Gluten is the subject of much debate in the health world. There are so many different perspectives on gluten and whether it is harmful to our health that it can be confusing to know what advice to follow. Knowing all the facts about foods helps you make healthier choices, so I have put together an article all about gluten to help you understand how gluten works and why some people find a gluten free diet benefits their health and wellbeing.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the collective name for the group of proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Most of our gluten intake comes from wheat and wheat based products such as bread, pasta and baked goods, but gluten is present in many other foods, for example sauces, salad dressings and soups. Flour is often used to thicken sauces due to the fact that when it is mixed with liquid, the gluten proteins form a glue-like, sticky substance which binds together other ingredients and changes the consistency. The gluten proteins present in wheat flour give bread dough its elasticity, helping it to keep its shape as it rises.
Gluten and Coeliac Disease
People may choose to follow a gluten free diet for a number of reasons. For those with coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy, gluten can make them seriously ill. Coeliac disease is an extreme sensitivity to gluten which affects about 1% of the UK population. When gluten proteins reach the small intestine, the immune system treats the gluten proteins as a threat to the body, and attacks both the gluten itself and the tissues of the digestive system. This reaction can lead to damage to the intestinal wall, which in turn can cause malnutrition, digestive problems, and an increased risk of other diseases. Symptoms of coeliac disease can be managed and the risk of long term complications lowered by following a gluten free diet.
Reducing Gluten Intake Can Reduce IBS Symptoms
Many people who do not suffer from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance still choose to follow a gluten free diet. Researchers have identified a condition called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), where gluten either causes or aggravates digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and manifests itself with symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. After cutting out gluten from their diet, many people notice an improvement in their symptoms.
The Downside to a Gluten Free Diet
Unless you are suffering from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, there is no need to completely eliminate gluten from your diet. Most of us can enjoy foods containing gluten in moderation as part of a balanced diet without any symptoms or adverse reactions. Reducing gluten intake might mean you miss out on foods containing whole grains, which have been proven to lower your risk of heart disease. Foods such as wholemeal bread contain whole grains and dietary fibre, which is beneficial to your digestive health.
A gluten free diet can help alleviate symptoms of IBS, coeliac disease and other digestive problems, but it is not suitable for everyone. Gluten is only harmful to sufferers of these disorders, so for most people, eating foods containing gluten in moderation will not cause problems.
As a qualified naturopath and hypnotherapist, I can help you manage digestive disorders and other health issues through diet and lifestyle changes. If you would like further information about gluten or to book a consultation, please contact me.