Gluten is the buzz word of this decade. Everyone is talking about it. Many people are avoiding it. Others are enthusiastically and unapologetically consuming it. So what’s the go with gluten? This article will take a balanced and non-aligned approach to gluten to help you figure out whether you should be going gluten free or not worrying so much about sinking your teeth into a thick piece of sourdough or rye.
Gluten, as most people know, is a protein found in many grain products, namely: wheat, rye, barley and in some cases, oats (which is normally found through cross contamination with other grains). There’s no denying that our modern civilisation is a gluten-frenzied one. There’s also no denying that that many of the most delicious foods on the planet happen to contain gluten: pizza, pasta, cake, cookies…. but then it’s also found in just about every packaged or processed food (often as a sauce thickener, a topping, coating, a filler, etc). Many people literally are allergic to gluten through the form of celiac disease and gluten consumption has been linked to many other autoimmune conditions. In such cases, gluten should be avoided like the plague. For such people, gluten is slowly (and often silently) killing them.
But what about the rest of the population? What about those people who seem to be ‘gluten intolerant?’ Is gluten dangerous for these people? Should we all just be avoiding gluten due to possible harmful side-effects? I firmly believe that balance is the key. Everyone will have a different tolerance level. Too much gluten in anyone’s diet can be an overload and cause adverse health effects. For most, this may be as simple as a little bloating, inflammation, headaches, congestion or sinus problems. I think, however, that the amount of gluten one consumes should be determined by the functionality of each individual’s digestive system.
You’ve probably noticed that different people can ‘stomach’ different foods differently. This is largely determined by the population of microbes, of bacteria found within the digestive system. The stronger an individual’s digestive system is, the more aptly they can digest certain foods, especially gluten and dairy (usually the lactase - milk sugars - found in products like milk, cheese and cream). For this reason, I think labelling gluten as evil, as a complete no no food, is somewhat over the top. Yes, people who cut out gluten often feel better. Yet this is most likely due to a compromised digestive system which cannot handle the years of over-pounding gluten, sugars and processed industrial seed oils. The same goes for people who cut gluten out for months and then, the one time they do eat it, feel like they are dying. Their bodies no longer develop the enzymes to break this down and this needs to be re-learnt gradually over time.
Long story short; don’t treat gluten free like the Holy Grail of how you should eat. Listen to your own body. Don’t freak out if you have a slice of pizza from time to time. Your body isn’t stupid, it will direct and guide you as to what you should and shouldn’t be eating at any given period in your life. Our bodies change. Be open to this idea, and don’t fall on either side of this ongoing debate. You can have your cake and eat it too (literally)….just don’t make it a daily habit and enjoy the incredible variety of foods this earth has to offer.
It's time we stopped labelling foods as 'good' or 'bad' and just pick up the fork and eat what we feel would be best for our bodies, right here, right now.
Image courtesy of Robyn Lee
Presented by Thomas Grainger