Like everything, food trends come and go and it seems like one of the most popular trends is avoiding gluten.
The increase in people legitimately needing a gluten-free diet has steadily increased over the last few decades making it easier than ever to eat gluten-free. Nearly every restaurant has gluten-free options on the menu and some cafes or restaurants are now popping up that are solely dedicated to gluten-free food. Combine that with the rise of paleo and low carb eating patterns more and more people are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle by choice; but is it worth it? Today we will look at the health benefits and implications of gluten-free eating.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats. In baking, gluten is responsible for binding baked goods and giving bread the elasticity which allows them to rise and become nice and fluffy. From a nutritional point of view, gluten itself is completely harmless unless you have a diagnosed gluten intolerance or Coeliac Disease.
Gluten-free foods are often more expensive and highly processed than their wheat-based counterparts. Gluten-free products generally use or rice or corn/maize as a base so, to compensate for the lack of gluten and gluten-free products use more additives to replicate the natural characteristics of gluten-containing foods. These rice and maize flours are less nutritious than wheat products as they are required to be milled extremely finely losing the majority of the fibre, vitamins and minerals usually found in the outer shell or bran of the grain. This means that gluten-free variants of common food products such as gluten-free breads, biscuits and pastas can be less nutritious than their wheat-based predecessors.
Consequently, persons requiring a gluten-free diet need to be particularly vigilant in regards to their fibre intake as constipation can be a regular occurrence. Another concern is B group vitamins and folate which are commonly added to regular wheaten bread and cereals through fortification but not added to gluten-free varieties. This makes it all the more important for gluten-free persons to consume the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, and include nuts, seeds and legumes wherever possible.
On the flip side, cutting out gluten can be a really simple way to cut down the amount of processed foods you eat all together, by focus on a diet based on lean meats (and fish), dairy, fruit, veg, nuts and legumes as these things are all free from gluten in their natural form. Naturally, gluten-free grains range from highly nutritious products such as Quinoa, Buckwheat and Brown Rice to the less beneficial processed products such as white or puffed rice and maize. Many people find that adopting this style of eating can improve digestive symptoms such as bloating, or simply make them feel “lighter” and more energetic, however it can be argued that these improvements may stem from simply reducing the amount of processed food and having a generally healthier diet, not specifically removing gluten.
So what is the verdict?
Generally speaking, unless you have a diagnosed gluten intolerance there is NO advantage to eating a gluten-free diet. Most people may benefit by reducing the amount of processed foods they consume and increasing the number of fruits, vegetables and whole foods in their diet; but this can be achieved while also enjoying regular wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta in moderation.