GLUTEN-FREE, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
It’s only fairly recently that we no longer have to make a trip to our nearest health food store (if you had one nearby that is!) to stock up on gluten free products for our pantry and fridge for the week. These days, big chain supermarkets have dedicated aisles for staples proudly labeled ‘gluten free,’ alongside diary alternatives and produce that has been locally sourced from organic farms.
While the research is still developing, a panel of health experts have officially recognised three gluten-related conditions: wheat allergy, celiac disease and gluten intolerance. When we are talking numbers, they have discovered that 1 in 1,000 people have a wheat allergy, 1 in 100 people have celiac disease and the latter, gluten sensitivity, is still unknown. While the research continues to gain medical credibility, we still don’t know how gluten sensitivity works – how much gluten can be tolerated, if it’s reversible or not, or what the long-term complications might be of not sticking to a gluten free diet.
And eliminating gluten from our diet means much more than giving up traditional breads, cereals, pasta, pizza, and beer. Gluten lurks in frozen vegetables, soy sauce (and other sauces), some foods made with “natural flavourings,” vitamin and mineral supplements, some medications, and even toothpaste! This makes following a gluten-free diet extremely challenging.
For people who show signs of sensitivity to gluten, and considering the lack of knowledge currently available, medical professionals recommend reintroducing gluten back into your diet every year to see if it’s still causing problems.
The reason being, for the 98 percent of people who don’t have gluten issues, whole grains (including the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye) are health promoting, and have been linked to reducing risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.
There’s actually no evidence out there to suggest that abiding to a gluten free diet has significant benefits for the general population. In fact, you very well could be causing yourself a lot more harm than good!
A gluten-free diet can also cause havoc to your gut flora, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your intestines. Gluten may also boost immune function. A study showed that after less than a week on added gluten protein, people experienced significantly increased natural killer cell activity, which could improve our body’s ability to fight cancer and viral infections.
If you think you might have celiac disease or a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, it’s best to see a doctor before going gluten free. Once a person has avoided gluten for some time, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine if you are in fact sensitive to gluten.
Also, make dietary choices on behalf of you and only you.