A current trend by health stores is to plaster brightly colored labels reading “gluten or wheat free” on various so-called health foods.
Is gluten really bad for you? Or is it just another marketing tactic?
Gluten is a storage protein found in some cereals (wheat, rye and barley) and can be used commercially as a binding agent for various food products (think of things like pasta, beer, sauces etc.). Gluten is composed of gliadin and glutenin.
There is one thing you need to understand before going any further: the difference between Celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease is a permanent autoimmune condition of the small intestine, due to intolerance of gluten characterized by chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa and atrophy of intestinal villi (Ferreti et al., 2012).
Sufferers can’t tolerate gluten and a large proportion of these individuals remain undiagnosed with some serious symptoms which need to be treated as soon as possible; it can cause some scary complications down the line.
The occurrence of the aforementioned small intestine immune disorder leads to lowered absorption of nutrients as the small intestine is the site of food absorption, thus causing nutritional deficiencies in the body.
Recent studies have shown that oats in moderation, which are free from cross-contamination with gluten containing grains, can be tolerated by some celiac suffers and gluten-sensitive people (some do; some don’t, it’s an individual thing so find out for yourself) (Saturni et al., 2010).
Gluten insensitivity is split into celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten intolerance.
Why are people so fussed about gluten then? The thing is a lot of people are gluten intolerant. Some common signs of gluten sensitivity include bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhoea.
For the average Joe-Smuck, removing gluten from his diet can aid his overall digestive well-being, and also reduce tiredness and bloating.
Dr. Mark Hymans on Gluten: What You Dont Know Might Kill You.
Testing for both is important but expensive if you do a direct measurement. Some people use indirect testing methods such as looking for worsening symptoms after ingesting gluten filled foods.
Dr. Weil takes a look Gluten Intolerance.
A good thing to try out is cut down on gluten for a bit (a few weeks) and then slowly introduce it back into your diet. Make note of how you feel and react.
Did you feel better without gluten rich foods or worse when you re-introduced them back into your diet?
Take home points
- Gluten intolerance is very individual when it comes to how people’s bodies respond; a gluten-free diet for intolerant populations is a good way to control the symptoms.
- A gluten free diet is pretty much what health conscious people follow nowadays anyways (full of fruits and green vegetables, high protein and the right fats).
- Gluten-free health bars aren’t always so healthy.
L. Saturni, G. Ferretti and T. Bacchetti (2010). The Gluten-Free Diet: Safety and Nutritional Quality. Nutrients, 2, 16-34; doi:10.3390/nu2010016.
G. Ferretti, T. Bacchetti, S. Masciangelo and Letizia Saturni (2012). Celiac Disease, Inflammation and Oxidative Damage: A Nutrigenetic Approach. Nutrients 2012, 4, 243-257; doi:10.3390/nu4040243.
Photo © Kevin Lallier.
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