Adopting a gluten free diet seems to be on trend at the moment. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats as a storage protein. For people living with coeliac disease, the consumption of gluten causes inflammation and damage to the intestine and must therefore be strictly excluded from their diet.
A truly gluten free diet is very restrictive and requires extra food preparation and extensive planning. Avoiding gluten can also be very expensive when looking for convenience products or ready-to-eat foods and snack items. Gluten is found in may foods as it can simply be included for product stability and visual appeal, for example the shine on corn flakes is attributed to barley.
Gluten free eating has however become popular based on assumptions that gluten promotes obesity and inflammatory diseases. Research investigating the long term intake of gluten and the risk for heart disease has shown that there is NO association between eating gluten and the development of heart disease.
The reason many people experience weight loss on a gluten free diet is a simple one. There is a natural reduction in the intake of high energy, non-nutritious foods when omitting gluten. By avoiding the gluten in cakes, biscuits, pastries and muffins, one is technically avoiding cakes, biscuits, pastries, muffins which are high in energy from fat and sugar in addition to the flour content while devoid of beneficial nutrients.
Gluten containing whole grains such as wholewheat, oats, barley and rye have beneficial properties which protect against heart disease. Fibre is an essential nutrient, with wheat bran fibre acting as a prebiotic food and the most effective stool bulking agent for constipation relief. Certain wholegrain breakfast cereals, shunned for their small amounts of additional sugar, are good sources of not only fibre but important micronutrients such as iron and vitamin D.
Avoiding gluten is therefore not recommended for people without coeliac disease. IBS sufferers with various food sensitivities and digestive discomforts should seek help with a low FODMAP diet before eliminating gluten completely.
On the other hand, limiting highly refined starches such as products baked with white flour and sugar, white breads, white crackers and pastries is advisable for healthy weight management and optimal nutrient intake. Making sure that your starch containing foods offer you other nutrient benefits in addition to carbohydrate energy is key to achieving optimal nutrition and disease prevention.
6 tips for optimizing nutrition without going gluten free:
- Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, breads, pastas and crackers
- Add protein rich foods to cereals, toast, crackers or sandwiches (milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, lean meat, eggs)
- Add healthy fats such as peanut butter, seeds, olives, olive oil, avocado
- Include naturally gluten free starches at least once a day (brown rice, baby potatoes, sweet potato, buckwheat)
- Maintain good portion control by filling half your plate with vegetables or salad first
- Snack on fruit or roasted legumes between meals rather than bread, crackers or cereal bars
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Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study BMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1892 (Published 02 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1892