Is gluten bad for you? This is a hugely debated subject, and one that has caused much controversy over the years. A quick search on Google will reveal a whole range of articles and opinions both for and against gluten.
Make sure you don’t go ditching the pasta and pizza straight away. Unless you suffer from celiac disease or have a gluten allergy, it’s unlikely that gluten is bad for you or benefit you much.
You’ll just miss out on some delicious pasta and pizza. Before we go any further, it’s worth explaining what gluten actually is, what it does and is gluten bad for you.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins known as gliadin and glutenin, which are present in many types of grains.
Some gluten containing grains include:
- Wheat (including varieties of wheat such as spelt and farro)
Basically, these proteins are responsible for giving dough its sticky and stretchy attributes.
A common misconception is that oats contain gluten. They are actually naturally gluten free. Because oats are commonly grown near, and manufactured in the same facilities as wheat, barley and rye, many celiacs usually avoid eating them.
Why are there so many people concerned about gluten?
Gluten does cause issues for some people by triggering an autoimmune response.
This is common in autoimmune diseases and disorders such as:
- Celiac disease
- Duhring’s disease (aka dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Gluten ataxia
It can also cause an allergic response. These include:
- Food allergy
- Contact dermatitis
If you suffer from any of the conditions above, it is essential you follow a gluten free diet, in order to avoid suffering from the symptoms related to each condition. All of these conditions have all been well studied and defined. If you think you may have an intolerance, you should visit your GP.
It’s probably best to avoid over-the-counter sensitivity test kits you can buy, which test you for sensitivities using poor methodology. Your GP will be able to give you a clear answer, using proven methods.
Difference between gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance
People often use the two terms interchangeably. But actually, sensitivity is different to intolerance, in terms of severity.
There are some cases where people suffer from something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Around 0.6-6% of people are are neither autoimmune or allergic. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accurate method to test for this yet, and there isn’t a defined explanation as to why this sensitivity seems to have occurred; yet evidence is mounting for its legitimacy, at least.
However, the vast majority of the public do not have the above conditions, and, therefore, shouldn’t need to avoid gluten.
So then why do so many people avoid it?
This myth most likely stems from people cutting gluten out of their diet in the form of removing high calorie foods like cakes, biscuits, pasta and pizza. This often results in people losing weight and feeling better than they did previously.
Naturally you would most likely think that your weight loss is a direct result of removing gluten from your diet. The reality is that you have simply decreased the amount of calories you consume!
The calorie deficit you have ‘accidentally’ created, you are also likely to have improved your diet overall by replacing “bad foods” with nutritionally superior foods like fruit and veg, which are packed with vitamins and minerals.
As a direct result, you have:
- more energy
- have less gas
- experience more healthy bowel movements
The improvement in health is likely nothing to do with the removing of gluten, rather the introduction of more nutritious foods.
When this is the case for thousands of people, it leads to negative marketing surrounding gluten. More people start to follow the trend and get the same positive results. All of a sudden gluten is public enemy no. 1 and the supermarkets start selling expensive, gluten-free alternatives.
It’s certainly a great money maker!
But doesn’t gluten cause bloating?
Bloating is a common symptom of celiac disease, it is often a go-to explanation.
The truth is, bloating can occur for one of several reasons. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disorder (IBD) and other food intolerances are also common causes. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that bloating is solely caused by gluten.
Obviously if you have just eaten a huge meal and feel bloated after it, it’s more likely to be due to food volume in your belly than anything else.
If you are regularly bloated, you should try to identify the cause. Note down when it occurs and what, if anything, you have had to eat and drink prior to this episode.
In the case of persistent symptoms, and/or it causing you considerable distress, you should speak to your GP, nutritionist or dietitian for more advice.
Is it true that gluten causes a leaky gut?
Leaky gut is another name for increased intestinal permeability. That is the increase of food particles passing through the cells lining the gut wall into the rest of your body.
Some alternative medicine practitioners claim this to be the cause of a variety of issues affecting the different systems in the body. However, these claims have not been backed by any solid research.
Increases in intestinal permeability happen naturally in the body. It allows larger molecules to pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream more easily.
In healthy people, this then returns to its original state and there is no issue. Medically, there is no evidence to suggest that this is a harmful process, and is perfectly normal.
Increased intestinal permeability is often seen in bowel conditions such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), celiac disease and post-chemotherapy, and is a symptom rather than a cause of said conditions.
In reality, this tends to lead to inflammation of the gut lining, as opposed to resulting in ‘leaking’ as the name would lead you to believe.
When we consume foods that contain gluten, an increase in intestinal permeability occurs in order to allow the passage of the gluten molecules through the gut lining into the bloodstream, where it can be cleared by the bodies immune system.
Keep in mind that in a non-celiac individual, this would not lead to any issues. If you suffer from celiac disease, this immune response is significantly heightened, which can lead to the associated symptoms.
So is gluten bad for you?
- Unless you suffer with celiac or Duhring’s disease or are allergic, the simple answer is, no, it is not bad for you.
- If cutting out gluten from your diet makes you feel better, there is no reason why you have to eat it either.
- If you substitute some high calorie gluten containing foods with more nutritionally dense foods like vegetables, this is likely to lead to an overall calorie reduction (and probable weight loss).
Cutting out gluten from your diet won’t cause you any harm, but it can make life more challenging and expensive if you want to replace all of your pasta and bread with the gluten-free versions.
To summarize, if you don’t experience any negative symptoms when you eat a slice of bread or some pasta, then you can relax, and just enjoy the food you are already eating.
If you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease and would like further information on how to adapt your diet, visit Coeliac UK.
This article first appeared on GYMNASIUMPOST.com on 5th July, 2020.