To be Gluten Free (GF) or not to be? That is the question.

It's a question I get asked a lot.  The answer to the question of course is, it depends.

Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and most oats and can cause health concerns for people with Coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity. Coeliac disease affects about 1% of the population although it is believed that up to 75% of cases go undiagnosed. Gluten sensitivity is said to affect 6 – 10% of the population; gluten sensitivity is considered to be where you have been tested negative for Coeliac disease but show improvement in your health when gluten is removed from the diet.

Signs or symptoms of Coeliac disease and/or gluten sensitivity include stomach pain, joint pain, loose stools or gas but it goes way further to this. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease where the body reacts abnormally to the gluten protein causing damage to the tiny finger-like lining in the bowel. The long-term effect can lead to painful symptoms, other major diseases or even early death due to mal-absorption of essential nutrients. Gluten sensitivity has also been linked to IBS, neuropathy (nerve pains or numbness), Lyme’s disease, fibromyalgia and other auto-immune diseases like type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

Testing for Coeliac disease involves a blood test and then a biopsy to confirm the results. If you think you could have Coeliac disease, its best to get checked out by a medical practitioner before transitioning to a GF diet. It is also worth a note that a gluten allergy or sensitivity may be different to a wheat or other grain allergy or sensitivity.

If you test negative for Coeliac’s, you could still have a gluten sensitivity. A simple test you can do at home involves an elimination diet. For four weeks eliminate all gluten products from your diet. Keep a food diary and note what you eat and how you feel throughout the day. Note things like your energy levels, any reduction in aches and pains, changes in your skin condition or the brightness of your eyes, changes in bowel movements and the quality of your stools (yes, you have to look at what you’ve done…). Another thing to note is your mood and thinking capacity. 

After the four weeks, re-introduce gluten into your diet; have toast or weet-bix for breakfast, eat a sandwich for lunch and a muffin for afternoon tea – you get the idea. Now observe your body; again take note of your mood, thinking, energy levels, skin, bowel etc over the next couple of days. For some people, they may have a severe sensitivity and will get a reaction straight away, for others, it could be after a couple of days. If you get no change then you are one of the lucky people that don’t have to worry (for now) about gluten; but what happens if you do react?

Don’t despair! A GF diet is not the end of your life and the transition to a GF diet can often bring about many healthy lifestyle changes that leave you feeling better and brighter than before. Here are some tips on how to make the GF change.

1. Eat real foods. By eating whole foods you are able to easily see and control if your diet has gluten. Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and good quality proteins like wild caught fish, organic free-range meat and dairy, legumes and beans are naturally GF. There are also many “pseudo-grains” like quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth, which are readily available in supermarkets and health food stores that are GF.

2. Read labels. Many food labels clearly note if they are GF but it helps to know what to look for. Wheat is often clearly labelled but things like barley can appear as different things such as malt, malt flavouring, malt vinegar, beer and brewers yeast to name a few. The Coeliac Australia website has an extensive list of over 800 ingredients and 300 additives in Australia and NZ. It seems daunting but eventually, you learn what to look for and what to avoid but revert to point 1 while you get up to speed.

3. GF foods. The supermarkets are full of GF foods that have been specifically developed to make life easier for the GF diet, but buyer beware – just because it says its GF it doesn’t mean its healthy. Many packaged GF alternatives are loaded with sugar, trans fats and use genetically modified ingredients. They can also have a high GI, which will spike insulin levels, and be nutritionally empty.

When eliminating major food groups from your diet it is important to seek advice from a trained professional (dietician, nutritionist or certified food coach) who are educated to work with you to ensure you are able to maintain a healthy and balanced diet and to give you individual advice that suits your bio-individuality.

If you have a desire to improve your health, happiness and general wellbeing, book in now for a free 15-minute discovery session and see how nutritional therapy can support your health and wellbeing.

Consultations are available in Brisbane or via Skype.