We all hear talk of gluten-free this and gluten-free that, and I think there has been a lot of confusion about what it all means and why one would avoid gluten even with a balanced diet.
First of all, let’s have a look at what gluten actually is…
Gluten is a mixture of proteins. It’s composed of gliadin and glutenin which join together with starch found in wheat and related grains. The common misconception is that gluten is in wheat, but in fact, it’s only formed with these three proteins join together. As we all know (or those of us who watch Great British Bake Off on repeat (oh no wait, maybe that’s just me), gluten is the thing that gives bread its rise and elasticity. It is the glue (in fact, gluten is actually Latin for glue) that holds foods together.
Coeliac disease has become more recognized in recent years, and it’s an incredibly debilitating condition, symptoms of which are often mistaken for IBS or other inflammatory bowel conditions, and sometimes lactose intolerance. Those who suffer with the disease are allergic to gluten, and eating even small amounts can cause serious issues. Many people with the disease have other ailments such as osteoporosis (as their bodies are unable to absorb sufficient levels of calcium), anaemia and in women, irregular periods, infertility and increased risk of miscarriage.
A lot of people with IBS assume they have issues with gluten, and gluten intolerance has had a lot of news coverage of late with many people adopting a gluten-free lifestyle without truly understanding why.
I have discovered in my bid to deal with my own food issues that gluten intolerance is a bit of a myth. Many people experience wind and bloating after consuming bread and in turn adopt a gluten-free diet. When they see their symptoms improve, they automatically assume they are/were suffering with a gluten intolerance. What the majority of people don’t realise is that it is actually wheat that is the problem.
Since starting my low FODMAP diet I have had to exclude wheat from my diet entirely. This has meant eating a lot of gluten-free foods mainly because the ingredients used in the manufacture of these products do not contain wheat or related grains (like barley, rye and spelt). They are made with rice, tapioca, potato etc and therefore do not irritate the gut in the same way that wheat does.
There are also those who may suffer with issues related to yeast. A good (but incredibly gross) way to test for yeast issues is to spit into a glass of water as soon as you wake up and if it sinks you’ve likely got an issue going on. Sometimes it may float and some tendrils will sink to the bottom, this is an indicator that you should potentially watch your intake of yeast. If it just floats, you’re fine (phew!) Did you know that yeast intolerances can cause acne? I came across this fact when trying to deal with my own problems with adult acne several years ago.
If you are suffering from wheat sensitivity, this doesn’t mean you have to completely remove wheat from your diet. Some people are more sensitive than others, and there are certain wheat based products which may not cause any reactions to some. If you have removed wheat from your diet and want to reintroduce it, do it slowly. Please don’t start with bread!! Start with pasta, and perhaps some Weetabix. Remember that a lot of processed bread contains a lot of additives that are not good for you. Have a go at making your own so you know exactly what is going into your body - soda bread is a brilliant way to begin and can be made from start to finish in about 40 minutes. This is a great bread to eat if you have yeast-related problems as there is no yeast in this at all. Sourdough bread contains natural yeast so may be better tolerated (it also has a brilliant sort of tangy flavour you don’t get with any other types of bread).
As I said, I have cut wheat out of my diet completely and whilst it’s tough at times to find things to eat on menus in restaurants, cooking for yourself doesn’t have to be limited. There are so many brilliant gluten-, wheat- and dairy-free products out there that you can substitute for your standard wheat-heavy products, plus it’s a great way of learning to use different grains! Instead of pasta as an accompaniment, try quinoa, rice, lentils (full of protein) or buckwheat, which despite the name is not related to wheat (it’s not a grass) but is related to sorrel and rhubarb (yum!).
If you’re suffering from any digestive related problems, please visit your GP to ensure there is nothing serious going on. They can diagnose IBS, IBD and Coeliac disease and will advise you on how to proceed in a healthy way. Don’t exclude food groups from your diet completely without prior advice from a professional as this can cause more harm than good.