An interest in gluten-free diets has been continually growing in recent years. Many health-conscious people have started removing foods containing gluten for their diets. But what are gluten's functions? Why do people avoid it? How do you know if gluten is giving you problems? Have all these questions answered by our comprehensive guide below:
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the name assigned to a group of proteins found in many grains such as wheat, kamut, spelt, barley, rye and oats. Gluten is commonly used by manufacturers to add volume and elasticity to food. It’s very hard to avoid the gluten due to its dominating presence in many processed foods including pizzas, cakes, biscuits, rolls and bread products.
Some packaged foods such as ready meals and soups use ‘fillers’ like wheat flour which means it contains gluten too.
So Why Do People Try To Avoid Gluten?
Many suffer from gluten allergies, otherwise known as coeliac disease. To those suffering, gluten is harmful to the lining of the gut causing inflammation, decay and damage to cells. With this comes many digestive complications.
However, there has recently been an incredible rise in incidents of gluten ‘intolerance’ or sensitivity according to health professionals. This refers to gluten’s role in contributing to health and gut problems to those without a full allergy diagnosed. These latest findings has coined a new term in the medical world, ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ (NCGS) is now recognised, and has pawned many scientific studies, reviews and papers on the matter.
Food manufacturers have considered these new findings too with many offering up ‘gluten-free’ foods, however it is to be noted that these alternatives may not always be healthy, and can too be processed with additional preservatives and sugars.
Gluten Sensitivity and Related Conditions
In the beginnings of research, nutritionists, health professionals and doctors have duly noted that patients don’t necessarily have to be suffering from coeliac disease to experience serious complications and health problems and gluten. Undiagnosed gluten allergies and sensitivity is also linked with various common health diseases and disorders. Including irritable bowel disease, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, anaemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases.
Gluten has also been linked to psychological and neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, migraines, neuropathy and epilepsy.
So, Why Has Gluten Become So Problematic?
Here are a few likely reasons:
- Changes in gluten and protein structure as a result of hybridisation
- The volume of presence of grain-based foods in modern diets
- The increase of gluten in many common and everyday foods, it is commonly used to improve baking quality of foods
- Genetic adaptation to grasses, grains and in particular wheat
How to know if gluten is causing you problems
To fully test whether gluten, or indeed any food, has a negative impact on your health, you must remove it from the diet to assess any improvements which may surface. Allergy tests can also help, and has recently developed a way of unravelling any gluten sensitivity too.
Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms:
- Foggy thinking or “brain fog”
- Headaches or migraine
- Poor digestion or digestive complaints – bloating, wind, pain, constipation or diarrhoea
- Fatigue or chronic low energy
- Joint and muscle pain
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
- Skin rashes
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
How to remove gluten fully from your diet
Although gluten isn’t the easiest thing to take out of the diet, it is a relatively simple procedure and achievable.
- Make a list of all foods you consume which contains gluten. These will mainly consist of wheat-based foods you eat.
- Decide between reducing your intake gradually or immediately; a gradual change may come about by slowly shifting breakfast, then lunch and dinner one at a time into gluten-free territory.
- When making a dietary change as steep as this, it’s incredibly important to monitor the foods you’re consuming, your weight and energy levels. The key is to give your body time to adjust to the diet. From here on, you will be able to build a list of recipes you can stick too and continue to consume.
- Try to eat naturally gluten-free foods rather than consuming ‘gluten-free’ processed foods. This involves cooking foods such as wild rice, red camargue rice, wholegrain rice, quinoa, amaranth and millet from scratch. Fresh fruit and veg is the key to any good and successful diet.
- If you enjoy dining out then check out the gluten-free guide to eating out here.