Going gluten-free is one of the most popular diet trends around gathering pace where other food fads have fallen by the wayside but is it really a gluten-free scam?
It's the diet de jour amongst Hollywood elite and health buffs alike - but is going gluten-free all its cracked up to be? Supermarket shelves are bursting with an ever-expanding range of gluten-free and ‘free from’ goods but could following the diet do more harm than good?
What Exactly is Gluten?
Often wrongly associated with the dreaded c-word: carbs, gluten is actually a protein.
Found in wheat, rye, oats and barley, gluten is formed when wheat flour and water combine to make dough. Gluten gives bread its elasticity and structure; helping it rise and keep its shape.
But it’s not just found in bread. Strong, sticky and stretchy, gluten is commonly used as a binder in a myriad of processed foods: pasta, cereal, sauces, sweets, stock cubes and even drinks.
Is Gluten the Enemy?
Believe the hype, and gluten is to blame for bloating, weight gain, low energy, allergies and skin complaints. Cut it out, and hey presto those symptoms will go.
Well, actually no. Unless you suffer from coeliac disease or have a gluten-intolerance there’s very little evidence to show that eating gluten is the cause of one or any of these complaints. Likewise, there’s no strong research that suggests a gluten-free diet will help or alleviate any of these ailments.
So before pointing the finger, we have to question – is gluten the convenient scapegoat for bad lifestyle habits?
The War on Weight
Many people give up gluten to trim a few inches off their waistline or to enjoy a seemingly healthier way of life. Cut out breads, biscuits and cakes and lose weight. But do you lose weight when you stop eating gluten or when you stop eating high calorie, processed foods?
Eating refined grain products like bread, are digested quickly, which leads to a large spike in blood sugar followed by the inevitable crash. As soon as you crash – your body signals that it’s hungry once again. On this blood sugar rollercoaster it’s easy to overeat.
Cutting out wheat products like bread and pasta can help keep your blood sugar levels steady. But then again, by cutting out these foods, have you really gone gluten-free?
The Hidden Ingredient
Gluten has a habit of turning up in even the most unsuspecting foods. Chips, soups, salad dressings, marinades and beers are just some of the products in which gluten is unexpectedly found. Gluten can even turn up in cosmetics, shampoos, sunscreens, vitamin supplements and medicine.
Check the label to be sure, but remember ‘gluten-free’ and ‘wheat-free’ are two different things. Any spelt, rye or barley-based ingredients may still contain gluten.
If you want to be 100% sure – opt for gluten-free foods. But are they really worth the extra money?
The Gluten-free scam
Supermarket shelves are buckling under a rapidly expanding range of gluten-free products. More and more products are shouting that they are ‘gluten-free’ – and adding a bit extra to the price tag for their trouble. Such is the trend for free-from foods, even products that have never contained gluten, proudly proclaim that they are: ‘naturally gluten-free’.
But are these gluten-free foods any better than the gluten-rich originals? For coeliac suffers – absolutely. For the rest of us – probably not.
Gluten-rich whole grains are a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, which all play a starring role in keeping your body in tip top condition. In contrast, many gluten-free products are made with nutrient-poor refined grains, and often contain more sugar, fat, salt and calories.
The end result? The risk of weight gain, digestive problems, nutrient deficiencies and a lighter wallet. So without medical cause for going gluten-free, is it a diet worth following or a diet worth ditching?
Should you go Gluten-Free?
On the flip side, many gluten-free fanatics have reported feeling the benefits of a diet overhaul, although experts agree that unless gluten is troubling you, there’s not much to be gained from banishing it from your kitchen completely.
If you’re not gluten-intolerant or suffer from coeliac disease, going against the grain probably isn’t worth it. However, if you’re set on going grain-free, try trading in wheat for rice, amaranth, potatoes, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and corn – and see if you notice a difference.
Have you tried going gluten-free? Tell us about your experience in the comments box below.