What is Gluten?
Do you follow a gluten free diet? If you ask the majority of the population what gluten is, they usually don’t have an accurate answer. If you asked someone with coeliac disease, you would get the correct answer because their life and health depends on knowing every little crumb of knowledge regarding what food or even cosmetics contain it!
Following a gluten free diet has become incredibly popularised, but the majority of these people on a gluten free diet don’t even understand what gluten is, because they are avoiding gluten due to misinformation, media over-kill and because it’s been hyped up as the new ‘health conscious’ diet. As a naturopath it is always interesting how advertising can manipulate people into buying into the latest celebrity diets, weight loss pills, super foods & anything promising better health! In the last couple of years there has been huge popularity in following a gluten free diet. The problem with health diets, is that everyone gets on the bandwagon because they know someone who knew someone that lost weight or felt better, but nobody really understands why they are eliminating gluten, or even what it is! And too often the wrong message is being portrayed in the media, most people claiming they are cutting out gluten to achieve weight loss!
So what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat. It’s a sticky substance that holds ingredients together, and mostly found in foods like bread, pasta, pizza, crackers, cereal and hidden in foods like salad dressings and processed meats. It is a component of gluten called gliadin that creates damage in the gut in those with coeliac disease. What’s really interesting though is this mostly indigestible gliadin protein has also been shown to cause increased permeability in the gut (leaky gut), even in those who don’t have coeliac disease. Increased gut permeability can lead to a host of other problems such as auto-immune disease. Click here for more information.
There are also people who have a sensitivity to gluten, known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This is neither an autoimmune or allergic reaction, but causes similar symptoms to those seen in coeliac disease when gluten is consumed. To understand the complexities of NCGS refer to this previous blog: Part 2
What is a gluten free diet?
The majority of western society consumes way too much processed food and simple sugars. Australia has the most morbidly obese population in the world because our diets are heavily based on processed and packaged foods. By reducing refined grains, processed food and simple sugars, you are emphasising a diet that is rich in vegetables, legumes, protein and nutrient dense good fats & oils and antioxidants from fruits, nuts & seeds. This is the REAL FOOD diet that is beneficial for your health because you are eliminating all the junk. The gluten free diet has been blown out in media and society as a new health trend, making people believe that gluten is the evil culprit and we must all eliminate it. Yes, gluten can have damaging effects for some people, but the real issue isn’t gluten, it is the overabundance of unrefined and processed junk that the rest of us are eating. We have forgotten about eating REAL FOOD. This is why there is a lot of confusion as to why so many people are now gluten free.
Why you should be calling your gluten free diet a REAL FOOD diet
My partner is a chef and over the past couple of years he has noticed a dramatic increase of customers claiming they are gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive, gluten reactive etc. When in fact the majority of these people are choosing to eliminate these foods as they believe it is a healthier option and they generally feel better not eating it.
Restaurants and supermarkets have caught onto this ‘gluten free’ trend and have numerous options available now for these ‘health conscious’ consumers, but it does draw a thin line between how healthy these gluten free options are and also how seriously we are treating those who are allergic to gluten. If 100 people dining in a restaurant claim they are gluten intolerant, statistically only 1-2 of those patrons might have coeliac disease. You can see why there is a lot of scepticism surrounding the gluten free demands and why chefs think it’s all a hype!
For those that genuinely do have a gluten allergy- coeliac disease or NCGS, they are being ‘ridiculed’ simply because too many others are claiming they are reactive. The problem is the name of the diet, gluten free. For the health conscious person who’s decided they’ll cut out gluten for health benefits, it is more appropriate to call their new diet a REAL FOOD diet, because they are removing all processed grains and limiting the amount of preservatives and artificial ingredients.
Unfortunately, people are confused because what I see most often when people start a gluten free diet, is people turning to food with the “gluten free” label. And this is the annoying gripe that any naturopath would agree, is not what we were indicating when we recommended you to reduce wheat, bread, pasta and JUNK foods. We weren’t recommending a gluten free diet, as this is not a REAL FOOD diet!
Foods labeled “gluten free” make millions claiming to be “healthy foods”, but the truth is, they’re probably worse for you than their gluten alternatives! If you read the ingredients list on some of these foods you will find they are heavily processed and contain chemical additives and artificial ingredients that are damaging to your health.
A diet rich in pre-packaged, processed, sugary ‘gluten free’ foods can be more detrimental to your health, unless you are allergic to gluten. These foods are available as an ‘alternative’ option to gluten sufferers, NOT to be confused as a ‘healthier’ option to be eaten excessively.
If you have started a gluten free diet as a ‘healthy diet,’ and turned to these gluten free packaged foods as your main staple, chances are you haven’t noticed a significant difference in your health. It is important to remember that any diet you are enrolled in needs to be well balanced, nourishing and principally healing for the body and soul. An important philosophy any naturopath follows is Hippocrates oath – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.”
If you have been told to follow a gluten free diet, firstly question the reasons why?
- Do you have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten? If the answer is YES, you need to strictly follow a gluten free diet, with an emphasis on the majority of your food being REAL FOOD. If the answer is NO then you don’t need to be on a gluten free diet, you need to be calling your diet – THE REAL FOOD DIET!
- Do you have digestive issues such as leaky gut, candida, ulcerative colitis etc. If the answer is YES then you should be calling your diet – THE REAL FOOD DIET! If the answer is NO, then you should be calling your diet – THE REAL FOOD DIET! A REAL FOOD diet will reduce the intake of the foods that naturally contain gluten.
Regardless of your reasons, it should be clear that a gluten free diet is for those that have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten. Consuming gluten will make these people sick, therefore they need to follow a gluten free diet, using ‘alternative’ grains and flours in their diet. A REAL FOOD diet is for everyone else eliminating processed foods, refined grains, simple sugars and artificial JUNK! You will make positive shifts in health and wellbeing by increasing high vitality nutrients back into your diet, but the most important thing to keep in mind is to focus on REAL FOOD…
Attached is a gluten free diet for people who have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten. The document lists which foods are naturally gluten free and which foods contain gluten. There is also gluten free recipes and handy tools to make gluten free eating a breeze for those with coeliac disease.
Click to access the printable PDF