Written By: Kath Megaw, Clinical Paediatric Dietician
BSc Dietetics Hons, Diploma Paediatric Dietetics
Kath is a Coeliac Disease sufferer too
“All grains are equal, but some grains are more equal than others” adapted from George Orwell, Animal Farm
This rings true for people with coeliac disease. Gluten is a wonderful protein found in a number of grain products. Some of these grains include wheat, barley, spelt, semolina and rye. In food production, gluten has many benefits and one of them being its stretch like quality. Think of a pizza maker throwing his pizza in the air – without gluten, the dough would rip apart.
Unfortunately, gluten has received a lot of bad press over the years and it is becoming more and more common that people without coeliac disease are removing gluten from their diets. This is concerning as gluten and gluten containing grains are a very important source of nutrition in most people’s diets.
Some studies have shown that diets rich in whole grains decrease the risk of some lifestyle diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There may be a link between gluten intake and a healthy gut due to increased healthy bacteria.
For the majority of the world’s population, gluten is not only safe to consume but forms an essential component of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, for the small group of people diagnosed with coeliac disease gluten is not just unhealthy it’s dangerous and needs to be avoided at all costs.
For someone diagnosed with coeliac disease, it is imperative that a strict gluten free diet is adhered to. A gluten free diet is a diet that removes all foods containing gluten or contaminated with gluten. Gluten-containing whole grains contain fiber and nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium and iron, and it is important to make up for these missing nutrients. Ensure that you include gluten free foods in their whole form like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, and poultry. Grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, corn, sorghum and gluten free oats. Oats inherently do not contain gluten but often get contaminated depending where grown, harvested and packaged. Gluten free oats are oats grown, harvested and packaged in isolation (like a lockdown).
At present, the gluten free industry has grown exponentially since 2013 resulting in a large market of gluten free foods. Interestingly, studies have shown that people who do not have coeliac disease are the biggest purchasers of gluten free products. When people are asked why they select gluten free foods, they mention ‘it’s the healthier option’ and for ‘improved digestive health’.
There is no good research showing that gluten free diets for people without coeliac disease are important for gut health or overall health. It’s likely that gluten free products are less healthy and may increase the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, as many gluten free products are high in refined sugars and saturated fats and tend to have a high glycemic index.
We will leave you with this message – if you have coeliac disease substitute your gluten rich whole grains with gluten free whole grains. Increase your seasonal fruit and veggie intake, consume healthy fats, lean proteins and limit the amount of refined gluten free products. If you do not have coeliac disease consider your motivation for choosing gluten-free foods.
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