Should I go gluten free?

The Wellingtonian - - Front Page -

Q: There’s a lot of hype about go­ing gluten free. What are the ben­e­fits and is it some­thing that ev­ery­one would be bet­ter off do­ing? Thanks, An­nie. A: Gluten is the name given to a pro­tein in wheat, rye, bar­ley and oats, it’s a com­pos­ite name rep­re­sent­ing gliadin in wheat, hordein in bar­ley, se­calin in rye and avenin in oats.

There is a ge­netic typ­ing that has been strongly linked to au­toim­mune dis­eases, of which coeliac dis­ease is one. The geno­type tends to oc­cur more in peo­ple of Ir­ish her­itage. Think about this: up un­til 1845, one of the main sources of starch for Ir­ish peo­ple was pota­toes.

How­ever, once the potato famine hit, they then started to eat more gluten-con­tain­ing grains in much greater quan­ti­ties than ever be­fore, to pro­vide starch for en­ergy for their labour. Coeliac dis­ease has be­come very com­mon down that Ir­ish line.

Given the com­bi­na­tion of gluten con­sump­tion in any large quan­ti­ties be­ing rel­a­tively new to their way of eat­ing – 1845 is only about six or seven gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple ago, and we don’t evolve that quickly – with a gene pro­file that is com­mon among peo­ple of Ir­ish de­cent, you have a sce­nario where gluten may not sup­port health; in fact it can be harm­ful.

Yet there are many peo­ple who do not test pos­i­tive to coeliac dis­ease and have nu­mer­ous symp­toms that re­solve through the same di­etary changes. My take on this is that the sci­ence isn’t fin­ished yet. What if there are 50 more mech­a­nisms through which the hu­man body re­acts to gluten, and coeliac dis­ease is only the main one we cur­rently know about?

That said, gluten free is not a way of eat­ing that ev­ery­one needs to fol­low. The best way for us to iden­tify if we have a sen­si­tiv­ity to gluten (aside from coeliac test­ing which would be ad­vis­able in those who have se­vere or per­sis­tent di­ges­tive up­sets) is to firstly pay at­ten­tion to how we feel af­ter each meal and se­condly omit gluten from our diet for a trial pe­riod of time and see how it sits when we rein­tro­duce it.

If you ex­pe­ri­ence re­flux or bloat­ing af­ter eat­ing, do you think your body is re­joic­ing and let­ting you know it’s thrilled with the choice you just made? No. It is re­gur­gi­tat­ing what you swal­lowed so that it doesn’t go any fur­ther into your body or cre­ate bloat­ing and po­ten­tially gas be­cause it doesn’t have the right tools to break down what you’ve con­sumed.

Yet so of­ten our brain (or taste buds!) kick in and, de­spite know­ing that the food doesn’t agree with us, we cry ‘‘Oh, but I love it!’’, deny­ing that any changes need to be made. By omit­ting those foods that don’t make us feel so good, we give our body a rest and im­prove our di­ges­tion – and through that all the other as­pects of our health.

So if you feel that gluten may be a trig­ger for your di­ges­tive com­plaints, you may wish to con­sider a 4-8 week trial of a gluten-free diet, and then see how you feel when you rein­tro­duce it.

If, based on your results, you feel that a gluten free way of eat­ing would be a good choice for you, it’s ad­vis­able to speak with a nutri­tion pro­fes­sional who can guide you through the change and en­sure you’re get­ting the nu­tri­ents you would or­di­nar­ily get from these food choices else­where.

Please note though that to ob­tain an ac­cu­rate re­sult from coeliac test­ing, gluten needs to be in the diet. ❚ Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and speaker. The ad­vice con­tained in this col­umn is not in­tended to be a sub­sti­tute for di­rect, per­son­alised ad­vice from a health pro­fes­sional. See dr­libby.com

There are lots of gluten free al­ter­na­tives out there for those want­ing to try go­ing with­out for a trial pe­riod. CHAR­LOTTE CURD/FAIRFAX NZ

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