“I always feel so bloated after eating bread… I’m definitely gluten intolerant.”
How many times have you heard someone say this?
Gluten-free seems to have grown in popularity over the past number of years with “going gluten free” being a pretty normal thing to do. But is gluten actually bad for us? Is it true that we’re all gluten intolerant? Or is this just another diet myth?
Firstly, what is gluten?
Gluten is actually a protein. This fibrous protein is made up of glutenin and gliadin and is found in wheat, barley and rye. Oats are naturally gluten free but if they are harvested alongside other grains, they can become cross-contaminated with gluten.
Is it actually bad for us?
For those who suffer with coeliac disease (1% of the population), gluten is very bad. Unfortunately, the word coeliac has been thrown around a lot lately meaning people don’t really take it seriously anymore. Coeliac disease is actually serious. For people with this condition, gluten damage and blunts the villi of the small intestine. Villi are like finger like projections through which we absorb nutrients. So for people who are coeliac, they cannot absorb vitamin and minerals from food, causing weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal bloating, stomach pain and cramping, tiredness, headaches, weight loss, iron/B12/folate deficiencies and skin rashes. If you are regularly experiencing symptoms such as these, it’s important to visit your doctor to rule out coeliac disease or any other serious conditions such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. The only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten free diet for life. Sufferers cannot have any foods containing gluten or foods that have been contaminated with gluten such as bread made in the same toaster as regular bread or chips fried in the same oil as foods with batter as even the smallest traces of gluten can make them react. Unfortunately, the word coeliac has been thrown around a lot lately meaning people don’t really take it seriously anymore.
So what about Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)?
NCGS is different to coeliac disease. Coeliac is an autoimmune disease which can cause serious harm to sufferers if not treated. NCGS is not as harmful, but sufferers can get some pretty bad digestive issues such as bloating, excessive gas and diarrhoea if they have gluten. There is no valid test to confirm any NCGS. The best way to do this is to keep a food diary and follow an elimination diet with a nutrition professional. It’s quite possible that gluten may be causing issues. Wheat is a common grain that contains gluten. Some people find that only wheat causes them issues while things like sourdough, rye and barley are tolerated fine.
So could something else be causing me issues and not gluten?
But it might possibly be something else triggering digestive issues completely unrelated to gluten. This could be something commonly known like broccoli or beans or less likely suspects like onions, garlic or avocado or spicy foods or carbonated beverages, which contain FODMAPS (ie. Carbohydrates which are difficult to digestion). The best way to figure out what your trigger foods are is through a food diary approach.
Why do people feel better after giving it up?
A lot of people report feeling more energetic and weight loss after going gluten free. This might be totally unrelated to gluten though. Removing or reducing intake of a food group like gluten containing foods automatically cuts out a lot of foods. Reducing food choices can directly reduce overall calorie intake, because there’s simply less to choose from! Treat foods like cake, biscuits and sweets also contain gluten making them off limits when going gluten free. These foods can be easy to overconsume and are also high in calories so cutting them out of your diet once again cuts caloric intake.
So yes, it’s totally possible something like gluten is causing you issues. But it’s also very possible that it’s not gluten at all.