Gluten: Clearing the Confusion

This week Cheshire Farm met with Philippa from Homeopathy Cheshire to talk all things Gluten! Phillippa is a qualified nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition. She has worked in private practice now for over ten years seeing people of all ages with a variety of health, nutrition and general wellness problems and concerns. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in 2003, then later completed a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from the University of Chester. This allowed her to expand on her nutritional knowledge, particularly in the areas of weight management, childhood obesity and digestive health. She was also involved in research looking at the impact that stress has on peoples eating behaviours and food choice, the results of which she implements into her nutritional consultations.

Due to demand, Phillippa extended her knowledge and trained as a food allergy/intolerance tester and runs a busy practice at her clinic in Chester, as well as working with a couple of local companies as a freelance nutritionist where she provides nutrition advice and enjoys writing educational articles. She is also a qualified lecturer and has taught medical health sciences, nutrition and biological sciences at local Universities & Colleges in the North West of England.

Gluten: Clearing the Confusion Gluten.

For such a small little word, it certainly has a reputation for creating mass confusion amongst food aware consumers, especially those who feel its presence in food aggravates their health in some way. As a nutritionist I am often asked many questions about gluten, questions such as what exactly is it, is it bad for you, which foods is it found in and is gluten the same as wheat. Those people suffering with suspected gluten or wheat intolerance, or people diagnosed with coeliac disease, can often be left totally perplexed as to what they can and can’t eat and often needlessly avoid foods that are actually fine to consume. Even for those whose health is not affected by gluten, knowing more about it could add another dimension to your daily diet and make you more aware of some of the problems it can cause. So let’s talk all things gluten:

What is Gluten?

This is probably one of the biggest questions I get asked, with many people wrongly thinking that gluten is just another name for wheat. Gluten is actually a protein that has been consumed globally for around 10,000 years and is found in many grain products, including wheat. Gluten’s purpose in foods is to give food its shape and structure, especially baked goods and it helps create a chewy texture. This helps explain why most products that would usually contain gluten, but that have been specifically made to be gluten-free, have a totally different texture than what is usual, as in the case of gluten free bread. Anyone who has eaten gluten free bread before will know exactly what this means!

What Foods Contain Gluten?

Grains that contain gluten include wheat, rye, barley, durum and bulger and of course any products containing these grains will also contain gluten. Although oats don’t directly contain gluten, most oat products, unless stated otherwise, will contain gluten because they are often processed in premises that deal with other gluten grains so can often be contaminated with gluten. You can however buy gluten free oats, which guarantee they have not been contaminated. Many people think potatoes contain gluten, which is definitely NOT the case, unless they have been processed or added to other things which contain gluten. This is one of the many fantastic things about the products here at Cheshire Farm, as they are ALL gluten free, as well as additive free too. From the ‘Sunday dinner ready’ roast potatoes, to the award winning potato wedges and the spicy potatoes bites, anyone with a gluten allergy or intolerance can eat them, safe in the knowledge they are all gluten free.

As so many grains and grain containing products are off the menu when you are avoiding gluten, many people can find themselves lacking in energy when they give up foods containing gluten. This is because many gluten containing products including bread, pasta and cake produce are often people’s biggest source of carbohydrate during the course of the day. Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy provider, so if you cut this out over the longer term, your energy levels will slump and you will end up feeling very tired and lethargic. It’s therefore vitally important when cutting out gluten, that you replace those foods you have cut out with food and produce that is of course gluten free, but that also still provides you with a good carbohydrate and fibre source. This is where potatoes can be a truly winning food due to them being a healthy source of carbohydrate as well as a great source of fibre, yet still gluten free. So if you have felt that energy slump due to lack of carbohydrates, why not give your body an energy boost with any of Cheshire Farms fresh potato products!

Why is Gluten Intolerance Seemingly on the Increase?

In recent years there has been a huge rise in people reporting they have gluten or wheat intolerance and the incidence of coeliac disease has increased quite dramatically too, with reports suggesting that this is now four times as common as it was fifty years ago. This poses the question, why?

There are a few possible answers to this, but one of the most probable is because of how our diets and eating behaviours have changed so much over the last few decades, and not generally in a good way. Most people eat far more grain products than we did many years ago, leading to some speculation that this increase in gluten has led to an increase in intolerance due to it being difficult to digest, especially in some people. Gluten was never meant to be eaten multiple times a day, which is often now how it is consumed due to the modern western diet.

We also know that grains are just not how they used to be in the ‘good old days’. From the growing of it, to the processing of it, as well as the forms in which we eat it, grains have changed dramatically over the last century. These changes, especially in the processing of grains, will undoubtedly have had a big impact on the purity of the grain, how we digest it and its possible effects on health. This has therefore culminated in a larger percentage of the population becoming more ‘sensitive’ to gluten.

Is Gluten Bad for you?

This is a difficult question to answer, as it is a case of one answer does not ‘fit all’. Of course those people with actual coeliac disease should not eat gluten at all and for these people, gluten is indeed ‘bad’. For people with a gluten intolerance who have decided, through the process of food elimination or testing, that gluten causes or aggravates certain symptoms, particularly digestive symptoms, then gluten is certainly best minimised in the diet or totally eliminated if necessary. In this case, appropriate and advised dietary changes should be made that will not lead to nutritional deficiencies or a poorly balanced diet.

If you are simply going gluten free because you think it might just be healthier, or you are going along with the latest food trend, or believe gluten is bad for you, you need to remember that cutting out gluten for these reasons can mean you miss out on a lot of nutritious and tasty foods. There are still many healthy ‘whole grains’ out there that provide many health benefits, including helping lower cholesterol levels, providing cardiovascular protection as well as helping to maintain a healthy bowel and digestive system. If there is no medical reason why you can’t eat gluten, why not just choose healthy grain options that have been less processed and are labelled as organic, such as quinoa, bulger, buckwheat, Freekeh and whole grain barley.

Of course, there are articles and research that are both for and against consuming gluten, so unless a medical reason dictates, you have to decide for yourself whether it is something you want as part of your diet or not. Like with so many things in the diet, I am a big believer in ‘everything in moderation’.

Potatoes Are Your Friend!

Having a gluten or wheat intolerance is certainly not fun. For those suffering with it, it can massively effect quality of life every single day, leading to symptoms of stomach cramping, severe bloating, excess wind and regular inconvenient bowel changes. In more severe cases it can even lead to vomiting. As with any major dietary change you are best to consult your GP or a qualified and registered nutritionist who will advise you appropriately on what changes can be made and how it may help you. Remember though, that if you are gluten or wheat intolerant, or even if you are not, potatoes are still your friend!

RESOURCES:

 Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy, and Gluten Sensitivity: When Gluten Free Is Not a Fad. 2011, Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition

 Gluten Causes Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Subjects Without Celiac Disease: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial,2011.The American Journal of Gastroenterology

 NHS Choices Website

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