Should everyone eat gluten-free?

June 17, 2019 6:50 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Sometimes, it seems like the whole world has ‘gone gluten-free’. Celebrities seem to thrive on gluten-free diets; top athletes credit the lack of gluten in their meals for their star performances; TV chefs reckon it’s transformed the way they look at food. Meanwhile, every supermarket, pub and restaurant has a gluten-free offering. It sometimes seems that you can’t move for the stuff!

Should you stock up on gluten-free food?

Tempted by the gluten-free aisle?

 

Mistakenly, some people confuse ‘gluten-free’ with ‘healthy’. If you’re intolerant to gluten, then these two things are, of course, the same: you need to eat gluten-free in order to avoid the immune response sparked by gluten that would leave you in pain and short of nutrients. But if you’re not sensitive to gluten, then in fact ‘gluten-free’ is simply a descriptive term: it just means food that doesn’t contain gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley).

Gluten-free food might be wonderfully healthy (a bowl of brown rice with nuts, seeds and vegetables, for instance), or entirely unhealthy (a whopping big chocolate éclair, for example). Indeed, some research has shown certain gluten-free ‘alternatives’ to be more unhealthy than their standard counterparts, with manufacturers using nutrient-poor refined grains to make gluten-free ‘treats’, adding extra salt, sugar or fat to make up for their taste and structural deficiencies. There’s no need to eat these poor-quality options, but it’s as well to be aware they exist. If you’re buying pre-prepared gluten-free food, you need to check the ingredients and nutritional data labels carefully.

Can YOU tolerate gluten?

Gluten, a complex protein, can’t be digested by about 1 in every 100 people. For these people (coeliacs), it causes a serious autoimmune reaction in the digestive system.

For the other 99% of the population, gluten is considered to be fine – and indeed, has a lot to recommend it. Gluten is what gives bread and other baked goods their structure and elasticity. It binds cakes, biscuits, bread, pasta, noodles, pizza bases and the like together, and does so remarkably well, without the need for complicated additional gums and gels. It provides us with a necessary nutritional element (protein) as we eat, and with a good amount of fibre, too.

Why you shouldn’t go gluten-free

Avoiding gluten entirely – if you’ve no good reason to do so – thus isn’t usually recommended. If you do, you run the risk of finding yourself deficient in various nutrients, including, possibly, the vitamins and minerals that are added into standard processed bread and breakfast cereals. You’re also likely to have to spend quite a bit more: gluten-free food is more expensive than ‘normal’ food (find out why in our blog Gluten-free food: why is it more expensive?).

Of course, a gluten-free diet can be completely healthy (we only need to look at Novak Djokovic’s gluten-free championship wins at Wimbledon to see that). But such a diet does require careful consideration and balance, to cover all the bases. You’ll need to make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein and fibre, and enough starchy (but gluten-free) carbohydrate to keep your energy levels high. In addition, nutritionists point to B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron and antioxidants as the elements most likely to be missing from poorly-thought-out gluten-free diets.

Naturally Good Food can help out here. We aim to provide the best fibre-rich, protein-rich and nutritious foodstuffs for coeliacs. We know that wholefoods are the finest sources of all these elements: pulses, complex carbohydrate grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oats, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, for example, are all naturally gluten-free whole grains that are packed with nutrition. Eating gluten-free isn’t always easy, but we can certainly iron out some of the difficulties.

And why – in moderation – you should

Nothing is quite black and white in the world of nutrition. It’s clear that some people, even when not diagnosed coeliacs, find themselves feeling significantly better if they cut out gluten. Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who removed gluten from his diet, says of his new regime: “I have more energy; I feel better, sharper, healthier.”

People suffering from rosacea, lupus and chrohns disease often find a gluten-free diet helps them out, too.

And of course, all of us eat a huge amount of gluten-free food every day. Fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are naturally gluten-free, as are grains like rice. Expanding our intake of gluten-free foods isn’t, therefore, necessarily a bad thing. In the West, we tend to have diets heavily based around gluten-containing ingredients – bread, pasta, pizza, pastries, biscuits, cakes, and so on. In other parts of the world, meanwhile, the staples of people’s diets are often naturally gluten-free (millet, for instance, or rice). In certain countries, eating a large amount of teff grain, buckwheat or quinoa is a perfectly ordinary choice. These gluten-free grains are all highly nutritious in their own right and it’s a great idea to incorporate more of them into our diets.

Here’s Hugh again, writing in the Foreword to the River Cottage book River Cottage gluten free:

“The modern diet is stuffed, swollen and bound together with tonnes of this stuff [gluten]; can that possibly be a good thing?… It makes sense to regard with some suspicion the monopoly that glutinous grains have over our diets. It simply isn’t wise to let any ingredient have a dominance in our systems.”

A gluten-free holiday

Like Hugh, many people think it’s a good idea to be ‘gluten-aware’, making sure their entire diet isn’t based on wheat. Others believe that it’s a good idea to have a ‘holiday’ from time to time from gluten, even if they have no adverse reaction to it. They argue that it’s far too easy to become dependent on gluten in the West and that this limits their exposure to other nutrients.

If you’ve decided to embark on such a holiday, or are cutting down on gluten, your first port of call has to be Naturally Good Food’s vast gluten-free range! We’d highlight, in particular, our products that are naturally gluten-free: the grains, like millet, rice and quinoa, that are wonderfully tasty and bursting with vitamins and minerals, and the flours, like coconut flour and ground almonds, that work fantastically well in baking. It’s also essential to include as many fruit and vegetables as you can in your diet. If you’re consciously avoiding one particular product, you can make that an opportunity to expand your diet in other, healthier, areas.

Whether you’re having a holiday from gluten, eating completely gluten-free, or simply curious as to what falls into the ‘free from’ part of the menu at your local pub, Naturally Good Food can help you, both with advice and with our wonderful range of gluten-free products. We think they’re good news for coeliacs, good news for the family and friends of coeliacs sitting round the same table, and good news for good health in general!

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This post was written by Yzanne

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