It's a good question! Here's the lowdown:
Gluten is a protein found in certain grassy grains like wheat, barley and rye. It is the component that gives elasticity to dough,helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.
In the 7 years of my clinical practice I have witnessed that people not only seem to do better on a gluten free diet - they thrive.
I can honestly say that it almost always results in improved energy, weight loss, better digestion, clearer skin, less brain fog and better sleep.
Gluten is a glue. It binds elements together and is therefore very difficult for the digestive system to breakdown.
Another thing to remember is that wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago, with the advance of agriculture. We survived without it before then. Dr Stefano Guandalini, Founder and Medical Director, University of Chicago Celiac Disease Centre writes:
'For the previous 250,000 years, man had evolved without having this very strange protein in his gut. And as a result, this is a really strange, different protein which the human intestine cannot fully digest.
Many people did not adapt to these great environmental changes, so some adverse effects related to gluten ingestion developed around that time.'
We all know that people with celiac disease HAVE TO remove gluten from their diets as it dramatically damages the gut lining. Now medical experts largely agree that there is a condition related to gluten other than celiac.
In 2011 a panel of celiac disease experts convened in Oslo and settled on a medical term for this malady: non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In other words: people who are reacting to gluten without being celiac.
People with celiac disease have one or two genetic mutations that means when pieces of gliadin course through the gut it causes the immune system to attack the walls of the intestine in a case of mistaken identity. That, in turn, causes fingerlike structures called villi, that are responsible for absorbing nutrients on the inside of the intestines, to atrophy. This means the intestines can become leaky and cause havoc.
Many of my clients do not have celiac disease but when we put them on a gluten free diet they see the benefits and their energy goes through the roof!
How do you know if gluten is affecting you?
Some of the symptoms that might be a clue that gluten could be affecting you are:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption e.g. low iron levels
- Gastro-intestinal problems (bloating, pain,gas, constipation, diarrhoea)
- Fatigue – especially after eating
- Aching joints
- Head achesExhaustion
How can you follow a gluten free diet?
Bread and pasta are the most commonly known wheat and gluten products but when following a gluten free diet it is important to remember that gluten is found in most biscuits, cakes,cereals, sausages, pies and surprisingly a lot of sauces.
Fortunately, all food products have to disclose the exact content of their ingredients no matter how small the amount contained within it. Therefore by checking the label you can assure yourself you are avoiding even the tiniest amount of gluten.
Embarking on a gluten free diet may seem like a daunting venture, however with a little preparation, and the abundance of gluten free alternative products available on the market, the change can be truly achievable and hopefully beneficial.
Foods to eat
All rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, gluten free oats, amaranth, cornflour, all legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans etc and soya foods (tofu, edamame)
Foods to avoid
Bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, bulgar wheat, couscous, egg noodles, rye, spelt, durum flour, kamut, semolina and polenta.
Great alternatives are quinoa bread, rice bread, chickpea pasta, rice pasta, corn pasta, rice cakes, rice noodles, shop bought or homemade gluten free cakes and biscuits.
Most supermarkets have a free from section within them which contain lots of gluten free products including, breads, biscuits, pasta’s, and pizza bases.
Also most health food shops contain a wide variety of gluten free products.