1 March 2010

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Gluten-free foods are better for you.

Nicole Senior

Fact: Only people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are better off eating gluten-free foods – and some gluten-free foods aren’t so healthy.
The range of gluten-free food products has exploded in recent years and now widely available in supermarkets. While this is great news for sufferers of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, the numbers just don’t add up. Since coeliac disease affects only 1% of the population, either there has been an explosion of gluten intolerance or there are lots of people buying these products who don’t have a diagnosable problem with gluten. It appears that ‘gluten-free’ has become the latest health fad.

Where does this idea come from that gluten is somehow bad for us? Dietitians commonly point the finger at naturopaths and other alternative health practitioners who recommend exclusion of wheat and gluten almost as a matter of course. Then the word-of-mouth message starts to spread. A growing number of consumers believe gluten-free foods are healthier and start to buy gluten-free foods by choice. More products become available to meet demand, the diet becomes easier to follow, more people buy them because they’re there, and the trend takes hold.

It doesn’t make sense that wheat (the most common source of gluten in the diet) would be somehow harmful. Wheat has been cultivated since 9000BC, is grown worldwide, and is the world’s third largest produced grain crop used to make a huge range of staple foods including leavened bread, flat breads, pasta and noodles.

Imagine not being able to eat regular bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, biscuits, crisp bread, cakes, thickened sauces and even beer? Wheat and other gluten-containing grains are almost ubiquitous in our Western-style food culture. The gluten-free diet has a high degree of difficulty, so why would you follow it unless you absolutely had to? In additition, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has shown reduced numbers of friendly gut bacteria and reduced immune function in people following a gluten-free diet.

However the real issue is the gluten-free products themselves. Many are highly processed and based on high GI ingredients such as rice and potato and some have lots of added saturated fat and sugar to enhance palatability, especially in the sweet biscuit, bar and cake category. Few products are based on wholegrain versions of gluten-free grains, even though they are healthier.

For those of you with symptoms of coeliac disease such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, lethargy and iron deficiency, don’t self diagnose and put yourself on a gluten free diet. See your doctor first for a definitive diagnosis through blood test and intestinal biopsy (following a gluten free diet before diagnosis of coeliac disease can actually prevent a correct diagnosis being made).

If your symptoms are not due to coeliac disease, but you suspect food is somehow the cause, see a registered dietitian (an APD in Australia) with experience in food intolerance to identify the real dietary culprits and create a personalised diet for you to manage your symptoms.

If you’d like quality information on heart health and great recipes check out Nicole's website HERE.


Anonymous said...

I am very dissapointed by your misleading entry on gluten free eating. I suffer from coeliac disease (medically diagnosed) and can honestly say a gluten free diet is extremely healthy as it basically eliminates all the processed rubbish that constitues a western diet and leaves you with the rest - FRESH produce(meat, poultry, fish, fruit & veg, plus a wide variety of grains). The wheat used in today's produce is genetically modified to contain more gluten so it is nothing like the wheat cultivated 9000BC-it isn't even close to wheat cultivated 100 years ago. Please write to educate your readers on better eating rather than writing such a skewed article.

GI Group said...

We have passed your comments on to Nicole and she will answer them as soon as possible.

mgwa said...

I don't have celiac but I use several foods labeled "gluten-free" because they often are free of other allergens I need to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Here, here, to Anon. The issue with wheat is the fact that we have modified it so greatly from it's orginal form. Add to that the fact that we the eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner AND snacks and we have a serious overloading problem for the liver. Better to mix up your grains - why not try oats for breakkie, spelt bread for lunch and then you can consider pasta for dinner. The less processed/modified food in your body i.e. wheat products, the better for you. I certainly know I haven't looked back since actively reducing my wheat consumption.

tingting said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Well said anonymous! What I would really like to know Nicole, is please tell me the gluten free foods I can eat that are low or lower GI as I have been medically diagnosed through blood tests as being moderate gluten intolerance. Since I stopped eating gluten, all my 'symptoms' disappeared - gas, bloating, tiredness. I have often looked on your site for alternatives, but you don't have many gluten free things listed. I want to know alternatives please.

GI Group said...

Re low or lower GI gluten-free foods:
The best resource is a book called Low GI Gluten-free Living (in Australia) and Low GI Gluten-Free Eating Made Easy in the US/Canada. Lead author Dr Kate Marsh is a GI researcher and has celiac disease so she really understands the problem. It's packed with information on what's in and what's out and what the best low GI choices are. Check your library, bookshops or Amazon.

Unknown said...

This makes sense, I've noticed a lot of the mum's at school claiming they are adopting "Gluten-Free" diets, and openly admitting they have no intolerance, simply because they heard or read somewhere that it's better for them and can lead to more effective weight-loss!
Also, Anonymous' comments seem confused - I didn't read it as it wasn't healthy,I read it as being an unnecessary diet option for those without coeliac disease etc.

Anonymous said...

I am not diagnosed as having Coeliac Disease, but need to eat gluten and dairy free. Whilst I understand what the article is saying, some people DO actually have food intolerances. I hate it when people assume that because I eat gluten and dairy free, I am a nutter - when it actual fact, it really makes me sick for days.... I don't like it when people just eat gluten or dairy free just for the 'percieved' health benefits or for weight loss. It really does damage to the plight of people who genuinely get sick, whether from Coeliac Disease or not...