Gluten has come under huge scrutiny in recent years, with a string of gastroenterologists, dieticians and health-conscious consumers turning their backs on the protein. In fact, a huge 30 percent of us say we want to cut back on our gluten intake. In this post we explore exactly why so many people are going gluten-free – and why you should consider it too.
Gluten: The Lowdown
So what exactly is gluten? Well, the clue’s in the name. The word gluten comes from the Latin word “glue”, which refers to the glue-like nature of this sticky cross-linked network of proteins. Found in cereal grains such as wheat and barley, gluten is a naturally occurring protein that people have been consuming with gusto for thousands of years.
So why are so many people avoiding gluten now? Well, for the millions of people around the world suffering from gluten intolerance, this protein provokes an abnormal immune response, leading to digestive troubles, skin reactions, or in the case of celiacs, sometimes even death.
For those living with medically-confirmed intolerances, there’s no doubt about it – gluten is bad news. But what about the rest of us? As it turns out, there’s growing evidence that suggests reducing your gluten intake is a good idea, regardless of whether or not you’re intolerant.
Why Go Gluten Free?
Eating wheat is not a new phenomenon. In fact, humans have been eating grains for at least 9,500 years without any problems – until recently that is. The problem is that modern milling eliminates the richest source of nutrients from wheat, including vitamins, proteins and minerals. Some dieticians insist that it is this industrialised process of growing and processing grains that’s leading to higher levels of gluten in food, in turn elevating insulin levels to a dangerous degree.
In fact, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, 71 percent of thiamine, 86 percent of vitamin E, 86 percent of manganese and 76 percent of the iron found in grains is lost to industrial processing. Add onto that the artificial vitamins and minerals that are then injected into the processed flour, and it’s easy to see how refined grains could pose a problem for some.
So what can processed flour do to our bodies? According to some nutritionists, the onslaught of processed grains has caused an epidemic of non-celiac gluten sensitivity – an intolerance to gluten that many of us may unknowingly be suffering from. In fact, a 2011 study confirmed the existence of a spectrum of gluten-related disorders. Researchers found that while our bodies react well to ancient wheat varieties, modern species have a negative effect on some of us, in some cases causing IBS-like symptoms, as well as skin conditions.
While adopting an organic diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and superfoods is a great way to overcome the negative effects of industrial food production, consciously cutting out gluten may well help you feel your absolute best.
The Benefits of Going Gluten Free
Unless you have a diagnosed gluten intolerance, there’s no reason to completely eliminate gluten from your diet. Just reducing the amount you consume can still have huge benefits for your health, your waistline and your energy levels.
If you suffer from gluten sensitivity, you’ll know the discomfort that can follow a gluten-heavy meal. Stomach cramps, diarrhoea and bloating are just some of the symptoms you might experience when you indulge in too much wheat. So replacing the refined carbs for wholesome gluten-free alternatives is a great way to instantly improve your digestive health.
Increased Energy Levels
Going gluten-free can boost your energy and improve concentration, according to a 2015 study. The researchers studied the effects of gluten on 95 adults, concluding that a gluten-free diet gave the participants more energy and better focus.
Avoiding foods that contain refined carbs opens up more opportunity to enjoy tasty gluten-free alternatives. These often involve fresher and healthier ingredients, thus trimming some excess inches off that waist.
For many, going gluten-free is part of a bigger lifestyle choice. After all, many foods that are high in gluten are also high in sugar and fat. Just think about junk food likes pizza, cakes, candy and donuts – they’re all packed with wheat-based gluten. Beyond the immediate benefits for those with gluten sensitivities, going gluten-free is a great way to eat less sugar and unhealthy fats, and enjoy more fruit, veggies and plant-based goodness.
For even more reasons why you should consider giving your diet a makeover, check out our post on the instant health benefits of a vegan diet.