Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are the opinion of the author alone and are not  representative of the views of any affiliated companies, peoples, products or services.  I am not a medical practitioner; all content should be considered the personal  experiences and/or opinion of the author and not construed as medical advice.  Please consult your personal physician before embarking on a new exercise or nutrition  regime.

The spotlight has been mostly taken by Mental Health Awareness week 2019 with it’s focus on body image (and a huge congratulations and great job to all who took part). Last week (13-19th May) also marked Coeliac UK Awareness week and their focus was on diagnosis. An estimated half a million people are living with the symptoms of celiac disease while being undiagnosed. Why not take a moment to check out their online assessment?

It’s important to wait until after your blood test before removing gluten from your menu if you suspect you may have Coeliac disease as if you are not consuming gluten then the blood test may return a false negative.

There are many rumours and myths surrounding gluten and whether it is healthy for everyone to be on a gluten free diet regardless of medical need.

So what is Gluten anyway?

One of my favourite myths about gluten consumption came from a friend of mine who told me that it was unhealthy for people who weren’t Celiac sufferers to cut out Gluten because it was an essential nutrient for our health.

This gave me some pause for thought as I have cut gluten from my diet without medical advice because I feel so much better without it (although having done the assessment, I’m considering making enquiries as to whether my GP would run the test if I reintroduced Gluten for 6 weeks).

Gluten is a group of proteins found in some grains including Wheat, Rye and Barley.

There is nothing particularly special about the gluten proteins that can’t be found nutritionally elsewhere, although there is some suggestion that they may have probiotic qualities. The special thing about gluten is the way it stretches and becomes chewy in products such as breads and cakes. Gluten in and of itself is not a dietary neccessity.

If there is nothing special about Gluten then why do some people say it’s bad to avoid it?

The reasoning behind this goes back to the foods that contain gluten – the three main grains in western diets – wheat, rye and barley. A study released in 2017 concluded that the avoidance of Gluten may lead to increased risk of heart disease due to lack of consumption of whole grains.

Other concerns around the adoption of a gluten free diet as a trend include the potential lack of fibre and nutrients such as B vitamins if one simply swaps processed gluten products for their gluten free counterparts. The idea that gluten free is “healthier” also makes it more likely that one will over consume the products.

Are there any benefits to going Gluten Free when you’re not a Celiac?

The research is split on this issue, however the most recent study from the University of Copenhagen suggests that there are some benefits for healthy adults eating a very low gluten diet. These benefits include a more diverse gut microbiome, reduced bloating from intestinal fermentation and weight loss. There even appears to be a slight effect on the immune system as there is a reduced release of a pro-inflammatory, inflammasome-related cytokine. So while going gluten free might not directly be anti-inflammatory in nature it can reduce the release of an inflammatory protein that can affect other cells.

There’s also been some research done on non-celiac gluten sensitivity that appears to confirm the presence of a digestive disorder without the auto-immune markers, however this may in fact be a reaction to fructans rather than gluten within gluten products.

So is following the Gluten Free trend bad for me or not?

It all depends on how you do it. For instance I went Gluten Free accidently to begin with when I was following a low carb diet, so I had a lot of variety and fibre coming from vegetables. As research continues to show the impact that a varied diet has on the gut microbiome I think that there is a good argument for swapping out some of the gluten and wheat based products in our menus for minimally processed alternatives.

However while there may well be both nutritional and overall health benefits to swapping your naan bread for a side of dahl, remember that a gluten free cupcake is still just a cupcake.

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