With the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet you may be wondering what’s wrong with gluten and whether you should be avoiding it too. Could cutting it out really improve your energy, boost your mood and help you lose a kilo or two?
What is gluten anyway?
Gluten is a two-part protein made of glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin gives pizza and bread that unique elasticity and springiness, while gliadin seems to act like an opiate on the brain, stimulating appetite and food cravings in those susceptible. Gluten is found not just in wheat, but in other grains such as durum, emmer, spelt, farro, kamut, einkorn, rye and barley. So going gluten-free means forsaking all those wholegrains too – and reading lots of food labels.
Fact or Fad?
It’s become trendy to blame gluten for all that ails you. Just eliminate it and you will be healed. So how did a food as popular and traditional as wheat (our main source of gluten) suddenly become so evil? Much of the negative hype is the result of smart marketing, internet gossip and too much talk from too many people who know too little about nutrition.
Celiac disease versus sensitivity
Celiac disease – an immune reaction to gluten that causes massive damage to the small intestine – is a very real health condition that can cause very real problems. It affects about one percent of the population – and these people need to strictly avoid gluten. Then you have a much larger group of people who are sensitive to gluten (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) and that’s where things get fuzzy. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population has NCGS (some experts think it may be closer to 30%). Increasingly, NCGS is blamed for a variety of adverse health issues including fatigue, abdominal bloating, weight gain and even depression.
There’s more to it
Gluten sensitivity is a very imprecise science and we don’t have all the answers, but what’s clear to me is that I have seen many of my clients’ symptoms improve after reducing or eliminating wheat. I believe there are several reasons for this:
- We’re overexposed to gluten: The wheat used to make bread today has changed. Modern wheat is the result of hybridization – combining different strains to create a product that’s unnaturally high in gluten. It’s the darling of the food industry because it’s perfect for making the soft, white and fluffy bakery goodies that delight so many of us. Gluten is also used in many processed foods as a thickener and to give them a stretchy or chewy quality. It’s a filler. Unfortunately, it’s also very difficult to digest.
- Our daily bread is not the same: Bread is made differently these days. It’s leavened very quickly and yeast is used to do it, rather than classic sourdough fermentation. Research suggests that longer sourdough fermentation breaks down the proteins that are responsible for gluten intolerance. Perhaps we need to start making homemade bread again!
- Poor gut health: Many people have imbalances in their microbiome (gut bacteria) due to poor eating choices, stress and over-reliance on refined and processed foods. This leads to a whole range of problems. Probably it is no coincidence that gluten intolerance is increasing along with rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. Less than optimal digestive health increases the likelihood that our body will react negatively to “foreign” proteins such as wheat hybrids, resulting in inflammation and more digestive distress. It’s processed foods – not whole grains – that tax our digestive system and wipe out the beneficial microbes and enzymes that help us break down wheat.
Beware of commercial gluten-free products
People have been eating gluten-rich grains like wheat and barley for as much as 3.4 million years and there’s plenty of science that supports their many health benefits. Yet we now have a $16 billion gluten-free industry that is promoting more processed foods.
Not only will gluten-free products do you no good if you’re not gluten-sensitive, taking out the offending ingredient requires replacing it with something else for texture or taste. Many gluten-free products therefore have less fiber and protein and more sugar and sodium than their supposedly less healthy counterparts.
If you choose to be gluten free, avoid the commercial gluten free products, at least until you educate yourself on the differences between the various gluten free products on the market.
The decision to go gluten-free shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you feel that gluten or wheat (or any other kind of food) may be triggering pain or any other kind of physical reaction I recommend you book an appointment to see me or visit a gastroenterologist – someone who can help you identify the source of your problem without putting you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. You wouldn’t take antibiotics or insulin without seeing a doctor – take the same precautions before making major changes to your diet.
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114
The Clever Kitchen’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-free)
Everyone who tastes these cookies loves them! The perfect guilt-free soft chewy chocolate chip cookies that are gluten free and vegan and simple to make.
- 2 cups almond meal or almond flour
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil
- 3 tbsp. pure maple syrup
- 1/3 cup cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp Himalayan salt or sea salt
- ¼ tsp Baking powder
- Preheat oven to 170°C
- Mix dry ingredients (except chocolate nibs/chips), then add wet ingredients.
- Add the chocolate nibs/chips to the mix
- Line a cookie sheet with silicone mat or parchment paper. Take 1 tbsp of the mixture, roll into a ball, flatten slightly to make a thick cookie.
- Bake for approximately 10 minutes until golden. Allow to cool.
- They keep well for 5 days – but they won’t last that long!