Gluten is a mix of two proteins found in grains, especially wheat, and it is what makes the texture of dough so elastic.
In recent times, many people have been opting for gluten free food diets. Is this just a fad or are there benefits to cutting it from your diet?
There are some illnesses where you simply must avoid gluten, the most common of these being celiac disease.
The Celiac Disease Foundation explains it as ‘…an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine₁.’
It is thought around 1 in 100 people suffer from the disease but as it can be hard to diagnose many think the rate may be much higher.
There are a lot symptoms including many digestive problems like diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.
You can also get muscle cramps, joint and bone pain, anaemia and even a sever skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.
These nasty symptoms mean that a gluten free diet is essential for anyone suffering from the disease.
You can still suffer when eating foods with gluten without having celiac disease
You may have gluten sensitivity, which is less well known even though it is more common.
Although in most cases less severe than celiac disease it can produce many of the same symptoms and is also hard to diagnose. Again, the answer is a gluten free food diet.
If you do not suffer with these illnesses then gluten is fine, right? Not necessarily.
Many people believe it can lead to health problems.
The thick, doughy nature of gluten products means they can ‘stick’ to your insides and cause constipation.
Gluten contains ‘phytates’ that can bind the minerals you have comsumed in other food. This binding can stop your body absorbing these important minerals and can therefore, long term, lead to mineral deficiencies.
Gluten contains Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) that when comsumed to excess, can lead to vitamin D deficiency which then leads to a weak immune system and bones.
Also, worryingly, there have been case studies that suggest that gluten can support the formation of cancer cells.
It can hinder your body’s ability to absorb minerals and weaken your defences when it comes to fighting cancer cells.
Medical professionals say there is no connection between gluten and cancer but with case studies suggesting otherwise more research definitely needs to be done.
Have you ever had a real craving for bread?
I do not want to alarm you but you may well be addicted!
The opioid peptides found in wheat have been known to cause addiction.
This is why, if you have a gluten heavy diet, you can get cravings for foods such as bread.
You are actually having opioid peptide withdrawal symptoms. Any foodstuff that has been proved to have the ability to cause a physical addiction is probably one best avoided!
So, what are the benefits of a gluten free foods?
Firstly, there is of course, the avoidance of all the issues mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
On top of this it can increase energy levels, promote good digestive health and improve your cholesterol.
The biggest benefit is that when you choose to go gluten free there are foods that will automatically be cut from your diet.
All fried foods, French fries, cakes, pies, candy etc. will all be gone from your diet and as they are pretty much all high in fat or sugar (or both!) cutting them out can only be a good thing. There are plenty of gluten free recipes online.
Most processed foods contain lots of gluten and cutting these out will mean avoiding all the chemicals and artificial flavours they contain.
Eliminating these products can help you lose weight as you will be cutting out a lot of fat and sugar.
If you go gluten free just to lose weight, be aware that a gluten free doesn’t mean calorie free.
A gluten free cupcake or cookie will still have the same amount of calories so the system isn’t fool proof!
These days there are a large amount of gluten free products on the market
You can now get gluten free bread, pasta, cereals, cookies and crackers to name but a few.
For those of you who like the odd tipple there is even gluten free beer available.
Surprisingly, there are also gluten free versions of non food products.
You can now buy gluten free make up and beauty products, shampoos and sunscreens ₂.
These can be really useful for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity as the alternatives can really irritate the skin or make them feel unwell.
However, if you are going gluten free for other reasons there will feel no real benefit using these instead of the alternatives.
The rise in fame of gluten free diets is down to two things
The first is the number of people being diagnosed with diseases such as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Although difficult, the rate of people being diagnosed is on the increase.
With more people needing gluten free options as opposed to just wanting them, brands have worked hard to put their gluten free products more into the mainstream.
There are also now a lot more companies selling exclusively gluten free products
The other reason is its popularity amongst the rich and famous. Chelsea Clinton famously had a completely gluten free wedding cake and other stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Victoria Beckham are all said to be big fans.
Some, such as Elisabeth Hasselbank₃, have even produced books on the topic, conveying the idea to the masses in an even bigger way.
Celebrities are always promoting some sort of food fad diet which is soon forgotten about but the gluten free food diet is different.
It is not some scheme claiming a quick fix to weight loss as so many of the fad diets do.
Instead it is a way of giving your body the things it needs whilst promoting long term health benefits.
Whether choosing it due to health reasons or as a lifestyle choice, the amount of people championing it after successfully trying it themselves means it looks like the gluten free food is here to stay.