Last week whilst looking for peanut butter in my local supermarket, imagine my surprise when I found the whole section had been replaced with shelves upon shelves of gluten free produce.
Once confined exclusively to health shops, gluten free products have steadily increased in popularity, with many restaurants also offering gluten-free dishes. This is great news for those suffering with coeliac disease, (also spelled celiac), wheat or gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten intolerance but what about the people that adopt a gluten free diet in the hope that it will help them lose weight, stop bloating, boost energy and feel healthier? Does it actually make a difference?
What is gluten?
Gluten is the name for the proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. When flour and water are mixed together, the two main proteins that form gluten (gliadin and glutenin) form a glue like consistency. This is what causes bread to rise and what creates the elastic texture in dough.
Why is it harmful to people with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance?
For people who suffer from coeliac disease, their body considers gluten a foreign invader and launches an attack on the small intestine when it is consumed in order to try and break it down. This is why it is considered an auto-immune disorder. This attack can lead to damage of the small intestine and can stop the absorption of vital nutrients.
What are the benefits of a gluten free diet?
For people who suffer from any of the aforementioned conditions, adopting a gluten free diet can be critical in order to lead a healthy, pain-free lifestyle. But with the Mayo Clinic estimating that 80% of Americans following a gluten free diet have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease, what's so beneficial about following it if not required for health reasons?
The science is pretty vague on the subject and scientists agree that more research needs to be done in order to establish the effect of gluten on a "healthy" body.
If you think you may be gluten intolerant, the first step is to go and see your doctor who will probably suggest you keep a food diary in order to establish any patterns between the type of food you eat and the effect it has on your body. In the meantime you can also experiment with eliminating food groups in your diet, after all, many naturally gluten free products such as vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds quinoa and buckwheat, are all highly nutritious and a great addition to any diet.
What's the most important takeaway here is to avoid the temptation of jumping on the bandwagon because it's fashionable right now to go gluten-free. Giving up gluten is not a fast track ticket to weight loss. Some gluten free alternatives can in fact be higher in fat, sugar and calories to make up for the lack of gluten - they are also very expensive so be prepared to feel your purse or wallet get a little lighter!
Leading a gluten free life is also incredibly restrictive and encompasses much more than simply removing traditional bread, pasta, pizza and cereal from your diet. Gluten can also be found in certain medications, toothpastes, vitamin supplements, stock cubes and soy sauce, so be ready to commit yourself to a big upheaval of your diet and lifestyle.
If you know of any scientific research that supports or disputes the elimination of gluten in your diet then let us know!