These days, it seems every second person is on a gluten-free diet. More than a trend, it’s become quite mainstream in the past few years. But what is gluten exactly and why doesn’t it sit well with some people? Let’s find out…
Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including spelt), rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). It makes dough more elastic, and helps it to rise and keep its shape. Think of it as a kind of glue that holds food together, and gives it a chewy texture.
Gluten can be found in many common foods – and some are surprising. These are the types of foods that often contain gluten:
There are a couple of reasons. In Australia, about one in 100 people have celiac disease, meaning they’re gluten-intolerant. Their immune systems have an abnormal reaction to breaking down gluten, so eating it causes inflammation in the small intestine and leads to digestive issues (like diarrhoea) and even small bowel damage.
If only a small percentage of people are actually intolerant, why are thousands of people ‘off gluten’?
Well, these people have what is called ‘non celiac gluten sensitivity’. Basically, they don’t feel great after consuming it. They may experience some of the same ill effects that celiacs do, like bloating, fatigue and joint pain, but it doesn’t go so far as to damage their intestines.
While the list above looks huge, there are plenty of natural and commercially made gluten-free products on the market, including breads, baking mixtures, biscuits and muesli bars.
Luckily, there’s an Australian Food Standard for processed foods, so look out for the ‘gluten-free’ tag on ingredient labels, as well as the Crossed Grain endorsement logo.
The gluten-free foods those with sensitivities can enjoy include:
Before you stock up, always read the label, because like GMOs, gluten has a way of sneaking into foods you’d never expect.
Like with any diet, education is key. You know your body better than anyone else ever will. If you suspect you may have an intolerance or sensitivity, get checked out by your GP and steer clear of foods containing gluten. If you’re restricting gluten in an effort to be healthier, just remember to maintain a balanced diet. Many gluten-free foods can be nutritionally deficient, so it’s important to make sure you’re eating well and fuelling your body to perform at its best.
Does gluten affect the way you eat in any way?