Should You Go Gluten Free?

The term ‘gluten-free’ appears everywhere in our modern society. Dietary gluten is often blamed for causing a variety of unpleasant symptoms, health problems, and weight gain. There is a range of expensive gluten-free products now on the market, and sales of these products are growing rapidly.

Today many people avoid gluten in the belief that it will improve their health or help them to lose weight.

Health professionals have expressed concern that increasing numbers of people are self-diagnosing gluten allergies and intolerances.

So what are the facts?

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, oats, rye and barley. Other grains such as rice or corn do not contain gluten.

A majority of gluten is found in wheat products such as bread and pasta, as well as processed foods such as soups, sauces, gravies, salad dressings, and seasonings. It has no nutritional value on its own, but helps to make food soft, airy, thick or chewy. Wheat products form a large part of our modern diet.

For the majority of the population, gluten has no effect on the body. However for about 1% of the Australian population, gluten can be harmful. These people suffer from coeliac disease.

According to Coeliac Australia: “Coeliac disease is an immune disease caused by gluten. When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, their immune system reacts abnormally causing inflammation and damage to the small bowel (intestine). This causes a range of symptoms and health problems. Treatment involves avoiding gluten in their diet for life.”

Gluten sensitivity can lead to similar symptoms of coeliac disease such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and bloating. However, there is no associated damage to the small intestine.

There is no evidence to suggest that more people are becoming intolerant to gluten. However people can have intolerances to different foods and symptoms can affect their lifestyle. Talk to your health professional.

People should not self-diagnose.

The only way to know if you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity is to be tested by a health professional. It cannot be self-diagnosed based on symptoms.

Coeliac Awareness Week is held annually and aims to raise awareness of coeliac disease and its symptoms, as well as the importance of getting tested.

The risk of choosing a gluten-free diet without a proper diagnosis is that you may

  • Miss out on important nutrients in your diet; or
  • Replace them with highly processed gluten-free alternatives

Any diet that excludes whole food groups is generally considered risky by most health professionals.

If you have no existing health conditions, the best option is to choose a balanced diet with little to no processed food, fat, salt and sugar.

The fibre in food also helps keep your bowels (intestines) healthy and may even protect against bowel cancer. Fibre helps control your weight, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

There are beneficial amounts of fibre in wholegrain breads and cereals, so check with a health professional before you exclude these foods from your diet.

At Fresh Therapeutics we can help with advice and information about coeliac disease. Some medicines can contain gluten and as a compounding pharmacist we can compound medicines free of gluten and other allergens. Alternatively we can help identify what gluten-free medicines are available for you.

We can also provide more detailed information on healthy eating from the Self Care Fact Cards such as Fibre and bowel health, and Weight and health.

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