The gluten free diet is getting a lot of attention, I was skeptical so decided to do some research. Is it the golden path to a healthier life or simply a Hollywood fad?
1.First of all what is Gluten?
How many people who begin a gluten free diet know what gluten is? Well the Internet is full of opinions and diet tips but what gluten is, is pretty damn simple.
Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. Nothing unnatural and it can definitely be digested by humans on the whole. For Instance Seitan is pure wheat gluten and is eaten as a protein replacement for vegetarians and vegans. It is what makes bread rise when you leave it to sit before baking it. South park did a great episode about gluten free. The story was that gluten is a terrible for you but no one knows why and if you eat gluten your penis will fly off. Hilarious.
Wikipedia has more information about gluten, and the chemistry of it for any who are curious.
2.Who needs to avoid gluten?
Celiac disease is the most common association of gluten intolerance. If you suffer from celiac disease your body is unable to digest foods containing gluten. This results in pain and discomfort, fatigue, bowel problems and even arthritis. Unfortunately it can also be symptomless.
If you are at all worried go to the doctor and they can test to find out if you are a celiac or not.
You could also be allergic to wheat. If this is the case when you eat wheat your body will reject it out of every orifice within four hours. So there is no missing that one!
One major upside of gluten free growing as a fad is that gluten free choices are now widely available. Unfortunately, people could end up desensitized to gluten intolerance as a medical condition.
"I'm just back from the doctor and it turns out I'm a celiac that's why I've been feeling so un well the past while."
"Oh my god! Well I know how you feel, I gave up gluten last summer and I felt way less bloated. It was great! But I missed drinking beer so I gave up, I've thought about trying again though maybe we could try it together?!"
"My body has basically been destroying itself for years ... That is not the same as you being bloated!! EAT LESS CARBS TO BE LESS BLOATED I'M NOT JUST TRYING GLUTEN FREE I HAVE NO CHOICE!!!"
Gluten has been named as a source of several medical conditions: autism, schizophrenia and ADD. In my opinion ADD is likely solved by eating less sugar, and the other conditions being blamed are all going to go the way of vaccines and prove inconclusive.
But lets look at the science. I studied physics at university so I learned to go the source, never trust what somebody else says they read.
The other effects of gluten are known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. There is research being done into the relation between these conditions and gluten, but from what I have read there is yet to be a large scale trial undertaken. This is a red flag for me as it means that there is not enough interest or funding available. All the trials that have been conducted have been small examining only a few dozen patients.
The results also vary massively. One paper says it affects 0.5% while another says 6%. This doesn't seem like a lot but that is a huge discrepancy. The difference of 35 million people to 420 million.
So there is reason for some people to avoid gluten but these people have all been diagnosed by a doctor.
The amount of research being published about non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also quite low. I found a table showing how many papers are being published about non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If more papres are being published it means there is more interest and so more people believe it is a problem. It is getting higher but I don't think there is enough evidence to suggest that gluten free should be adopted by the masses.
Image source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820047/
For any one who is interested in reading further into the scientific research of gluten and it's effect on the body here is a great paper showing the round up of the research in to celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
3. What Benefits Will You See From Gluten Free?
This is for people who do not have an allergy or any other type of intolerance. If you have already gone gluten free and find you feel much better go to the doctor to get an official diagnosis.
I think the main reason the gluten free diet is effective is that a lot of un-healthy foods have gluten in them. Cakes and Pastries are high in sugar and fat, and if bread is cut from the diet likely its replacement has less calories. So by eliminating gluten from your diet you are likely to be eating less sugars fats and calories.
You are also becoming more aware of your diet. You don't eat mindlessly because you have to check what your eating . You east less processed foods and enjoy healthy options, fruits and vegetables for instance.I have some news though.
You can do these things without changing your diet!
Some people need a catalyst to embrace change and maybe that's what gluten free fad is. Eating less sugar and fats is not a bad thing by any means, I simply want people to take a closer look before diving in.
Beer is another common source of gluten. Not all beers have gluten, there are plenty that don't. But being gluten free might mean that, say, going for a quick drink after work becomes harder so you might skip it and again be consuming less calories and less alcohol which will always be healthier.
Some of my friends had been recommended a gluten free diet to help with their various joint pains, one with knee pain and one with back pain. Both tried gluten and felt no better. My friend with knee pain went to a physiotherapist for regular sessions which helped his knee. My friend with back pain, who got recommended giving up gluten by a chiropractor, went to a doctor and got proper treatment.
I have read of other people online having success from giving up gluten, Maybe it's a placebo effect? Maybe there's more to it than gluten=joint pain? Research has been done into how gluten affects people with arthritis, as arthritis can be a symptom of celiac disease. However most studies that have been done have not led to any decisive results one way or the other, so again unless your a celiac or other gluten related illnesses you will likely be fine if you carry on eating sandwiches.
It seems it is not unhealthy to give up gluten as long as you still eat a good balanced diet. It is quite common to find your self facing a fibre deficiency as you have given up a lot of fibrous foods. You also have to be aware of your Iron intake as well as B-vitamins as a lot of cereals and pastas tend to be fortified with vitamins and minerals. This isn't the case for everyone but it is always good to be aware of what you might be missing out on.
If you think you are thinking of going gluten free you should check with your doctor so they can diagnose you.
In conclusion it seems that giving up gluten when you are not intolerant wont lead to any health problems. You just need to be aware of what nutrients you may be missing out on.
On the other side, the effects of giving up gluten are the same as other diets giving up fatty and sugary foods. So if you can keep it up long term you will likely lose weight and may even feel better for it. Just don't solely blame gluten.
Stay healthy and if you enjoyed this please give it a share!