4 Key Things To Consider When Going Gluten Free
Gluten was once only considered a concern for those with coeliac disease; but last year an estimated 1 in 10 people in the UK
were avoiding gluten in their diet.
So what is gluten?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, spelt, barley and rye. Modern wheat is particularly high in gluten as this is what gives it elasticity for baking.
Why do people want to avoid it?
Coeliac disease, one of the most well-known intolerances to gluten affects approximately 1% of the population, causing digestive issues as well as a range of other adverse effects. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity affects a larger proportion with numbers difficult to truly estimate due to underreporting.
Why might underreporting be common?
Many conditions linked to gluten intolerance, such as chronic inflammatory diseases and autoimmune conditions (including hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis) won’t necessarily prompt someone to consider a gluten free dietary approach.
Secondly, gluten is made up of several hundred peptides (chains of amino acids that make up proteins), and most testing focuses on gliadin peptides only. This makes a temporary elimination diet (for at least 4 weeks) followed by reintroduction, one of the best ways to notice if you have a reaction to gluten.
So what should you consider if you give it up?
Assuming that you’re not adopting a very low carbohydrate approach at the same time, it’s likely that you’ll be replacing gluten grains with gluten-free starchy carbohydrate alternatives. This can be a great opportunity to try some new foods, and to increase the diversity of your diet.
Gluten free grains include brown rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa (a semi-grain), buckwheat (despite the name this is not actually a type of wheat), and gluten free oats. You can find many of these grains in health food shops and can now find some in supermarkets too.
With the rise of the gluten free market, several processed foods have now had the gluten free treatment too. Potato, maize (corn), tapioca and (white) rice flour are refined carbohydrates that can spike your blood sugar, so check that these aren’t high up on the ingredient list of the food you’re buying.Better yet – stick with whole non-gluten grains or high fibre carbohydrates as a gluten grain alternative.
For most of us growing up, breakfast cereals were promoted as the main source of fibre in our diet. If you are still eating less than optimal amounts of vegetables (6-8 portions* per day) and fruit (up to 2-3 portions* per day) then eliminating gluten grains could reduce the overall level of fibre in your diet.
*One portion is approximately the size of 1 apple, 80g or 2 handfuls in the case of leafy greens.
Flax seeds are also a great source of fibre, which can be particularly helpful if you experience constipation. Just make sure that you drink a good glass of water when taking these.
Use your switch to a gluten-free dietary approach as an opportunity to increase your vegetable intake. Fibre is important not only to ensure healthy bowel movement, but also to support a healthy gut bacteria environment and to help keep us feeling full after meals. Better yet – focus on increasing the variety of your fruit and vegetables, trying new ones, and eating a rainbow of colour each day!
3.What Other Nutrients May Need to Be Replaced?
Wheat, the most common gluten grain in the West, is a good source of nutrients - remember it is not the food itself that can cause problems, but rather, our reaction to it. In particular wheat is a good source of B vitamins, and minerals including phosporous, manganese, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron.
Where else can you get these nutrients in your diet?
• B vitamins can be found in brown rice, millet (non gluten grains), legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds, meat and eggs.
• Phosporous is found in protein rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and nuts.
• Manganese is found in nuts, legumes and brown rice.
• Calcium is found in dairy, dark green vegetables and sesame seeds.
• Magnesium is found in dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and cacao.
• Copper rich foods include organ meats, oysters, spirulina and shiitake mushrooms.
• Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds.
• Iron is found in meat, eggs and dark green vegetables.
Wheat flour is now fortified with folic acid (part of the B vitamin family) in a move to help reduce brain and spine birth defects. Unfortunately some of us are unable to convert folic acid to folate (the form our body uses) very efficiently, due to genetic variations, and so it is best to look for other folate rich foods. Naturally folate rich foods include dark green vegetables, legumes, beetroot and eggs.
4.Looking After Your Gut
Gluten causes the release of a compound called zonulin, which causes the junctions to widen between the cells lining the gut. This is temporary and happens to every human who eats gluten. For some people this can trigger or worsen their health issues, and contribute to inflammation, other food intolerances and provide an additional detoxification burden.
It may be worthwhile undertaking a gut test, such as a GI Map or GI Effects test, which your nutritional therapist can arrange. These tests can help to assess the health of the gut, the microbiome (the gut bacteria), and help to identify if a gut healing plan is needed.
Whenever you remove a particular food from your diet, you should always consider what nutrients that food has provided you with, and ensure that you can replace them.
If you're testing the water by removing gluten, it can be helpful to allow yourself a few weeks to notice any changes to your current symptoms or overall health. A gentle reintroduction can also be helpful to note any return or worsening of symptoms over a couple of days.Finally, there are a range of different healthy options available for a gluten free diet – whether these are whole grain or vegetable alternatives. Done well, it can be a great opportunity to try some new food ideas!