Unless you’ve been living under a rock last few years, you must have heard of gluten, and of a whole bunch of people going gluten-free. If you’ve been asking yourself whether you should give it a go, read on to have all your questions answered.
So, What Actually is Gluten?
For anyone not used to gluten avoidance, it can be confusing to know what gluten actually is, and what products are likely to contain gluten. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation6, “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat…, rye, barley and triticale”.
These ingredients are used in some of America’s favorite foods: bread, pasta, and baked goods all typically contain gluten, as well as many sauces and seasonings. For people who avoid gluten, this often means closely checking packaging and menus when buying food, which can get super-awkward until you know the lowdown on your favorite products.
And what is Gluten Sensitivity?
Many people think that gluten sensitivity is a recent fad – led by blonde, soy-latte-drinking moms in yoga pants – but that is actually far from being the case. As early as8 the 1970s, scientific papers discussed a non-celiac gluten sensitivity in some patients, though prevalence and research into gluten sensitivity, have become much more13 popular10 in recent years.
There are many forms9 of gluten sensitivity, from celiac disease, the autoimmune disease, most commonly associated with a gluten free diet, where gluten consumption causes an inflammation of the gut, leading to a host of chronic medical problems14; to irritable-bowel-syndrome related gluten sensitivity15; and Extrainestinal gluten-sensitivity, which produces non-digestive-system related issues, including neurological problems, like Ataxia11, schizophrenia and autism15 and skin diseases like psoriasis12. That’s not to mention gluten sensitivity related to Type 1 diabetes16.
Gluten sensitivity is actually far more common2 than you’d imagine – this study3 shows that 0.6% of the US population self-report a gluten sensitivity, with double that number diagnosed with celiac disease, and, when tested, self-reporting gluten-sensitivity sufferers in this study4 were all shown to have either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity – so the number of people suffering non-celiac gluten sensitivity without knowing it is probably much higher. People without celiac disease have been7 shown5 to suffer IBS-like symptoms, in relation to gluten-consumption: gluten sensitivity is absolutely real.
Are There Benefits to a Gluten-Free Diet for the Non-Gluten-Sensitive?
Though avoiding gluten has seen a trend recently in health-food and weight-loss circles, the actual avoidance of gluten is not, in itself, a ticket to healthy weight-loss. However, the nature of a gluten free diet, in limiting access to calorie-dense foods like bread, pasta and cakes along with restricted menu options (eating out gluten-free often means a plain salad), can encourage weight-loss when first moving to a gluten free diet. Be warned though, gluten free ‘alternatives’ are often packed with other weight-loss enemies, like fat and sugar, in order to replicate the sticking power, and the flavor, of ‘regular’ glutenized foods.
So, Should You and Your Family Avoid Gluten?
If you, your partner or any of your kids has celiac disease, or a gluten sensitivity, the answer is clear: avoiding gluten is absolutely the way forward, to protect the health of your family. Other ways a gluten free diet can benefit your family is if you suffer from one of the many diseases that may be somewhat controlled with the reduction of gluten in your diet. A gluten-free, or low-gluten diet can help you to eat more healthily and achieve sustainable weight-loss too. So if you feel like gluten is hurting your body, try giving it up and see if you can feel better than ever – check out our latest gluten free recipes: this Delicious Orange and Zucchini Risotto Recipe is a naturally gluten free dish that will still leave you feeling full and satisfied, and this Easy Gluten Free Breakfast Recipe: Pumpkin Spiced Bircher is a delicious fall breakfast on-the-go, that just shows you don’t have to miss out on your morning oats (or on pumpkin spice season), even if you’re avoiding gluten.