Gluten free products are becoming increasingly accessible and restaurants are offering a range of gluten free meals which is great for people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance’s. However, for the rest of us, this fad diet is not necessarily beneficial for your health.
What is gluten and why the gluten free diet?
Gluten is a protein which is present in many grains including wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten is also found hidden in many other products including frozen vegetables in sauces, soy sauce, some “natural flavorings,” vitamin and mineral supplements, medications and toothpaste. In people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance’s a strictly gluten free diet is important because even small traces of gluten can cause damage to their small intestines and result in a number of symptoms including pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhea and fatigue.
Why gluten free is not as healthy as it seems?
For everyone else who can consume gluten, the gluten free diet is extremely restrictive, expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, going gluten free excludes many nutritious foods especially wholegrains. Wholegrains are an important source of vitamins and minerals including B-vitamins, folate and fibre. A number of studies have investigated wholegrains and found that they can provide a range of health benefits including lowered risk of heart disease, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Although a few wholegrains such as amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat are gluten free, it is difficult to meet the dietary guidelines with such limited choices. When excluding wholefood groups from the diet you are greatly increasing your risk of nutritional deficiency. Gluten free products also tend to be lower in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fibre which means you are missing out on opportunities to get additional nutrients. Given that most Australians consume less than half the recommended quantity of wholegrain foods, the gluten free diet is not recommended for those who can tolerate gluten. According to the Australian Guidelines, adults should be consuming 6 serves per day.
How you can tackle the gluten free diet
If you do decide to eliminate gluten from your diet, ensure you include naturally gluten free grains in your diet such as amaranth, millet, quinoa or buckwheat. Also, ensure that you include lots of fruit and vegetables, lean meat and low fat dairy products to ensure you are gaining a variety of nutrients.
Read more here: Foodfacts Index: What you must know about the gluten free diet
- Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, Department of health and Ageing. (2013). Eat for health, Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/eatingwell/efh_food_label_example_130621.pdf