Is gluten free the latest fad diet?
"Gluten free" is certainly a buzz phrase at the moment. It's estimated that just under 2 million people in the United States alone follow a gluten free diet without ever having been diagnosed with celiac disease. But is this diet actually beneficial to our health ?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and tricale (a cross between wheat and rye). It acts like a 'glue' in foods such as cereal, bread and pasta, helping to hold them together. It can also be found in some cosmetics such as lip balm and even in the glue on stamps and envelopes.
Gluten causes illnesses in some individuals who prove to have a gluten intolerance (Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)). It causes symptoms such as gas or bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, 'foggy' brains and itchy skin.
Additionally around 1 in 100-200 people in North America have celiac disease (as many as 300,000 Canadians have the disease whilst many remain undiagnosed.) 30-40% of people have the genetic background to potentially develop celiac disease, but only about 1-3% of people actually do – it’s not clear why but it may have something to do with the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the collection of friendly bacteria that live in your gut. They help to regulate the immune system, control intestinal permeability, digest your food, synthesise nutrients and tell you when you're full.
Celiac disease is a more serious form of gluten intolerance, where gluten triggers an autoimmune response that attacks the lining of the small intestine. This effectively renders the body incapable of absorbing nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamins A, D, E, K and folate into the body. This can lead to anemia, delayed growth and severe weight loss. Left untreated celiac disease can lead to other conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), infertility, osteoporosis, thyroid disease and even some cancers. There is no cure. The only effective treatment for celiac disease is to adopt a strict lifelong gluten free diet.
Should only celiac disease sufferers eat a gluten free diet?
It seems that whilst recent trends have made many consumers restrict their gluten intake, there is limited evidence, outside of celiac disease, that gluten is bad for our health.
Gaynor Bussell, a dietitian and spokesperson for the United Kingdom's Association for Nutrition, stated "Gluten is only bad for health if you are a celiac."
However recent research has revealed that gluten may be playing a role in altered gut function, irritable bowel syndrome, gut microbiome changes and other symptoms, even in non-celiac sufferers.
But some experts still claim following a gluten free diet, without being a celiac sufferer, may actually be detrimental to our health. According to the Mayo Clinic a gluten free diet can lead to lower levels of iron, calcium, fiber, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietitian at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, OH, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, stated: "Gluten is neither essential nor detrimental to one's health or quality of diet."
However, some nutritionists believe that the focus on gluten free diets may also be driving awareness of celiac disease.
"There is the possibility that those who remain unaware of celiac disease fail to appreciate the seriousness of the disease," said Cimperman. "My hope is that people with celiac disease and other knowledgeable individuals will see this as an opportunity to educate."
What's the verdict? Should I adopt a gluten free diet?
It's clear the jury is still out on adopting a gluten free diet for anyone that doesn't have a gluten intolerance.
Cimperman offers a word of advice:
"Any gastrointestinal symptoms, such as chronic or severe abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea should be discussed with a doctor. Your doctor will need to assess for many other conditions that may be causing symptoms. Self-treating may delay proper treatment.
In addition, it is important to continue consuming gluten prior to being tested for celiac disease - following a gluten-free diet prior to being tested may result in a false negative. If you still want to follow a gluten-free diet after celiac disease or any other health problems have been ruled out, talk to a dietitian to make sure your diet contains all the essential nutrients."
However, it's not an option for those suffering from celiac disease or any type of gluten intolerance. They need to avoid any gluten in their diet.
Marcelle's Kitchen's owner John Redman has a daughter with celiac disease and was fed up with the poor tasting gluten free options available. As a result he developed a range of great tasting gluten free products. You can drop in the bakery to buy ready made gluten free goods or order the dry mixes online to bake at home.
Buy Great Tasting Gluten Free Mixes Online Now
With gluten free taste shouldn't be a compromise!