Is gluten bad for everyone?

Vloggers, bloggers and those who say they are nutritionists (without the qualifications) preach about the toxic effect of gluten. “Its the root of all health problems, such as weight gain and mood swings” , they say. However, this is a concern propogated mainly by media, Internet and social media ‘influencers’. So how can something that humans have consumed for thousands of years somehow, now, be the scourge of our diet? Is gluten truly bad for everyone?

Gluten free food. Various pasta, bread and snacks.

WHAT IS GLUTEN?

Gluten is what we call the family of proteins found in things such as rye, wheat and barley. Gluten actually helps helps to nourish seeds during development and germination. Gluten consists of two classes of protein, a glutenin and a prolamin (known in wheat as glutenin and gliadin).

Cereal crops became a major component in the human diet some 10,000 years ago, during what is now known as the Neolithic era. This saw the transition from the hunting and gathering of food to settled agriculture. Cereal harvesting and consumption has steadily increased since then. Since then, to ensure the efficient agricultural production of wheat, we have come up with the artificial breeding of wheat varients better suited for our extreme climate conditions. Currently, around 95% of the wheat grown worldwide is bread wheat called Triticum aestivum, a hybrid of an ancient species and a wild grass species.

This is favoured by farmers due to its superior qualities and yields. Its also popular in the baking industry as its increased gluten content is better for bread and cakes, which rely on that elastic and stabilising abilities previously mentioned. 

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, causes symptoms triggered by the ingestion of gluten containing foods, even when coeliac disease has been ruled out through blood tests and biopsy.

Gluten intolerance symptoms include things such as abdominal pains, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating. Chronic fatigue, behavioural changes, bone or joint pain and muscle cramps are also symptoms. These can typically occur shortly after the ingestion of gluten, they can go away while on a gluten-free diet and can easily come back if gluten is reintroduced. 

One of the biggest factors for diagnosing gluten intolerance is the efficiency of avoiding FODMAP foods. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are all basically foods that are poorly absorbed by the gut. A low FODMAP diet is used to successfully control IBS symptoms. This has lead to the suggestion that components of wheat other than gluten may be responsible for triggering IBS symptoms.

The gluten-free fad.

The number of people consuming gluten-free diets now exceeds even the highest estimates of those suffering from gluten-related disorders. For many, including press and self acclaimed social influencers the avoidance of gluten is viewed as a “healthier lifestyle” change rather than as a treatment for an actual disorder.

Several studies have shown that gluten-free diets may be depleted in proteins and nutrients compared to conventional diets, and that many people following the trend of gluten-free diets choose nutritionally inferior foods, such as gluten-free cakes and biscuits, rather than introducing healthier grains and pulses. Therefore it’s somewhat an overreaction to assume that the health of a small proportion of the population will be improved by eliminating wheat or gluten from the diet. In fact the opposite may actually occur if important nutrients provided by wheat are not replaced from an alternative source. 

Hope you enjoyed the read and have a great day! 

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