The gluten-free hype: Fad or fact?

For a lot of people it started off as a trend because countless celebrities were advocating it.  

The one thing the majority of diets have in common is cutting out/down refined carbs. Bread is one of the biggest culprits and being a convenient food, many find it difficult to give up, replacing wheat bread with gluten free bread options. 

Yet many of these options are actually just as refined and will have a direct impact on your pancreas and insulin. This means you are not going to lose weight.  

GlutenFreeBurger - The gluten-free hype: Fad or fact?
Gluten-free burger. Picture: Supplied

“A cupcake without gluten is still a cupcake. All sorts of fillers and binders are used to make sure the bread doesn’t crumble in the absence of the glue in gluten. These certainly will have a negative impact on your health. Not all gluten-free products are created equal and many do not disclose their full ingredients either. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that gluten free means healthy guilt free eating”, says Desi Horsman, clinical nutritionist, speaker, wellness expert.

According to Horsman, “gluten is made up of a mixture of proteins classified as prolamins and glutelins which are found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats. It has the ability to stretch, which allows bread or pastries to rise, which results in a light, airy texture”. The lower the gluten content, the more dense and heavy the bread will be.

GlutenFreePancakes - The gluten-free hype: Fad or fact?
Gluten-free pancakes. Picture: Supplied

Until recently gluten was considered only a problem for those with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease in which gluten is the trigger. However, new research on gluten digestion is linked to other autoimmune illnesses which are on the rapid rise at the moment.

Dr Alessio Fasano, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children is a pioneer in the field of gluten, publishing groundbreaking research on the effects of gluten in the body which create gaps between the cells of the gut and cause the intestine to become permeable. “The cells in our gut lining prevent unwanted particles from entering the bloodstream.  

Every time you eat gluten, the cells of your gut lining becomes more permeable and allow particles to sneak directly into your bloodstream. For many people this isn’t a problem their bodies easily clear the protein away and repair the gut lining,” adds Dr Fasano. The problem arises though when we constantly eat gluten throughout the day, for instance:

Breakfast – toast or cereal

Lunch – sandwich of sorts

Snack – crackers

Dinner – pasta, pie, crumbed chicken etc.

GlutenFreePizza - The gluten-free hype: Fad or fact?
Gluten-free pizza. Picture: Supplied

Nobody can efficiently digest gluten. Because of the composition of the protein, it is impossible for the enzymes in our guts to break down the protein into small enough parts to absorb. “These can be recognised as foreigners and provoke an immune reaction. With coeliacs, antibodies are produced to attack the gluten protein but these antibodies also fight the cells of the gut lining which is where the symptoms of diarrhea and weight loss come from,” says Horsman.

GlutenFreeSandwich - The gluten-free hype: Fad or fact?
Gluten-free salmon sandwich. Picture: Supplied

If you are intolerant to gluten you may not form antibodies but you will still have some form of immune reaction with many other symptoms. In the least there will be inflammation which adds fuel to the fire in many conditions. “This doesn’t mean that gluten causes these diseases, but that gut permeability is a precursor to the development of some autoimmune diseases”, says Dr Fasano.

Again like most things in life – practice moderation. If you have a healthy immune system you can continue to eat gluten but in moderation. Limiting highly processed white flour, sugary baked goods, and snack-foods is good for everyone. Perhaps for many that feel better when they cut out gluten, the effect can be the result of cutting out refined starches.

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