“To be gluten-free, or not to be gluten-free, that is the question.” No, this isn’t a line taken from some hipster version of Hamlet, the ‘gluten question’ is something that we are facing more and more. Today the term ‘gluten-free’ is tossed around more times than a pizza dough, but what does it actually mean? What is gluten? Why should - or shouldn’t - you cut it out of your diet?
What is it?
To paraphrase, gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley (there are many other sources of gluten, but these are considered ‘The Big 3’ by the Celiac Disease Foundation). Gluten helps food such as bread maintain its shape, acting as a sort of food glue (yum). Although it’s perfectly natural, people with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance can suffer a reaction if they eat it.
However, the growing popularity of this latest food trend is now beginning to overshadow the 1 in 100 people who are coeliac, and is now the next big thing to pop in your Instagram bio.
Why's everyone so obsessed with it?
Rozzie Batchelar, a registered nutritionist who works with one of our fave chefs, Jamie Oliver, puts the craze down to the low-carb and high-protein diet phenomenon. Gluten is found in many starchy carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, and many people cut these out of their diet as a weight loss tool.
This is where the gluten-free association with health comes into play. Those who follow a gluten-free diet naturally tend to avoid products such as cakes, biscuits and pastries as they contain gluten (good news for gluten eaters, more cake for us). The reason these foods have a bad rep is because of their sugar and fat content and has little to do with the gluten. For example, a cake that has nothing other than the gluten removed will not necessarily be healthier than one that contains it.
So, I should eat it?
Another risk of cutting gluten from your diet is a vitamin deficiency. By cutting whole grains from your diet you’re missing out on a key source of fibre, something which even gluten eaters don’t get enough of. When people are voluntarily missing out on important vitamins, you have to wonder if it’s all worth it? But with such a boom in popularity, there must be some reason why you should go gluten-free. It turns out it’s mostly down to individual cases.
Many IBS sufferers and people with sensitive digestive systems have promoted a gluten-free diet as it eases their symptoms. Although extensive research into the area is limited, there are huge numbers of testimonials by people who swear by a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, until further studies are carried out, there is no concrete proof to support this view. In the meantime, eat some biscuits unless you're a coeliac!
Whatever you decide to eat, the overwhelming message is everything in moderation. Concerning gluten, it appears that voluntarily cutting it from your diet will have no direct effect on your health. However, there are some perks to this latest food trend. People with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance now have a bigger choice than ever in supermarket aisles and restaurants, and many IBS sufferers have found a way to ease or control their symptoms. As always, if you are debating a big change in your diet, consult your GP just to be on the safe side. Personally, I think I’ll live by this quote...
If you can eat wheat, then for God’s sake eat wheat!Gizzi Erskine
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