A few years ago, something I like to call “Gluten Anxiety” came about. For one moment, we were patting ourselves on the back for switching from white bread and sugary cereal to wholegrain bread and oats. The next minute, a new fear of “gluten” (whatever that was), had been instilled in our brain, and foods which once formed our staple diets were being labelled as the reason for unwanted weight gain and digestive issues – just to name a few. Needless to say, with the growing number of gluten free products on the shelves, the 3 million “glutenfree” hashtags on instagram, and even online dating sites for “gluten free singles” this fear has definitely stuck around, but do we know exactly what gluten is and how it affects us? As you may have seen from Jimmy Kimmel’s latest viral video below, chances are a lot of us really don’t have a clue.
So, first things first, what exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein made up of a bond between two molecules glutenin and gliadin. It is found in several types of grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale, and is one of the most heavily consumed proteins in the world. Gluten gives dough its chewy, elastic like properties, allows bread to rise, and is basically the reason as to why we love foods such as pizza, pasta and bagels. Gluten works by holding foods together, and in fact the name gluten itself was derived from the Latin word for glue.
What foods contain gluten?
Common foods that contain gluten include:
– Baked goods (for example muffins, cakes, pastries, cookies etc)
– Flour tortillas
– Soups (where flour may have been used to thicken the soup)
– Sauces such as soy sauce
– Some salad dressings
– Oats (although oats are naturally gluten free, cross contamination can occur during the growing, harvesting or processing stage)
Does gluten affect our body negatively?
Yes and no. Gluten mainly affects those who have Coeliac Disease, experience gluten sensitivity, or have allergies to wheat. Many people however can consume foods with gluten without any issues.
In about one percent of the population, gluten can trigger cause a painful autoimmune response known as Coeliac Disease. In those with Coeliacs, if gluten is consumed, the body produces antibodies which damages the lining of the small intestine making it impossible for the body to absorb vital nutrients from food. Approximately 1 in 100 people have the disease, but only 20% are diagnosed, which leaves many people living with nutritional deficiencies and unexplained digestive issues.
Symptoms of Coeliac Disease include:
- Cramping and bloating
- Fatigue and weakness
- Anaemia or Iron deficiency
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Other vitamin deficiencies such as B12, D, E, K and A
GLUTEN INTOLERANCE / NON COELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY:
In a larger number of people, thought to be about 6% of the population, doctors are now recognising another form of intolerance to gluten known as Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). When gluten is consumed, these patients experience similar Coeliac Disease symptoms, however lack the antibodies and intestinal damage seen in those with the disease. Gluten sensitivity is confirmed when diagnostic tests for Coeliac Disease is negative, and symptoms diminish after a starting a gluten free diet. and return when gluten is reintroduced.
The term “wheat allergy” can often be confused with a gluten intolerance. This allergy however, affects the body in a different way, presenting near immediate allergic reaction symptoms when wheat or its products are consumed. Coeliac or NCGS symptoms are usually gastrointestinal related and take longer to present.
- Eczema, hives or rashes
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips and tongue or face
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea, diarrhoea and/or vomiting
So should I avoid Gluten?
It’s really up to you. If you feel that foods containing gluten are affecting you negatively, I would recommend seeing your doctor or a nutritionist first. This is important for proper diagnosis, and to rule out any other digestive issues. A nutritionist can also tailor make a plan to you and show you that life without gluten does not have to be strict or boring! I recommend creating a food vs symptom diary to note down how you feel after eating. This is a great way to find our which foods are energizing you, and which foods are causing you irritability.
If I remove gluten from my diet, what’s left?!
It may look like a long list of food to avoid when going gluten free, but there are still plenty of foods left to enjoy! Fresh fruit, veges, rice, corn, beef, lamb, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, cheese, milk, yoghurt, beans and lentils are all naturally gluten free. You can also still enjoy baked goods such as bread, bagels, muffins, wraps, cakes, and cookies which are made with gluten free ingredients. Just remember to always check the nutrition label!
Thanks to Sovereign Insurance for making this post possible. Head to their website and Facebook page for more inspiration and to take charge of your life!