What is gluten, is it bad & should we avoid it?
Not surprisingly, the highly marketed anti-gluten drive evident in every supermarket and health food shop has led to many questions about gluten. Recently, the market in gluten-free products has exploded. In America for example, one in three adults are trying to cut gluten out of their diet, and in the UK one in 10 new food products launched in 2014 were gluten-free – nearly doubling in two years.
Gluten has been hailed as the cause of autism, depression, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, among others, while at the other end of the spectrum it has been dismissed outright as a trend. So I wanted to write and clear up the myths from the facts.
WHAT IS GLUTEN
It is a combination of two protein groups that give structure and elasticity, which is created when flour and water are mixed. It is famously known to be a part of wheat, but is also in other grains, such as barley, rye, spelt and oats. Gluten is not only found in bread, pasta and cakes, but in a wide range of other products, such as sauces, sweets, lollies, and more.
IS GLUTEN BAD?
About 1% of the population have celiac disease (where the immune system reacts to gluten) and it is very important that they do avoid it completely. However, they account only for a small percentage of those buying gluten-free products.
In my experience, probably a quarter of the people who consult with me have a sensitivity to gluten. This is surprisingly high, and something I have seen steadily rising. Symptoms you might expect with this include constipation, bloating, headaches, skin problems (in particular eczema and psoriasis), thyroid issues, and more.
Why is Gluten Sensitivity on the Rise?
There are three main areas that I believe are linked to this rise in gluten intolerance – and understanding these can help with sidestepping the problem to some degree:
- The wheat we are exposed to these days is very different to that consumed by our parents even. Agricultural farming that took place in the 60s, together with artificial fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides changed the nature of the grain. No longer are wheat fields full of tall crops – these were replaced with low standing, high yielding, abundant crops. More recently it has been suggested that some of the protein structure (associated with the gluten element) have changed as a result.
- Bread baking methods too have changed quite dramatically in two important ways. Bread has traditionally, and throughout most of its history, been very similar to what we call sourdough today.
- Firstly, commercial bread making was revolutionised in 1961. High-speed machinery was introduced, together with additives such as extra yeast, hard fats and enzymes. Bread could now be made quickly and cheaply – and today about 80% of our bread is produced in this way. Essentially, the fermentation step was removed from the baking process. The net result of this was that people were exposed to proteins that previously would have been partially or completely digested by the fermentation process.
- Secondly, commercial bread manufacturers will usually add extra gluten to make the bread fluffier, bigger and lighter. I believe this is also contributing to an excess of undigested gluten in the diet. Bread of course is not the only source of gluten, but it is the predominant way that most people will eat it.
- In the Western diet people are now eating more gluten. This will often mean breakfast (toast and cereals), lunch and dinner (bread, pasta, pastry). This is quite different to the way people have traditionally eaten in the past.
If you feel worse after eating gluten, such as: constipation, headaches, skin problems, and more, then there are several ways to approach this.
- You can try avoiding all gluten and see if you feel better. I would suggest carefully reading the labels of gluten free products, because many of these are highly processed and have their own problems. I suggest you try this for one week. Keep in touch with me while doing so and I will guide you from there.
- Switch to sourdough bread and see if this helps. True sourdough bread is leavened with a sourdough culture. If the bread contains baker’s yeast, this product is not a true sourdough – so when shopping look at the ingredients carefully. The fermentation process in sourdough baking transforms the dough in the same way that lactobacilli transforms milk in to yoghurt. This makes the bread more digestible for those with some degree of yeast or wheat intolerance, and for many they can enjoy bread again after having to keep away from industrially made bread because of associated digestive problems.
- For those with celiac disease the only answer is to completely avoid gluten.
Repair from Gluten damage:
Gluten can be very abrasive to the wall of the gut and contribute to ‘leaky gut’ opening the door to many other problems. There are some very good natural remedies to repair the gut wall and I am very happy to discuss this with you and guide you to recovery.
If you know or suspect you need help with this please don’t hesitate to contact me.