Is a gluten free diet healthy?

Is a gluten free diet healthy

If you are not intolerant of gluten and do not suffer Coeliac Disease there is no benefit to avoiding gluten in your diet and in fact it may be detrimental to your health.

Those who need to avoid gluten do so to avoid symptoms that can be severe.  These people must be careful to not only avoid gluten but also to eat healthily so that their overall health does not suffer because of this.

 

What is gluten?

Gluten is the name given to a group of proteins that are found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.  Gluten acts like a glue in the foods that it is in so that they hold their shape.

Gluten can also be found in things such as sauces, lollies, supplements, medicines and many more things you might not expect.

 

Why avoid gluten?

Only those who have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease or those who have been diagnosed with gluten intolerance should avoid gluten.

In those with these diagnoses even a very small amount of gluten can cause severe stomach upset, sometimes with pain and diarrhoea lasting for days.   The gastrointestinal lining also gets damaged leading to the inability to absorb nutrients so these people can suffer with deficiencies.  Other health issues can result also.

Interestingly it is not always gluten that causes the digestive symptoms it is blamed for.  It may, in fact, be FODMAPs (a group of carbohydrates) that cause the symptoms.  FODMAPs and gluten often occur in the same foods and so gluten gets the blame.

 

Problems with avoiding gluten

You can’t avoid hearing about the importance of the gut microbiome lately.  What this means is that it is important that there is a wide range of healthy bacteria in our digestive system to ensure that we have good general health.

Gluten free diets lower our microbiome diversity which can be detrimental to our health.

If gluten containing foods are avoided there can be a problem with low fibre in the diet so fibre needs to be consumed in other ways.

Gluten actually lowers cholesterol.

There are many gluten free products available now in supermarkets and restaurants.  Many of these are very unhealthy!

 

What should I eat?

If you have been diagnosed as being unable to tolerate gluten, as I have, then avoid it but don’t just avoid it because you think it’s healthy.

Gluten free foods from the supermarket and restaurant are great as treats but it really comes down to eating real food and avoiding “food” from a package as much as possible.

A lot of diets that have been studied and found to be good for overall health and longevity are actually high in carbohydrates (such as the Mediterranean Diet) however they contain unrefined carbohydrates that are good for our health and microbiome.

 

Reference       Food as Medicine lecture  Sydney Health (The University of Sydney)

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