“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
In the United States, 60% of restaurants have included gluten-free options on their menu. The UK and the rest of the world are also following this pattern.
After all, some people are gluten intolerant and others are gluten sensitive. Some are taking gluten out of their diet to eat more healthily and lose weight.
So is it a lifestyle or a real medical condition? Why should you go gluten-free?
In this article, we're going to look at gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, and whether or not gluten-free diets are just a fad.
Gluten intolerance, also known as coeliac disease, is an auto-immune disorder that affects the intestine. This includes a reaction to gliadin. The intestinal lining is also atrophied.
In Europe, 1 in 100 people is gluten intolerant. This is more common in women than men and it can lead to various symptoms: rheumatism, anaemia, coagulation disorders, digestive problems, stomach pains, etc.
If you need to know if you have coeliac disease, you’ll need to run some tests for gluten intolerance, villous atrophy in the small intestine, recovery of the villi lining when gluten’s removed from your diet, and more atrophy when gluten returns to your diet.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that’s present in wheat, barley, oats, and rye. While you ingest gluten, your immune system will produce antibodies to attack the intestinal lining creating lesions. This means that other nutrients including vitamins and minerals aren’t digested or absorbed as effectively.
Make sure you don’t get a gluten allergy confused with gluten intolerance. An allergy causes an immune response, swelling, respiratory problems, hives, etc.
Find out how to go gluten-free.
What Are the Symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
The symptoms vary from person to person but the main ones are fairly common:
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bone pain
These symptoms should disappear after a few weeks of eating gluten-free. If untreated, coeliac disease can result in other complications like intestinal cancers, ulcers, sterility, osteoporosis, and neurological complications. In adults, it’s associated with diabetes.
How Can You Tell if You’re Gluten Intolerant?
If you have doubts about whether you’re gluten intolerance, don’t hesitate to get clinical tests. They’ll look for the presence of anti-gliadin and anti-transglutaminase.
If the test results are positive, the doctor will consider an endoscopy to have a look at your small intestine. If they find signs of atrophy, you’ll probably be put on a gluten-free diet for a few months to see if things improve. Once the symptoms are gone, they should be able to confirm the diagnosis.
The Cost of Gluten-Free Products
Products like gluten-free pasta, flour, and cakes are more costly than other products. You can pay between 50 and 100% more for the gluten-free versions of products such as flour.
It can end up costing you quite a bit if you’re going gluten-free so make sure you have to before you start opening your wallet.
Discover some great gluten-free recipes.
If you don’t have coeliac disease, you may be part of the 1 to 6% of the population that is sensitive to gluten. This is known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). It’s difficult to know the exact numbers of sufferers since many self-diagnose and start a gluten-free diet without any medical advice.
The symptoms of coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome and gluten sensitivity appear shortly after eating (diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, stomach pains, etc.) but with gluten sensitivity, there’s no antibody response. Unlike coeliac disease, there aren’t any tests to see if you’re sensitive to gluten. You’ll only notice after a while of being gluten-free.
If you think you’re gluten sensitive, you’ll have to take the coeliac disease tests. If these tests come back negative, you can reduce your gluten consumptions and see if things improve after a few weeks. However, check with a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet.
Keep a diary of what you eat and whether it contains gluten and make a note of any symptoms that appear. There’s no biomarker for this condition so the diagnosis should be done by a professional and based on the symptoms as they occur as you add and remove gluten from your diet.
Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?
While we can prove coeliac disease, many experts are sceptical about whether or not gluten sensitivity exists. There’s no consensus among scientists that gluten sensitivity exists and there are several questions that need to be asked.
- Is the sensitivity permanent or temporary?
- Is the threshold the same for everyone or does it vary by person and by age?
- Are there markers we’re yet to discover?
The gluten-free phenomenon is gaining more and more fans but it’s recommended you get medical advice before you start a gluten-free diet.
Find out which foods are gluten-free.
Are Gluten-Free Diets Just a Fad?
In the latter half of the 20th century, wheat became fashionable and its consumption increased. Even in China and India where rice is king. It’s been a symbol of health and vitality but everything changed in recent years. Wheat’s become something to be avoided because it contains gluten and fewer people are consuming it.
However, coeliac disease only affects 1% of the population whereas around 8% of people are going gluten-free. We need to ask ourself whether it’s just a fashionable choice for those who aren’t affected by the disease, especially since the gluten-free market is growing.
Studies have shown that gluten-free diets are becoming fashionable. When questioned, more people say that gluten causes digestive problems while far fewer of them have any gluten intolerance.
Similarly, a nocebo effect has been found with gluten-free diets. The nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect where a supposedly harmful product is harmless. Studies have shown that those who opt for a gluten-free diet believe that products with gluten have been introduced even when they haven’t. They believe they’re suffering the symptoms of gluten sensitivity.
In one study, those who stopped consuming gluten found that 30% of suffered another problem: intestinal bacteria, fructose or lactose intolerance, colitis, etc.
Some will brag about the benefits of going gluten-free: weight loss, increased energy, etc. However, it’s difficult to know if these are the benefits of going gluten-free or just eating fewer prepackaged products and eating more fruits and vegetables in your diet.
In short, if you’re not suffering from coeliac disease, a wheat allergy, or irritable bowel syndrome, you have no reason to go gluten-free.
In any case, if you want to go gluten-free because you think it’ll be good for your health, you should probably see a nutritionist to ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals that you need and replace the ones you’ll miss out on because of the products you take out of your diet.
If you need any help with nutritional advice, consider getting in touch with one of the private tutors on Superprof. There are many a talented nutritionist near me, dietitian, and fitness instructor who can help you.
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