Is a gluten-free diet a good choice?
Sensitivity to gluten has been a scourge of the past years. It is a global phenomenon, which has nothing to do with celiac disease, an inborn gluten intolerance. A growing number of people are concerned about the health effects of gluten and consider its elimination from their diet, just in case. The question is not an easy one, as gluten can be found in cereal products, known for their beneficial effects. So, is a gluten-free diet good for us?
Gluten is a protein (proline) found in some cereals (wheat, rye, barley, oat). It consists of gliadin (a class of wheat prolamin proteins, responsible for the sensitivity) and glutenin (a class of wheat glutelin proteins). Gluten also encompasses rye prolamins (secalins), barley prolamins (hordeins) and oat prolamins (avenins). It is this very substance that stands behind dough kneadability as, combined with water, it makes the dough stringy and able to rise.
Different types of sensitivity to foods containing gluten:
- allergy to wheat
- celiac disease (gluten intolerance)
- NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity)
Who should exclude gluten from their diet? About celiac disease and NCGS.
Products containing gluten must not be eaten by people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a permanent intolerance of gluten, i.e. of the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. It is a systemic immunological disorder in which the body produces an immunological reaction to this class of proteins. In simple words, celiac disease is an inherited allergy to gluten. Celiac disease leads to intestinal mucosa inflammation or, in extreme cases, to villous atrophy, which prevents nutrient absorption from the food; for this very reason, people diagnosed with celiac disease must exclude gluten from their diet.
Observations from recent years show that a growing number of people demonstrate non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The condition primarily affects adult women. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity was officially recognised as a disease entity in 2011, during two international conferences (in London and in Oslo). It was then that the name for the disease, NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) was established (2012). The problem may affect as much as 6% of the global population. The diagnosis is difficult, and requires the exclusion of celiac disease and wheat allergy. The symptoms in people who poorly tolerate foods with gluten are atypical and may occur even a few (ten plus) hours after consumption (from common gastro-intestinal disturbances such as bloats, stomach-aches, diarrhoeas to less characteristic symptoms, including headaches, anxiety, muscle and joint pains or depression). The causes of the disease are not definitely known, yet among them experts count eating too much food rich in gluten (up to 20g of gluten a day).
The highest amounts of gluten are found in wheat including, in particular, its modern varieties, which is due to large-scale modifications aiming, among others, to increase gluten content. Eating wheat-based products is not good for all. Many people have not developed the proper adaptive mechanisms related to the functioning of the digestive and immune system. Some organisms have problems defending themselves against the gluten contained in wheat. The causes should primarily be sought in the changes in wheat composition, introduced over the years.
The sensitivity after wheat consumption may be due to:
- long-chain proteins found in wheat, which are digested longer in the digestive tract
- the fructans present in wheat, which are counted among FODMAPs. It is because of them that wheat is poorly tolerated by people with irritable bowel syndrome
- changed composition of the intestinal flora (e.g. due to yeast infection) which affects the immune system
- increased intestinal permeability
Do not exclude grains from your diet, unless you really have to
Beyond doubt, people with celiac disease or NCGS need to exclude gluten products from their diet to feel good and be healthy. Although, by doing so, they eliminate an allergen that may lead to serious health issues, they also get rid of valuable nutrients. In her interview with TVN24, Anna Malinowska from the faculty of Food Science and Nutrition of the Poznań University of Life Sciences said that by eliminating gluten from our diet without consulting a doctor we can bring about serious disorders in the body, caused by the deficiency of crucial elements such as folic acid, other vitamins B, zinc, selenium, calcium and magnesium.
Grains are a rich storehouse of valuable nutrients. Do not exclude them from your diet, unless you really have to.
Grains are a rich storehouse of valuable nutrients. Why eat grains? Grains contain a number of valuable nutrients which the body needs to function properly. Additionally, owing to the long vegetation period, they are characterised by high biovitality (for more information on the subject see the article entitled xx). See for yourself why a diet rich in grains is so beneficial for the body!
Oats are gluten-free. They are valued for their nutritional value, confirmed in scientific research. When compared to other grains, oats have one of the highest contents of protein and are rich in fats. In particular, oats contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (oleic and linoleic acids), which promote the proper functioning of the circulatory system. Additionally, oats are a valuable source of vitamin B and micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and potassium, and are rich in dietary fibre, including the valuable beta-glucans, which help reduce blood cholesterol. Beta-glucans, which are not digested, form a myxoid protective layer in the stomach and in the small bowel, which delays the decomposition of starch and, thus, glucose absorption. Through this, they protect the mucus in the bowel against irritation or bacterial infections. Furthermore, by making you stay full for longer, beta-glucans prevent obesity, which is listed among the major causes of civilization diseases of the 21st century. Research has confirmed that beta-glucans neutralise the activity of free radicals in the body. Therefore, they can be considered strong anti-oxidants that stand behind the body’s immunity and youth.
Major health benefits of beta-glucans:
- they reduce blood cholesterol, among others, through their ability to bind bile acids and, thus, reduce cholesterol absorption in the alimentary tract
- they inhibit blood glucose spiking after eating
- they regulate bowel activity
- they participate in the process of healing bowel and stomach mucus inflammations and alleviate the consequences of peptic ulcers
- they support the immune system and increase immunity
As shown above, an increased share of oats in everyday diet may improve the health of people suffering from hypertension. Finally, oats are a natural gluten-free product. They are best served as a porridge or bran.
Spelt wheat is a wild wheat, common in the Middle Ages. In our times, it has been supplanted by common wheat, often genetically modified. Yet, as a result of these modifications, common wheat now tends to be increasingly avoided, and other long-forgotten varieties are taking the floor. One of these is spelt wheat. Spelt wheat is enjoying a triumphal comeback to our tables because of its health benefits. Here, the gliadin/glutein proportion is better than in common wheat, which may make it more tolerable to people with gluten allergy. Besides, spelt wheat contains more phytosterols which, at the right concentration, help reduce blood cholesterol. Plus, it is richer in nutrients than common wheat. Spelt wheat contains more protein, vitamin B, phosphorus and magnesium. When included in everyday diet, these ingredients improve the functioning of the nervous system and prevent dementia.
Spelt wheat is difficult to process, as the husk strongly adheres to the grain. Until recently, this property was considered a drawback of the variety, but now, it tends to be seen as an advantage, as the husk naturally protects the grain against insects, fungi and toxins.
The approach to celiac disease and NCGS consists in changing the eating habits, e.g. through elimination of foods containing gluten from the daily menu. To alleviate gastro-intestinal problems, it may also be helpful to cut down on products rich in FODMAPs and chemical additives. Alongside the elimination of certain products, a diet based on naturally gluten-free foods should be introduced. The diet should be rich in cereals such as millet (millet groats), maize, rice, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa or leguminous plant seeds (soy, lentils, chickpeas).
FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that undergo fermentation in the initial segments of the small intestine. The gases produced in the fermentation process cause stomach-aches, bloats, diarrhoeas, constipation, stomach gurgles, belching and colic.
Still, people who do not have such health issues should not eliminate cereals from their diet, as these cereals provide valuable nutrients. The results of repeated research by Peter Gibson have shown that gluten consumption has no significant impact on the health of those who are not allergic. Therefore, the fad for a gluten-free diet should not obscure rational thinking, as the benefits of grains are invaluable. So, eat grains!