Coeliac disease, an allergy to gluten that causes damage to the intestine, affects 1% of Australians. But more than ten times this number, or around 11% of the population, follows a gluten-free diet by choice, and up to 30% of people in the United States try to reduce their gluten intake.
Gluten-free foods are frequently perceived as a healthier alternative, because of a alignment with a “wellness lifestyle”. But is there scientific evidence to support this?
Are gluten-free diets healthier?
Recent large studies have not found health benefits for a gluten-free diet, and in fact the opposite may be true.
Researchers followed a group of more than 100,000 people in the US for nearly 30 years and found a gluten-free diet was not associated with a healthier heart. It’s not clear whether this was due to something in the gluten-free foods, or the avoidance of wholegrains, which are considered protective against heart disease.
One study suggests gluten may be beneficial because it lowers levels of triglycerides in the blood. These are “bad” fats that increase the risk of heart disease.
Another large study has found an inverse association between gluten intake and type 2 diabetes. People with a lower gluten intake had higher rates of type 2 diabetes. The researchers found this group also had lower fibre intake, and wondered whether low fibre was the culprit. But even after accounting for the lower fibre intake, an association remained, suggesting avoiding gluten is not protective against developing type 2 diabetes.
Gluten free and diabetes
Wholegrain products are made using the three parts of the grain – the bran (outside, which is rich in fibre), the germ (the seed) and the endosperm (the starchy, carbohydrate-rich centre). Together they form a bundle of fibre, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Packaged gluten-free products such as bread frequently use only the carbohydrate component using refined flours from rice, corn or potato.
These high carbohydrate foods may cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels and may predispose to diabetes in the long term. Packaged gluten-free products often have added sugars to enhance flavour, and add emulsifiers and thickeners to improve the texture and make it similar to bread.
Gluten-free markets have risen exponentially in the last decade due to consumer demand, even extending to the production of gluten-free food for dogs. Whether the market will expand or diminish with time is unknown, but food fashions are not new.
Consider the popularity of low-fat diets in the 1980s, when butter was a villain. Now butter is now back in vogue, with sales increasing. Similarly, red wine used to be considered protective for cardiac health, but guidelines for safe alcohol consumption now recommend reduced intake.
Of course, naturally gluten-free products such as plant-based foods, ancient grains and dairy are all part of a healthy and balanced diet, but there does not seem to be a health benefit for the processed and packaged gluten-free replacements over wheat-based versions.
Why are gluten-free diets so popular?
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is different from coeliac disease. In coeliac disease, gluten intake causes damage to the intestine’s lining, which reverses with a gluten-free diet. In non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (also called “gluten intolerance”), symptoms like bloating and wind are common, but no intestinal damage or long-term health effects occur.
To better understand this condition, researchers set out to determine whether it was gluten intake or the perception of gluten intake that may be contributing. They designed a study in which self-identified gluten-sensitive people were fed gluten-free, low gluten and high gluten foods, but didn’t know which they were eating.
All diets were also low in wind-causing sugars, called FODMAPs, which can cause similar symptoms. They found most of the group improved regardless of whether they were on a high gluten, low gluten or gluten-free diet. They concluded there was no evidence for gluten alone being responsible, but the reduction in FODMAPs could explain the symptom improvement.
Another reason people may report improvement when commencing a gluten-free diet is the exclusion of many other foods that are known not to be healthy, such as cakes, biscuits, crackers and beer. These dietary changes may also contribute to overall wellbeing.
So where to from here?
For people without coeliac disease, there’s no evidence to support claims a strict gluten-free diet is beneficial for health. It’s even possible the opposite is true, and the avoidance of dietary whole grains resulting in a low fibre intake may be detrimental.
Given gluten-free foods cost around 17% more, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a strict gluten-free diet chosen for health benefits alone, and instead include a diversity of gluten and gluten-free foods, with dietary variety as the key.
About The Author
Suzanne Mahady, Gastroenterologist & Clinical Epidemiologist, Senior Lecturer, Monash University
Essentials of Celiac Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet: Living Gluten Free with Celiac / Coeliac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
Studio: University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
Label: University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
Publisher: University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
Manufacturer: University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means the body "attacks itself", rather than attacking a foreign substance as in an allergy. The medical treatment for celiac disease consists of strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.
