The lowdown on gluten
I see it everywhere, gluten free bread, gluten free cakes, gluten free options on restaurant menus, it has become a tsunami of changing diets and eating habits that the food companies can barely keep up with. But is it just that? A fad, a new diet version of restriction or difference, something trendy to help weight loss or an aid to our ever expanding bloated waistlines?
In the interests of complete disclosure, I have been gluten free for over 15 years and counting, in the days before there were any tasty options! Gluten is one of the proteins naturally found in grains, specifically, wheat, rye, oat, barley, and triticale. It has long been accepted that an allergy to gluten (celiac disease) can shorten life, trigger autoimmune conditions, inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients and create a plethora of unpleasant and bathroom based symptoms. Celiac disease can be diagnosed through a combination of biopsy, blood tests, and endoscopy. None of the current tests are infallible but the vast majority of sufferers will be detected. The only reliable solution so far is a complete and utter elimination of gluten from the diet. There are current tests, research and a general dalliance using hook worms to reverse this allergy to gluten in the diet, the jury is out.
Disease or fad?
There is however, a large cohort who does not appear to suffer celiac disease, or at least, none of the medical tests so far can detect its presence, but still suffer symptoms after consuming gluten and get a complete reversal of symptoms when gluten is eliminated. This cohort has been named “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. It is a grey cloud to live under especially when a bright eyed waitress asks you if your gluten free choice is a disease or a fad!
But why suddenly has this tsunami of gluten free options overwhelmed us? The food companies are simply following the health trends and demands of their customers and people are beginning to become insistent on eating foods that do not contain gluten, they wish to continue to enjoy their daily bread, pasta, biscuits and the rest without the spectre of all the bathroom symptoms we previously hinted at. Fair enough. My question is a little more probing, why suddenly is there a cohort of people who thrive better without gluten? Has it always been this way? Has the food changed, have our guts changed to such a degree we can no longer cope with gluten? Where is the truth in all this gluten free polava?
In brief then, because research papers of interminable length have been written previously on this subject. I believe it is a combination of food hybridisation, our gut microbiome diversity falling and our basic nutrition guidelines failing.
Over the last 60 years, food production has changed and we are eating way more gluten than we used to. Gluten is found not just in grains but it is used as an essential and cheap component in food production, many processed foods previously unavailable to our ancestors contain gluten, plus our grains have become modified to increase the amount of gluten they contain because it helps increase yields and therefore commercial profits. So not only do our grains contain more gluten, we have more foods at our disposal that contain gluten. Amidst this food revolution, our gut diversity, the bacteria that keep us fit and healthy and allow us to thrive, is failing. Eating a diet composed of high gluten, grains and processed foods results in a lower diversity of gut bacteria and this reduces our capacity to protect ourselves from allergies, viral attacks and much more. The third nail in the coffin is following a nutrition guideline that promotes the consumption of a high level of these foods that are daily destroying our ability to function optimally.
The solution? Embrace a whole food diet limited in processed foods, this includes anything in a box, packet or with a bar code. If you currently experience symptoms after eating gluten containing foods – bloating, constipation, diahorrea, painful digestion, skin eruptions, mind fog, mood swings, lethargy, then consider a three week elimination trial where you avoid gluten 100% and observe your reactions. Our diets should be based on vegetables, raw and cooked, healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, meat, fish, eggs. If you can cope with digesting lentils and beans then enjoy them otherwise make veggies your go to food, a small amount of whole seasonal fruit and some fermented food like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, natural yoghourt, wash it all down with a generous quantity of filtered water and herbal teas.
Simplicity is key.