Is going gluten-free the healthier option?

You like oats,
You love fresh sourdough bread and
You adore homemade pasta…

BUT you’ve read (or just heard!) about how beautiful celebrities and instagram models have used gluten-free diets to become happier and healthier due to the following reasons:

– Gluten is a “toxin”.
– Gluten causes inflammation in the human body (if you ask the person telling you this how exactly it causes inflammation, you will get a blank response).
– Eating gluten will give you an autoimmune disease.
– Gluten will cause you to have headaches and make you more irritable.
– Gluten makes you fat…………………..

These people are ill-informed! I was also confused by gluten before studying dietetics, so now I want to use my knowledge to help clear the air for others 🤗
In order to rebut these claims we first need to have an understanding of what gluten is.

SO what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten is made up of 2 molecules: glutenin and gliadin. These molecules form an elastic bond in the presence of water which is why gluten is so useful in baking!
Gluten is not found in natural, unprocessed fresh foods which we recommend eating lots of including:
Vegetables, fruit, legumes and some types of grains (rice, buckwheat and millet).

Gluten is found in wheat products (pasta, bread), rye, barley, oats, some sauces/condiments, cakes, biscuits and pastries (and many other processed foods). When people go gluten-free they reduce their consumption of many of the processed gluten containing foods which is great… BUT gluten itself is not the devil (it’s just a protein molecule!). It is actually all the added sugar and fats in these processed foods that can cause weight gain and make people feel sluggish.

Now real gluten intolerance is not something to talk lightly about. A gluten intolerance for those with celiac disease can be life threatening. When people who suffer from celiac disease ingest gluten their body mounts an autoimmune response against the protein causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened (see image below). Since these villi are involved in nutrient absorption, people with celiac disease can get gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms. People with coeliac disease remain sensitive to gluten throughout their life, however, a strict gluten free diet does allow the condition to be managed effectively. The long term consequences of untreated coeliac disease are related to chronic systemic inflammation, poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients.

To say that you have celiac disease means that you have been tested and diagnosed by a medical professional (this process can take a long time, bring much frustration, cost a lot of money and must include a small bowel biopsy). Feeling better when you remove gluten from your diet does not necessarily mean you have coeliac disease or you are gluten intolerant.

Mucosal layer of the intestinal wall in a patient without celiac disease vs. a patient with celiac disease. 

Often when people choose to go gluten-free they are doing so to attain greater health outcomes or to loose weight. These people will often take it as an excuse to eat gluten-free biscuits, and other gluten-free baked goods in excess. By doing this they are only doing themselves a disfavour.

Because prepackaged gluten-free foods often have added fat and sugar to make up for the lack of flavour and texture that results when foods are made without gluten. As a result, many gluten-free foods have more kilojoules than their gluten-containing counterparts. Another reason to not choose gluten-free foods unnecessarily is that they are often highly processed and low in fiber. Without fiber to slow down digestion, these foods don’t fill us up and we’re likely to eat more of them in order to stay full.

The bottom line is that unless you have celiac disease, you don’t need a “gluten-free” diet. Just focus on trying to eat mainly whole foods like fruits, vegetables and grains, and minimise the amount of processed foods you are consuming!

A slice of fresh toast with some delicious avo for breakfast, fresh pizza with your favourite toppings, warm home-made porridge in winter or a beautiful pasta dish shared with your loved ones for dinner won’t harm you 🙂 be more concerned with the added sugars and saturated fats added to things – not the gluten!


Images sourced via pinterest. Authors unknown. 

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