‘Gluten-free’ is essential for some and a dietary fad for others. Here are five facts that can help to cut through the hype.
Gluten is formed when the flour from certain grains comes into contact with water. Two of the proteins in flour, gliadin and glutenin, combine to make gluten. There are over forty types of these proteins, which is why avoiding gluten can be a challenge.
Not everyone who reacts to gluten has coeliac disease. It is possible to be allergic to wheat protein, and to suffer after eating gluten but test negative for coeliac disease.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a newly-recognised issue, and research is in its infancy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune reaction, not an allergy. When a sufferer eats gluten, their body reacts by attacking the lining of their small intestine. This causes unpleasant symptoms, which over time can affect the whole body. The condition can start at any age.
The disease is diagnosed by a two-stage test which measures the reaction of the body to gluten. For an accurate result, gluten intake must not be stopped before the test.
If you are neither coeliac nor gluten sensitive, there is no need to go gluten-free. For example, a study over twenty-six years of nearly 100,000 people showed no correlation at all between gluten intake and coronary heart disease.
Going unnecessarily gluten-free can even be detrimental to your health. This is because it means eating fewer wholegrains. These provide good insoluble dietary fibre and do have a positive association with reducing the risk of heart disease.
Vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are all gluten-free when unprocessed. They only become a gluten hazard when grain items are added.
If you think you may have a problem with gluten, take medical advice before taking any action.
I was having stomach issues and was tested for coeliac disease. While waiting I was looking into the practicalities of going really gluten free. I am really glad that the test was negative. When gluten makes you ill, life is quite difficult.
I must admit I do sometimes buy gluten-free bread and pasta and use spelt flour, and I am not coeliac, I just do it to vary the grains after reading we are all eating too much processed wheat. So don't condemn us non-coeliacs too much!
I have a friend who has coeliac disease and gets very ill if she eats gluten. She gets very cross with those who say they are giving it up for health, especally as their main concern seems to be getting gluten free cakes. Not the idea!
A lot of people seem to be going gluten-free for no reason, just because they think it's healthier. So it's good to read that there is no other health benefit to going gluten free unless you are coeliac.