Just what is it, and is it bad for us?
There are a lot of people out there extolling the virtues of a gluten free diet nowadays. Celebrities and celebrity chefs jump on the bandwagon and promote it as something better and healthier for you. But is this actually true?
First of all, what is gluten? Gluten refers the proteins in wheat, rye and barley, so you can find it in items like bread, pasta, baked goods, but it often appears as an ingredient in all sorts of things.
The only people that gluten is actually harmful for is those with celiac disease. This is when the intestinal cells produce an antibody against gluten, which severely damages the cells and can lead to all sorts of serious health complications. It is diagnosed through a blood test and an endoscopy.
There is no scientific evidence that going gluten free has any health benefits for those who are not celiac. There isn't even any conclusive evidence of gluten sensitivity; the gastrointestinal problems some people report may be caused by a type of carbohydrate called a FODMAP (which is often also found in gluten containing foods). It all definitely needs more investigation and research! At the moment the scientific community considers gluten as neither essential or detrimental to your health. Cutting out gluten certainly doesn't necessarily equate to improving your diet; this is a result of your overall food choices.
If you cut out gluten containing ingredients in favour of more veggies, pulses, fruits etc, then yes, going gluten free is going to improve your nutrition. However, switching to gluten free products often means you will increase the amount of processed foods in your diet (fat and sugar can be higher in them), and decrease the amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre (which has its own host of related issues, more to come on that in the future!)
In our society we just seem to love to demonise things! But instead of making gluten the enemy, why don't we focus more on our overall quality of nutrition? I believe that labelling things as 'bad’ food and 'good’ food doesn't really promote a healthy mindset and relationship with our food. Let's be open to ideas and wait and see what the research says… and until then, I'm going to continue enjoying my pasta!
What are your thoughts, ideas and experiences with gluten?