60 percent of us have bought a gluten-free product. 15 percent of us try to cut out gluten out of our lives altogether.
And more than half of us think that a gluten-free diet is healthier. After all, gluten's opponents have linked it with everything from autism to Alzheimer's disease. But actually is gluten bad for you? We sort facts from fiction …
What is gluten?
Gluten consists of two protein groups (gliadin and glutenin) that accumulate when flour and water are mixed to form you. It is found in whole grains like wheat, grains and rye.
What food does gluten have?
Gluten is found in conventionally produced wheat products such as bread, pasta, pizza, cakes and biscuits. It also fits beer, lager and grain squash, some sweets and many pasta sauces, gravies and spices like soy sauce.
Is gluten bad for you?
For most of us, gluten is not really good or bad, especially when consumed as part of a balanced diet. And many foods that contain gluten are actually very good for us.
For a small number, however, the consumption gluten can have serious side effects. Celiac disease, which means you are a severe allegry to gluten, affects about 1 in 100 people in the UK. Sufferers have an allergic response to gluten, which means consuming small amounts, even a single breadcrumb, causes small intestine damage and prevents nutrient absorption, suppresses growth and increases the risk of anemia, osteoporosis and some cancers. Symptoms of gluten allergy usually occur within a few hours to eat and can last for several days. They often include weight loss, fatigue, nausea, bloating, pain and mouth ulcers. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood sample.
A further 13% of us are expected to have a gluten intolerance or non-celiacial gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Signs of gluten intolerance include gastrointestinal sensitivity, joint pain and headache. But researchers believe that at least some of these symptoms can be caused by other proteins, yeast, pesticides or footmaps.
Gluten-free dietary benefits
But can a gluten-free diet be good for you?
85-90% of those with celiac disease are perceived to be unconscious about their condition. For those suffering from an undiscovered case of the disease, a gluten-free diet gives enormous health benefits. But "at the moment there is no evidence that gluten-free has any health benefit for anyone who does not have celiac disease," assures nutritionist Suzanne Anderegg.
Adding natural gluten-free grains like quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth to our dietary habits while experiencing our intake of pulses, fruits and vegetables can have nutritional benefits. However, "people who start a gluten-free diet should always seek advice from a professional registered dietitian or registered nutritionist," says Sarah Jackson, linking the gluten-free trend with the Paleo Diet phenomenon. "The only benefits I look at this diet – and I say that with caution, because I do not encourage cutting out grain, dairy, oils, legumes, sugar or salt – that can increase the consumption of fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables, What are all good foods to include in our diets. "
The dangers of going gluten free
As said, "gluten-free excludes many nutritional foods from diet," nutritionist Claire Baseley argues. "Whole grains are a rich source of fiber, B vitamins and minerals like iron and folate," expands Suzanne. "There is much evidence that a diet rich in whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer." Sarah claims that some kind of "free from" diet can actually do you have more harm than good if you do not have any allergy or intolerance and seek professional advice.
You may be surprised to know that gluten-free products often contain higher fats, sugar and additives than their conventional counterparts. Far from being the "unhealthy" alternative, scientists believe that foods like wheat can actually act as immunostimulants and natural prebiotics in non-heart disease. Gluten-freeness has been linked to weight gain, inflammation, insulin resistance, decreases in "good" intestinal bacteria and immune function and increased levels of "bad" intestinal bacteria, mercury and arsenic. It can also affect your memory.
Suzanne also points out that gluten-free products are generally more expensive and less tasty. "And as everyone who is celiaki will tell you, it's a lot of hard work and affects your whole life." Why put you through it if you do not need? The so-called "pure eating" trend can not only have negative nutritional consequences, "Claire says, but creates unnecessary fear and anxiety about food. "Food should celebrate and enjoy!" She expands.
New research done by Leeds University found that only five percent of the gluten-free bread currently available in our supermarkets is fortified with calcium, iron and thiamine at the government's recommended levels.
While British manufacturers must consolidate wheat-based bread flour with calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine do not apply gluten-free versions.
Commenting on the results, Dr Caroline Orfila, co-author and teacher of nutrition in Leeds, said: "Gluten-free foods must have the same nutrition standard as white wheat flour equivalents."
It appears that there are both positive and potential pitfalls to go gluten-free and both must be considered before starting a gluten-free diet.