With this guide you will learn the basics of celiac disease: signs and symptoms, genetic and antibody testing, diagnosis and required follow-up testing. You will learn what gluten is, where gluten is found and how to avoid it. It will help you make healthy food choices while grocery shopping and preparing foods inside your home to manage your gluten-free diet.
You will be able to identify gluten free grains, meal options and snacks for safe eating anytime. You will learn how to eat gluten free outside your home at social gatherings, restaurants and while traveling. You will also discover the pioneering research initiatives, programs and services offered by the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
Gluten Free for Life! (Second Edition) A Guide to Celiac Disease: Making sense of gluten intolerance and coping with the symptoms of celiac (coeliac) disease in adults and children.
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
Studio: Imprint Books, London
Label: Imprint Books, London
Publisher: Imprint Books, London
Manufacturer: Imprint Books, London
A NEW, UPDATED EDITION OF CAROLINE RUSSELL'S AMAZON No. 1 BEST SELLER!*
It often surprises, or even shocks people to find that up to one per cent of the population suffers from celiac disease (called coeliac disease in the U.K. and Australia). Many sufferers of this disorder are unaware of it and do not understand why they always feel in poor health.
Affecting the digestive system, celiac disease is an inherited, permanent and chronic autoimmune disorder which causes the body to attack itself, but the wide and confusing range of symptoms associated with it means that an accurate diagnosis is difficult and often missed, making this disorder a ‘hidden disease'.
There is only one effective treatment of celiac disease and that is the strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.
Gluten Free for Life! by Caroline Russell, (second edition).
In this new, updated edition of her authoritative book Gluten Free for Life! Caroline builds on the information set out in her original work, updating and greatly expanding her text with new research, describing the latest findings and practices.
Divided into three sections, the first part gives an overview of the disease, explaining and helping the reader to understand the differences between allergies, intolerances and celiac disease and why the three terms are often wrongly confused with each other.
Also in this section Caroline describes many of the signs and symptoms associated with the disease, and includes a chapter on the effects of celiac disease on children.
Part Two: ‘Diagnosis and Treatment,’ describes various tests, including genetic and antibody blood tests, currently available to verify the diagnosis of the disease.
Part Three gives sound advice on coping with the disorder in everyday life. Having earlier explained the devastating effects of gluten on the celiac disease sufferer, Caroline shows just how prevalent gluten is in everyday life, where it can be found and, most importantly, how to avoid it.
Changing to a gluten-free diet involves a huge lifestyle adjustment and Caroline guides the reader through the many pitfalls that can trap the unwary sufferer, helping them to become better informed about making healthy food choices while grocery shopping and in the preparation of foods to manage their new diet.
Finally, there is a small selection of gluten-free recipes which may serve to whet the appetite of the newly-diagnosed reader proving that the gluten-free diet does not have to be bland or uninteresting!
Caroline Russell explains everything in plain, uncomplicated terms. Here are a few of the topics she covers:
An Overview of Celiac Disease
Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac Disease Complications
Celiac Disease and Neurological Disorders
Celiac Disease in Children
Diagnosis and Treatment
Testing for Celiac Disease
Living with Celiac Disease
Managing Gluten in the Kitchen
Gluten in the Bathroom
Shopping for Gluten-Free Products
Inadvertent Exposure to Gluten
Gluten-Free Ingredients and Substitutions
Some Gluten-Free Recipes
...and much, much more.
If you wish to learn more about this deceptive disease, either because you are a celiac disease sufferer, or somebody you know suffers from it and you would like to understand more about it, or simply because you have made a conscious lifestyle decision to enjoy a gluten-free diet, this book was written for you.
Scroll back up the page to instantly download your copy of ‘Gluten Free for Life!’ now!
*Gluten Free for Life! (First Edition) was the Amazon.co.uk No.1 best seller in
Celiac Disease the Hidden Epidemic!: Discover The Amazing Health Benefits of Gluten Free Foods and Avoid Coeliac/Celiac Disease Including Any Gluten Allergy Today!
Format: Large Print
Studio: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Label: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform