Thinking of ditching Gluten? Have a chew on this first

“I’ve lost so much weight since cutting out gluten, i feel less bloated, have more energy and a clearer mind, cutting it out was the best thing i’ve ever done” sound familiar? Of course it does, we’re so used to hearing this from so many different outlets including the media, family & friends and so called health guru’s, that we can be forgiven for thinking that maybe gluten IS the problem after all. Maybe it does make us fat, maybe it is why we’re feeling sluggish and maybe it is the reason we’re always feeling bloated, so what’s the real deal with Gluten, is it really the devil or is there more to it, this article looks to clear up the confusion which surrounds Gluten.

So what is Gluten? For something that gets such a poor rep it is a fairly innocuous substance. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and with these being staples of the western diet, it makes its way into a variety of products. These food types are often starchy carbohydrates such as bread and pasta but it can be hidden in more surprising foods such as processed meats, crisps and even in your salad dressing. As a proxy of gluten’s reputation, these foods then get tarred with the same brush and cutting out bread and pasta from the diet is seen as a healthy dietary change. But is it really as bad as all that? And do making these changes have the benefits that instagram celebrities would have you believe?

For approximately 1% of the population, removing Gluten completely from the diet will absolutely have a very significant and instant improvement in well being, that is because those people suffer from a genetically predisposed disease, known as Coeliac’s Disease (CD). Those who suffer from this disease experience an immune response after eating gluten containing foods, which leads to inflammation in the small intestine along with other symptoms, such as joint pain, skin rash, Diarrhea, abdominal pain, malabsorption of other nutrients and even fatigue. It is estimated that only 0.2%-0.3% of people who have CD know they have it, but around 1% suffer from it, just not to the point where it’s bad enough they seek out the diagnosis and treatment. But what about the rest of the people who are suffering, surely they must just be ‘Gluten Intolerant’ then i hear you ask? Well, it’s really not that simple either.

There are now 3 conditions which recognise Gluten or gluten containing foods, as an effector. Coeliac’s Disease, Non Coeliac’s Wheat Sensitivity and Gluten Intolerance. As with CD the chances of having one of the other conditions is around 1 in 100, but as only around 1 in 10,000 are actually diagnosed, these numbers are more of an estimate. Gluten intolerance and Wheat sensitivity share a lot of crossover symptoms to Coeliac disease but you will not test positive for the condition and unfortunately, diagnosing a specific food intolerance can be tricky as symptoms between foods are often similar. This can create issues when a person has a set of symptoms which fit with those of Gluten Intolerance, so they decide to cut it out of their diet. Cutting out a large groups of foods because it is trendy, or because you read it online, or because someone in your office has done so as well is not good practice. Without diagnosis it could be ineffective anyway as it may not be the root of the issue. A lot of gluten containing foods are health promoting with links to reducing heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Just because some people are allergic to peanuts, doesn’t mean the whole population should cut them out for health reasons. So where has this vendetta against Gluten specifically come from?

Namely 2 books began the wholesale demonisation of Gluten, of which the media and many a wannabe guru jumped fully in and backed with both feet. The books in question?  ‘Grain Brain - by Dr. David Perlmutter’ and ‘Wheat Belly - by Dr. William Davis’. Notice they’re both written by Doctors, Perlmutter a Neurologist and Davis a Cardiologist, neither of whom is qualified in nutrition and both have questionable reasons for pushing such dogmatic nutritional stances, and yet they have played a key part in the boom a now billion £ retail market as well as both personally profiting from it hugely too through various revenue streams. The role of the media in this is the same as with any sensational nutrition discovery, they jump all over it without researching the facts or consulting the real experts and with this comes the secondary wave; those who the issues resonate with and are seeking validation for the way their current diet makes them feel as well as those who want to be influencers in a ‘who can shout loudest’ market of health and fitness. Sadly the echo chamber grows and the truth becomes almost insignificant along the way, coupled with the fact we live in a society where the media and influencers rarely, if ever say ‘i got it wrong’ especially when it comes to health, added to this, if you’ve cut Gluten containing foods from your diet, specifically one’s such as bread filled with processed meats, pizza’s and pasta dishes, what you’ve likely replaced them with is what is in fact making you feel and function better.

If you’ve made the decision to alter your diet for health reasons, what this has likely done is cause you to be more engaged and more conscious in what you are eating. This is always a beneficial change, eating more lean meats, more fruit and veg, more pulses and beans, less processed foods, less salty and sweet goods and possibly drinking more water are all healthy practices. But in the same breath if this is done in conjunction with cutting out Gluten, what is it that’s actually making you feel better? Is it a healthier diet richer in nutrient dense foods? Almost certainly. Has cutting Gluten at the same time contributed? Without proper medical input and recorded or prescribed diets it’s not going to be easy to say. It is this kind of misinterpretation of health that is being exploited by online gurus. I’m sure you do feel better when following recipes from Clean Eating Alice (now ‘Alice Living’), or Deliciously Ella who capitalize on the Gluten Free movement, but like mentioned before, is this because of the lack of Gluten or because the food is rich in nutrients? For 99 in 100 it’s the latter. So what is the real solution here?

Don’t hang the blame on one food type unless you are given a reason to from a qualified professional. Linda who sits across the desk from you might have been told to cut out gluten, and it worked, but who’s to say that is the cause of anyone else’s issue? Or that there even is one cause? Eating processed meats, fast food, high fat/salt diets with not a great deal of fruit and veg will cause anyone to have a less than optimal intestinal tract. If you make a switch to a healthier diet, do so without intentionally cutting out a specific food group. For 99 in 100 people this will likely clear up problems you are having. For that 1 person, the problems may persist and then it is time to seek further clarification.

So the weight some people lose when cutting out gluten, the lack of feeling bloated and the increase in energy is almost always down to the overall improvement in the diet. Rarely will one food or specific ingredient be the cause of health issues or weight gain for the majority of people. There’s also the issue of the ‘free from’ foods which are plastered with the fact they do not contain gluten, but forget to acknowledge they contain higher calories than their gluten containing counterparts.

“I’ve lost so much weight since cutting out gluten, i feel less bloated, have more energy and a clearer mind, cutting it out was the best thing i’ve ever done”

Suddenly with a bit more clarity, the term ‘cutting out Gluten’ should really read ‘Making positive changes to my diet’. Gluten is not your enemy. And by cutting it out for the wrong reasons can  mean you missing out on health promoting food groups, and unnecessary expense on ‘free from’ foods which are often not only more calorie dense, but rarely taste as nice! Don’t put the blame on one food group because it’s easy to find a scapegoat for your dietary issues. Change your bad habits, eat your greens and fruit, drink plenty of water. For 99% of people, this will benefit you more than you think. If you continue to have symptoms, book in with the Dietitian or Nutritionist at Nourish. *shades on emoji*