The truth about gluten

Should you be 'gluten free'?

The popularity of gluten-free diets is exploding and we have seen many diet books published about the effects of gluten on the heart, digestive health and cancers. While there isn’t yet enough scientific evidence to support these claims, it is still worth looking into whether gluten-free is a passing fad or whether more people should be cutting gluten out as part of a healthy diet.
 
The low-down on gluten
 
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Flours made from these grains form the basis of many common carbohydrates including pasta and bread.  Gluten isn’t a nutrient, it’s the stickiness of the grain that binds it together.
 
There are a small percentage of people who need to cut out gluten for medical reasons.  These include people with a food intolerances or coeliac disease, but this is by no means a blanket recommendation for everyone. For most people, avoiding gluten provides no real benefits.
 
At the same time, it is true that more people are being diagnosed with food intolerances and coeliac disease. However, this is mainly due to more awareness rather than increased intolerance among the population.  
 
If you suspect you have a food intolerance or coeliac disease, you should contact your local dietitian or doctor for professional help on treating the issue.
 
Gluten-free doesn’t make it calorie-free
 
A common mistake that is made when cutting out gluten is to give all other food free rein. Often when cutting out gluten, dieters will substitute old comfort foods with more pre-packaged, highly processed cakes, biscuits and pastries – albeit gluten-free!
 
Gluten-free products can often have more calories, preservatives, sugar and fat than their gluten-laden counterparts. Different ingredients are used to replicate the binding action that occurs naturally in gluten to make gluten-free products stick together.  These products are usually lower in fibre because they are made from high fat alternatives like almond meal, coconut flour and rice flour.
 
Cutting out gluten is by no means a magic pill.
 
The verdict on going gluten-free
 
The problem is that when you cut out gluten you are excluding a large majority of healthy grains available to you. Wholegrains that include gluten contain a fantastic array of vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, fibre and iron. Wholewheat, oats, rye, and barley are all high fiber grains that are slow releasing.
 
Gluten-free carbohydrates like potato, rice and corn are all fast releasing, and lower fibre options.  If you need to go gluten-free for medical reasons, try to include low GI whole food alternatives where possible like amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potato or wild rice. Tap into legumes like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and broad beans for sources of high fibre low GI carbs.
 
More importantly, following a gluten-free diet pushes an unnecessary preoccupation on the food you are eating.  Food is meant to be a source of enjoyment and fuel for the body. A normal healthy diet consisting of mainly plants, wholegrains, lean meat and fish proteins will give you all the health benefits you need. You could even say a balanced, wholesome diet is the best thing before sliced bread!

Gabrielle Maston

Gabrielle is a health professional who has a drive for life and loves adventure. She is a sports & clinical dietitian, exercise physiologist and personal trainer. This allows her to decipher fact from fiction in all things nutrition and fitness.

To Gabrielle, health is not only about the science of the human body, it’s also about the mind. Self belief, body love and trying new things will build confidence and ultimately lead to good health. 

If you need help with an individualised plan for sport, health or weight loss, visit her website for more information: www.changingshape.net.au