Giving up bread can make you fat: Gluten IS good for you
With claims that it boosts energy, reduces water retention and helps you lose weight more easily than any other regimen; you can see the appeal of a gluten-free diet.
But experts are warning that cutting out gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley – for no medical reason may cause weight gain, fatigue, headaches and a lack of nutrients.
Gluten is present in a wide range of foods, from bread and pasta to sauces and even beer and for the millions with celiac disease, giving it up is a medical necessity.
Celiac disease is a serious auto-immune condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten, triggering it to attack the lining of the small intestine.
Diarrhea, constipation and bloating as well as mouth ulcers, bad skin, joint pain and depression. It can lead to infertility, miscarriages, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.
Celiac disease is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the intestine or via blood tests. Sufferers must be strict in avoiding gluten.
But this is different from so-called ‘gluten intolerance’, which is linked to IBS, headaches and mood swings. The problem, say experts, is that people are self-diagnosing it.
Gluten intolerance was one of the ‘make-believe allergies’ highlighted by Portsmouth University researchers in January 2010, in a study that showed a fifth of adults wrongly believe they have a problem with certain foods.
‘Gluten intolerance certainly exists,’ says Tanya Thomas, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic association.
‘But we know that the amount of people who truly have celiac-like symptoms is a lot less than the number of people who are cutting it out of their diets. A real intolerance to gluten can be diagnosed easily with the tests for celiac disease and means someone would need to avoid every crumb of gluten in their diet to avoid feeling ill.’
There is a huge problem with under diagnosis of the disease with only ten to 15 per cent of those affected realize the cause of their symptoms.
However, there is no evidence that gluten intolerance is on the increase, says Dr. Emma Williams of the British Nutrition Foundation.
And yet the market for gluten-free foods has grown by 29 per cent in the past five years. According to market research company Mintel, gluten-free is one of the fastest growing food categories.
Dr. WilIiams believes people are cutting out gluten because of the internet, self-testing kits available from pharmacies and celebrity fads. For some cutting out gluten is a reason to cut calories, excused by faux-medical reasoning.
Many people have jumped on the bandwagon because they’ve misinterpreted the benefits experienced by those following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, says dietitian Tanya Thomas.
Those with genuine problems may find bloating diminishes and digestion improves when they cut out gluten.
Any initial weight loss will occur because people are cutting out a significant part of their regular diet, in this case, starchy foods.
But in the long-term, switching to a gluten-free diet, which involves replacing gluten products with those using flours made from rice, cornmeal and buckwheat, can lead to weight gain. It is not unusual to put on 15-20 pounds.
‘People assume that by cutting out gluten they are going to lose weight. It’s a myth,’ says Thomas.
Furthermore, many gluten-free products contain extra sugar and fat to make them more palatable and can be packed with more salt.
Not only will you not lose weight, you will miss out on key nutrients.
What Foods Contain Gluten?
~Anything made from wheat, rye and barley contains gluten. as well as obvious foods such as bread and cakes, this includes certain stock cubes and even beer.
~Naturally gluten-free foods include fresh meat, cheese, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables. n a ‘
~A ‘gluten-free’ label is only allowed on foods that have less than 20 parts per million gluten and are suitable for most (but not all) celiacs as there is always a residual gluten content
~Oats contain a protein similar to gluten called avenin and most people with celiac disease can’t tolerate more than 50g a day. Beware, since most oats on the market are contaminated with wheat, rye and barley and so are unsuitable for celiacs.
~Starches, such as maize, potato and buckwheat, are often used to make ‘naturally gluten-free’ foods. However, they do not rise on baking, don’t make great bread and are also low in fiber.
Dr Williams says: ‘Wheat forms a staple part of the diet. Since wheat flour – found in a vast array of foods, from mustard to bread – is fortified, it is a vital source of calcium, iron, B vitamins and fiber.’
Eliminating a food group can lead to plummeting energy levels and hypoglycemic headaches caused by a lack of carbohydrate.
‘So many people are needlessly avoiding gluten and spending a small fortune on doing so,’ says Thomas.
‘Not only is it a waste of time and money when there’s no real problem, it can mean your attempts to lose weight and get healthier backfire.
Giving up bread can make you fat: Gluten IS good for you By Peta Bee May 2010