Should you go gluten-free?

With conflicting diet and health tips at every turn, Sarah Webb ropes in the DAA and experienced gluten-free mother to explore facts behind the food fad.

It’s not often that a serious medical condition sparks a dieting fad, but such is the case with the gluten-free diet. The diet has somehow caught on with non-sufferers of Coeliac Disease who believe cutting out gluten will help them eat better and lose weight.

Perhaps you’ve considered going gluten-free? It won’t necessarily achieve the above results, yet gluten-free products that fill products marketed to the general population, suggest it can. Take Domino’s Pizza for example, it’s on the bandwagon with gluten-free crust, although on the company’s website, they caution that it’s not recommended for true Coeliac sufferers.

So, before you stop eating your breads, pastas, and cereals; look at the facts about gluten from both the experienced and the professional.

Firstly, gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives elasticity to dough, and is a combination of gliadin and glutenin, which is joined with starch in various grains. Gliadin is what enables bread to rise, while glutenin is the major protein in wheat flour, making up 47 per cent of it.

Mother of six, Jeanine McVay Oldfield, said she got her family on the gluten-free diet to combat unnatural sugars, salt, preservatives, and processed foods that have no nutritional value.

“We decided to go gluten-free basically because it was recommended by our paediatrician, and we had done our own research on how gluten has changed over the years, so we decided to give it a go,” Jeanine said.

“The diet has changed our whole life, I highly recommend it. It’s benefitted our family because, not only do you go gluten-free, you tend to cut out all the unnatural sugars, salt, numbers and preservatives.”

The gluten-free diet has been known to provide physical benefits, including weight-loss, healthy skin, and improved mental health. However, there are downsides to the gluten-free diet Jeanine says, in terms of committing to it.

“It’s definitely harder for the children, especially with the temptations they have around them, so they have to be more prepared. They either make their own food, take it wherever they go, or will eat the gluten occasionally. However, they get sick, because their bodies haven’t been able to tolerate it for so long. They start realising it’s not worth it,” Jeanine said.

Going out for the weekly grocery shopping also adds to the difficulty of the diet.

“It is an expensive diet to uphold. It also feels more expensive as some of the options I choose are organic as well, which is a ‘ripple effect’ of the gluten-free diet,” Jeanine said.

The gluten-free diet is a diet which you have to be committed to cook every day for. If you prefer to do that, then you’re in luck.

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) said both organic and conventionally grown foods can provide all the nutrients required when included in a balanced diet.

“Whether you choose organic foods or conventionally grown foods is your personal choice,” the DAA said.

“People choose organic foods for a number of reasons including the environmental benefits, the reduced use of chemicals, and taste preference.”

Jeanine said we live in a culture now, where every meal that we have should be restaurant quality.

“The food is not there for pleasure; it can have that benefit, but the food is there to fuel your body, so you can go out and live your life,” Jeanine said.

If you have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, you have undoubtedly been told you must follow a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. It’s a condition that affects the small intestine, damaging the lining and preventing absorption of food nutrients. Without nutrients, a person may become malnourished, regardless of the quantity or quality of food eaten.

The DAA said, Coeliac Disease affects about one percent or one in every hundred people.

“Choosing the right foods and making sure that your diet is well-balanced can be difficult without professional help. It’s essential that people with the disease understand where gluten can be found in foods and what to look for on a food label,” they said.

While shopping for an all gluten-free diet can be expensive, Jeanine said her children are now more aware of the ingredients labelled on the back of products and what foods they can consume.

“If you look at the back of a product, you start to realise that if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, then it’s probably not a good idea to eat it,” Jeanine said.

So should you go gluten-free?

Of course going gluten-free makes sense for anyone with Coeliac Disease, or who has an intolerance to gluten. For the majority of people who aren’t bothered by gluten, are there any real benefits to the diet overhaul? To some extent, yes, as there are those like Jeanine that report feeling better after reducing their intake of products with gluten in them.

“I wasn’t gluten free before, but I am now and that’s caused a ‘ripple effect’. My kids will pick up on my habits and it’s a great awareness for them, because they’ll take that with them for the rest of their lives,” Jeanine said.

With that being said, so long as you continue to eat a balanced diet, cutting out gluten from your diet probably won’t cause any harm.

Image: Ongjulian

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