The “Gluten Free” Revolution: Is going gluten free all it’s cracked up to be?
Our resident Nutritionist and GoodnessMe Box health editor Melissa Fine answers your questions on all things gluten.
What exactly is gluten?
A protein found in barley, rye, oats and wheat (the acronym ‘BROW’ is an easy way to remember this), gluten gives your bread that nice, elastic-like stretch. Triticale
(‘trit-ih-kay-lee’) - a hybrid of wheat and rye, which you’ll often find in mueslis - also contains gluten.
Do I need to cut out gluten?
Only individuals with medically diagnosed coeliac disease have to cut out gluten because they have an autoimmune response to it. Coeliac disease is medically confirmed via a blood test and a biopsy (tissue sample) of the small intestine, however the results will be flawed if you cut out gluten prior to being tested.
What is Coeliac Disease?
In coeliac disease, the tiny finger-like projections (‘villi’) that line the small intestine -which serve to increase its surface area and aid the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream - become flat and undergo inflammation.
If coeliac disease isn’t treated accordingly with a gluten free diet, reduced nutrient absorption, and over time, severe nutrient deficiencies and their related diseases can occur, such as osteoporosis - brittle bones due to low bone mineral density from a prolonged calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
More immediate signs and symptoms of coeliac disease can be gastrointestinal - such as bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea and nausea. Other signs and symptoms include fatigue, weight loss and in children, failure to thrive (poor growth). Some individuals with coeliac disease however may be without symptoms – Regardless, gluten still needs to be excluded from their diet.
How come I feel better on a gluten free diet if I’m not a coeliac?
‘Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ refers to symptoms that appear to improve when an individual without coeliac disease goes off gluten – such as bloating and lethargy.
It might however be other components in gluten-containing grains that are causing your digestive symptoms, such as the fermentable carbohydrate (AKA ‘FODMAP’) content in wheat, barley, oats and rye; This can cause abdominal distension and pain, wind, nausea, diarrhoea and/or constipation, all of which can contribute to sluggishness and a low mood.
Are all gluten free products healthy?
Unfortunately no, despite that most gluten free products at the supermarket are in the health food aisle.
Clever marketing tricks many of us into thinking a product labelled ‘gluten free’ is good for us, but if you look at packaged gluten free breads and baked goods for instance, they’re often loaded with highly processed thickeners such as inulin and xantham gum - both of which can upset your stomach - as well as refined flours like potato starch, white rice flour and tapioca, which have minimal nutritional benefit, lacking the B vitamins and fibre of gluten-containing and non-gluten-containing whole grains.
Homemade gluten free breads and baked goods or good quality gluten free bread from health food stores are better options, made with nutrient-dense ingredients like brown rice flour, quinoa flour or almond meal.
Looking for a wholesome gluten free cereal?
Skip the ones loaded with high GI flaked corn and refined cane sugar (AKA ‘evaporated cane juice’) and go for Food for Health’s Gluten Free Muesli instead…With wholesome ingredients like buckwheat (a pseudo-grain which is gluten free despite its name), fibre-rich rice bran and protein-packed amaranth (an ancient grain), this gets my tick of approval. It also gives you some good fats from the linseed, pepita and sunflower seed content, and a touch of natural sweetness from dried cranberries, apple and honey…Finally a gluten free muesli that doesn’t taste like cardboard!
Food for Health Gluten Free Muesli is gluten free, dairy free with no artifical sweeteners or added cane sugar. To find out more visit www.foodforhealth.com.au