Do you really need to go gluten free?
Gluten. The once harmless protein found in wheat and other grains has now become a word synonymous with dirty, unclean, or fattening foods. But why are we making gluten our new dietary enemy - and is it necessary?
Bread, cakes, Easter eggs, chicken nuggets: the global gluten free foods market is estimated to reach a whopping 7.59 billion USD by 2020, growing the fastest in Europe. We have restaurants where no gluten is allowed through the doors. You can even go on a gluten free holiday.
Once, these gluten-less foods were a necessity for the 1-in-100 people with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder that virtually destroys the intestinal tract when gluten is present. The disease leads to malabsorption of nutrients, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, infertility and even cancers. Sometimes, cutting out gluten doesn’t stop the problems for people with coeliac disease: between two to five per cent of coeliacs have refractory coeliac disease, where the gut is so damaged by gluten that it no longer responds to gluten free diet alone.
But humans have been consuming gluten for hundreds of years. It’s made up of two protein groups - gliadin and glutenin, which come together when flour and water are combined to make a sticky dough. Now, however, a GF diet has become a “healthy” lifestyle choice for many - to lose weight, reduce fatigue and bloating, and even cure autism - based on very little evidence and a tonne of media coverage.
Medical professor at Harvard, Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, advises against a gluten free diet if you’re not coeliac or intolerant. He says: “People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive.”
5 stages to going gluten free properly:
1. Book an appointment with your GP. Tell them your symptoms and request a blood test. They will check the severity of your antibodies when gluten is present. If there is an indication that these are raised, your doctor will book you in for an endoscopy to examine your intestinal tract.
2. Do not stop eating gluten until you have had tests. Cutting out gluten means that, if you really do have an intolerance or coeliac disease, it will not be detected on your medical tests.
3. If you’re diagnosed medically, do your research. Learn which foods you can and can’t eat - not just breads, pasta and pizza, but any hidden sources of gluten that are found in everything from stock cubes to lipstick.
4. Create a gluten free environment. Gluten is sticky - which means any pots, pans and baking trays that you’ve cooked or baked with in the past need replacing with fresh ones. Make sure your gluten free kitchenware is cleaned with a separate scourer, unless you have a dishwasher.
5. Talk to your family, friends, housemates and colleagues. As discussed, people are confused about gluten - and your intolerance or disease can get mixed up in the health fad. Inform them that your food needs to be kept away from theirs to avoid cross-contamination - no using your butter for gluten-filled toast, or using the same drainer for your GF pasta and normal pasta. Even the smallest crumb can cause a reaction in a coeliac.