www.coeliac.org.au
- Leonard MM, Sapone A, Catassi C, Fasano A. Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review. JAMA. 2017;318(7):647-656. Doi:10.1001/jama.2017.9730
- Jones AL. The Gluten-Free Diet: Fad or Necessity?. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(2):118-123. doi:10.2337/ds16-0022 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439366/