Many people are making the switch to gluten free, but is it really necessary?
In recent years, going gluten free has become the scapegoat for all sorts of health woes including increased bloating, abdominal cramps, weight gain and fatigue.
Gluten is a type of protein most often found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. While giving up gluten is medically necessary for the one in 100 Australians affected by celiac disease, for the majority of the population it causes no issues.
But with as many as 1.8 million Australians actively avoiding wheat (according to a CSIRO survey), it’s worth understanding the benefits and pitfalls of going gluten free.
EASE TUMMY TROUBLES
If you have a feeling gluten is aggravating your gut, it’s important to get it investigated by your doctor (rather than self-diagnose). Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhoea or constipation, fatigue, and iron deficiency and require a small bowel biopsy for proper diagnosis. To manage the condition, a lifelong gluten free diet is prescribed, which will help relieve symptoms as the intestines heal over time.
Going gluten free can also help those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Wheat, rye and barley contain FODMAPS, which are a group of fermentable sugars that are poorly absorbed in some people with IBS. Because gluten free foods are based on rice, potato, corn and buckwheat, which are low in FODMAPs, many people feel their symptoms improve.
EAT LESS PROCESSED FOODS
Cutting out gluten may mean you eliminate many processed foods like chips, biscuits and cakes that are high in refined starches, fat, sugar and kilojoules. By removing these foods and focusing on wholefoods, your health will instantly improve. Vegetables, fruit, nuts and wholegrains like quinoa and buckwheat, as well as leaner sources of proteins are all naturally gluten free and should form the base of every diet.
DISCOVER NEW GRAINS
Wheat makes up a huge component of many people’s diet. Think a bowl of cereal fro breakfast, sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner. Going gluten free means you can try other wholegrain alternatives like brown and wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, teff and sorghum. Each provides a unique set of vitamins and minerals, as well as different flavours. Experiment with buckwheat cooked in almond milk for breakfast, a wild rice salad, or quinoa as a replacement for cracked wheat in tabouli.
IT’S NOT NECESSARILY HEALTHY
Whether buying gluten free or not, it’s important to be a label detective at the supermarket. Many products labelled gluten free are lower in fibre and vitamins and higher in sugar, fat and emulsifiers to create a similar ‘mouth feel’. For example, gluten free bread is usually made with refined starches that are low in fibre and can have a high GI. This means your midday sandwich will be quickly digested, leaving you hungry instead of satisfied like wholegrain bread would.
Don’t be deceived by foods that are naturally gluten free like potato crisps, ice cream and chocolate. And even if the cookies and cake mixes are free of gluten, it doesn’t mean they are any healthier – they are still high in kilojoules, fat and sugar.
IT’S MORE EXPENSIVE
Gluten free foods can come with a hefty price tag. A recent Australian study shows that families may be paying 17% more for a gluten free diet with some items being 500% more expensive than regular gluten-containing products. For those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease the cost is unavoidable, but can be subsidised by eating naturally gluten free foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and alternative whole grains.
HAVE YOU DECIDED TO GO GLUTEN FREE?