Is gluten free the new health fad? About a decade ago gluten free products could only be found in very selected health stores and the term “gluten free” was only known by a minority of the population. Recently it has entered the mainstream and the big food giants have jumped on the band wagon. You can find anything ranging from breakfast cereal to alcohol and even cosmetics labelled as gluten free. Is a gluten free life style actually healthier and above all, what does it actually mean? What is gluten?
First of all gluten is a natural protein that occurs in three grains: wheat, rye, barley. A gluten free diet is mandatory if you have a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity which can be accompanied with coeliac disease. Gluten intolerance should not be taken lightly.
Is coeliac disease a gluten allergy?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. Which means the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Coeliac disease isn’t an intolerance to gluten it is a condition caused by an allergic reaction to gluten. The immune system confuses substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. While doing so it damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
What is gluten and which foods contain it?
Gluten is a natural protein which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Theoretically it is safe to assume that if you stay away from these you are eating gluten free. However, in today’s busy industry produce goes through the same facilities of a factory if it has the same processing requirements. Read the label if you have a strong intolerance.
For example you may find traces of wheat in your oats if processed in the same facilities as products containing wheat. It will not say it is gluten free or it will be labelled as “may contain traces of wheat”.
General food categories to look out for when going gluten free are the following:
- breakfast cereals
Beer might sound like an odd category to add but most beers are made from either malted wheat or malted barley. In addition to these there are ready made meals, dips and sauces that may contain gluten as well. Read the labels.
How do I know if I have a gluten intolerance?
Gluten intolerance occurs in 1 out of 100 people in the UK according to the NHS and about 1 in 135 in the general western population. The usual symptoms can have quite an impact on your quality of life as they range from digestive issues to neurological ones. Since there are over 50 symptoms associated with this intolerance I will list the ones I think are the most obvious.
– Diarrhea, bloating, constipation or acid reflux which cause malnutrition over a long period of time.
– Migraine, brain fog and depression.
– Joint pain, eczema and acne.
If you suffer from any of those or all of them you might have a gluten intolerance.
A very quick way of testing it would be getting a blood test or a intestinal biopsy done. For this to be accurate you can not be on a gluten free diet while the test is being done and it is only necessary if you have really adverse reactions after eating wheat, barley or rye.
Some people have a minor insensitivity to gluten and could benefit from limiting their gluten intake. An easy and noninvasive way of testing if you are sensitive to it would be removing gluten from your diet for 2-4 weeks and see if you can feel a difference in your well-being.
If you plan to go gluten free the next weeks you might want to read this. Just because something is gluten free, does not mean it is healthy.