What is gluten and do I need to avoid it?

Take walk through your local supermarket and you will find dozens of gluten-free foods lining the aisles. This would seem to indicate that more and more people are experiencing adverse reactions to gluten than ever before. However, only a small number of people have a severe intolerance (celiac disease), but many others choose to avoid gluten altogether. The truth is that most people can tolerate gluten with no adverse health effects. So why are they opting for gluten-free?

It’s largely due to the ‘gluten-free diet’ becoming increasingly popular as we understand more about gluten and the role it may play with a leaky gut. At present, there’s no hard evidence to show that gluten increases intestinal permeability or causes leaky gut in healthy people. However, gluten can trigger inflammation and increase intestinal permeability in those with celiac disease. 

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have also found that some people who do not have celiac disease or wheat allergy experience a variety of gastrointestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms after consuming wheat and related cereals (what we call gluten sensitivity).

This is one of the reasons why I examine a client’s diet carefully to determine whether their symptoms may be related to gluten sensitivity. From there, we can decide whether it may be beneficial to eliminate gluten entirely from their diet.

Where should I start when going gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found in a variety of grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It’s very common in a range of foods such as cereal, bread, pasta and pizza. 

Unfortunately the gluten-free packaged foods (hello, gluten-free cookies high in sugar!) stocked on supermarket shelves are usually low in vitamins and minerals, and even more processed and refined than the ones containing gluten. It’s not uncommon for some clients to switch to a gluten-free diet and still experience symptoms of an upset stomach, diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, gas and brain fog – this is largely because of the processed substitutes.

Instead of filling your trolley with packaged gluten-free products, I always advise my clients to eat as many wholesome, fresh foods as possible. Carbohydrates are the nutrients most frequently used as energy, but those avoiding gluten can still get their carbohydrates from other foods such as beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, and beets are all great carbohydrate sources). Grains such as rice, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca, teff, and certified gluten-free oats are also fantastic alternatives.

It’s also important to learn about and embrace gluten-free cooking. There are a range of healthy, delicious recipes (like my gluten-free activated charcoal bread) that are easy to whip up and readily available.

To learn more about gluten sensitivity and the products that I like to use, please watch my video on Instagram here. You can also find gluten-free recipes on my Living Naturally website.