There's a lot of information out there about gluten sensitivities and coeliac disease that really makes it out that if you stop eating bread and you have not been diagnosed by a medical practitioner, you are a bad person. It's a strange phenomenon because if a vegetarian says, "I just don't like the idea of eating an animal" the following reply usually is something along the lines of, "Oh that's cool. I've been trying to eat a lot more veggies lately too!", "So do you only eat vegetables?" and that's where the conversation usually ends. With gluten however, the conversation from the other party usually gets steered in the direction of, "Like, are you a real coeliac, or just one of those fake ones?". I find this absurd. I even know of some coeliacs, who are quite vocal about this and belittle those who are trying to find their way to health.
In this article, I'm going to cover what exactly gluten is, how it affects a large portion of the population and the pit falls of a gluten free diet.
What exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a catch all term for a group of proteins found in several grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats and their hybrids. Prolamins are what these proteins are known as and not all are equally as irritating to the gut. Oats for example have what is called avenin, while wheat has gliadin and glutenin. Corn even, while many consider it a vegetable - it is in fact a grain, has a prolamin called zein.
In western culture, much of the packaged foods are made with gluten containing cereals or manufactured on machinery or equipment that processes products containing these ingredients. Because of this, gluten can be found at the very least in traces in most of the packaged foods throughout your local supermarket.
How does gluten affect the population?
I liken gluten to alcohol. How accurate this comparison is debatable but I explain it like this.
When you first start drinking alcohol, you may find that it's very easy to get drunk. Maybe two to three drinks and your set for a pretty loose night. As your drinking career progresses you build up a tolerance to it. That's not to say that at a metabolic and chemical level you're more resistant, it's just that your body has become better with dealing with your poor choices and it takes more for you to notice the affects. Gluten is similar. It still can impact your tight junctions in the gut, it still can increase the amount of proteins passing into the blood (we don't want this), it still can impact gut bacteria, your overall immunity and a long list of other issues. BUT. We start feeding gluten on average around 2 years old, sometimes younger. A toddler can not process or express the symptoms of intolerance out side of having temper tantrums and runny poos. From there, same as the alcohol it seems a matter of dose and bad experiences can make people realise that the glutens just might not be for them.
That being said. Most people unless they start experimenting, say for example with Robb Wolfs 'sleazy car salesman' tactic of "try it for 30 days see how you look, feel and perform", don't notice the impact prolamins might have on them.
Roughly only 1% of the population are diagnosed with coeliac disease and that is what is widely accepted as THE gluten condition. However many intestinal, inflammatory and degenerative conditions have been linked with gluten. While correlation certainly is not a means for causation, it seems with such a wide variety of foods available to us in a society like Australia if you want to take gluten containing cereals out of your diet, why does the medical association kick up such an almighty stink about the risk of maintaining a gluten free diet?
Where are we loosing sight of the issue?
My observation is very simple. Many people who follow gluten free diets and are not educated on the subject often make the simple swap of like for like. Regular white bread, for white gluten free bread. Regular pasta, for gluten free pasta. Regular twelve pack of doughnuts, for a twelve pack of gluten free doughnuts!... that last one's a lie, it's actually very hard to find ready made gluten free doughnuts (at least here in Sydney) that aren't made with zucchini or almond meal.
While following a gluten free diet may actually be very beneficial for a large portion of the population, simply making the 1:1 swap just will not cut it! Not only does the cost factor make an impact on your life, as many gluten free products are actually much more expensive than the regular ol' wheat flour variety but there are already many, many alternate foods that you can use which will provide a lower insulin response, contain higher nutrient density and are potentially more versatile!
soo.. glutens good, bad or just indifferent?
I'm not here to vilify any foods. Cereals and grains realistically are a major part of the reason why we have been able to develop so quickly as a species. It is worth pointing out that these foods can play with our hormones and satiety and with a population that is becoming more and more sedentary, maybe it's worth while considering tweaking the diet and it by chance just becoming gluten free due to the reduction in calorie dense, nutrient poor foods.
I'll admit, I do miss the amazing taste of a fresh doughnut similar to the one pictured above but the benefits of me not consuming gluten containing foods outweigh my lust for strawberry frosting and deep fried deliciousness. That is the simplest answer to all the media talking head garbage.
If you feel better for it.. do it.