Gluten Free Foods

No matter where you've been over the last few years, you've heard about gluten and gluten-free diets. They are beneficial for some, but why? And what is gluten anyway? This article will address all of this, so you can understand if a gluten-free diet is for you.

To Gluten or Not To Gluten?

Gluten Free Meals

Many won't be able to tell you that gluten is a protein

It's the main storage protein of wheat grains, made up of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly:

- Gliadin
- Glutenin
 
Similar storage proteins exist (called secalin) in rye, barley (called hordein), and oats (called avenins). They are collectively referred to as "gluten."
So where do we find gluten in our diets?

Gluten In Our Diets

Gluten Free Meals

Wheat is commonly found in:

  • breads
  • baked goods
  • soups
  • pasta
  • cereals
  • sauces
  • salad dressings
  • roux
Barley is commonly found in:
  • malt (malted barley flour, malted milk and milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavouring, malt vinegar)
  • food colouring
  • soups
  • beer
  • Brewer’s Yeast


Rye is commonly found in:
  • rye bread, such as pumpernickel
  • rye beer
  • cereals
And oats are obviously self-explanatory! 
 
Then we have Triticale, a newer grain, specifically grown to have a similar quality as wheat while being tolerant to a variety of growing conditions like rye. It can potentially be found in:
  • breads
  • pasta
  • cereals
Great, so now you know what gluten is and where to find it; but why is it harmful to some people?

Well, gluten from wheat, barley and rye can in some cause damage to the small intestine, which results in the malabsorption of nutrients.

And those who experience this suffer from Celiac disease; an inherited autoimmune condition.

Scientists say that for every case diagnosed, there are around 5-10 that remain undiagnosed

Sufferers experience gastrointestinal complaints such as:

- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea
- Unintentional weight loss
- Constipation.

Some may also have extra-intestinal symptoms such as iron deficiency anemia, reduced bone density or osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, skin rash (dermatitis), depression, elevated liver enzymes, neuropathy, and headaches.

How Can I Test To See If I have Celiac Disease? 

There are two ways to do it:

- Take a blood test, which will look for antibodies that incorrectly interact with the gluten protein.

- Biopsy from your small intestine. People with a positive blood test will likely need to have a biopsy. This is a process in which a small tissue sample is taken from your intestine and checked for damage.

But What About Those Who Are Not Celiac?

Some people restrict gluten from their diets, reporting an improvement in gastrointestinal and nongastrointestinal symptoms.

And others with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) avoid gluten, reporting it helps with symptoms.

We also have a lot of research to say that those who consume wheat, rye, and barley (and who definitely don't have celiac disease) can experience typical IBS-like symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel habit disturbances, as well as fatigue. 

This has led to what is called nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This is the diagnosis for patients who don't have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, but who exhibit IBS-like gastrointestinal symptoms after ingesting gluten-containing food, and who have an improvement in these symptoms on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free For a Better Mood?

Workout Meals Gluten Free Meal Delivery

There's plenty of research coming to light to show people experience better moods by abstaining from gluten when they have gluten-related disorders.

Exactly why though isn't known.

Three randomised-controlled trials and 10 longitudinal studies comprising 1139 participants fitted the inclusion criteria in the above link, which found a gluten-free diet significantly improved pooled depressive symptom scores in gluten-free diet-treated patients.

The best thing to do is to keep an eye on yourself and how you behave following gluten.

 

Do you feel discomfort after eating it? Does it go away when you eat the same meal, but without gluten?

You can try keeping a mood/gastrointestinal food diary for 14 days and writing down how you feel at the end of it; are you experiencing any discomfort in your stomach?

Rate it out of ten, and do the same with your mood. If you're certain gluten is making a difference to how you're feeling (in a negative way) then start trialling a gluten-free diet. 

But if you notice no difference, then it's probably not worth it.

The following foods are gluten-free:

  • Meats and fish. All meats and fish, except battered or coated meats.
  • Eggs. All types of eggs are naturally gluten-free.
  • Dairy. Plain dairy products, such as plain milk, plain yogurt and cheeses. However, flavoured dairy products may have added ingredients that contain gluten, so you will need to read the food labels.
  • Fruits and vegetables. All fruits and vegetables are naturally free of gluten.
  • Grains. Quinoa, rice, buckwheat, tapioca, sorghum, corn, millet, amaranth, arrowroot, teff and oats (if labeled gluten-free).
  • Starches and flours. Potatoes, potato flour, corn, corn flour, chickpea flour, soy flour, almond meal/flour, coconut flour and tapioca flour.
  • Nuts and seeds. All nuts and seeds.
  • Spreads and oils. All vegetable oils and butter.
  • Herbs and spices. All herbs and spices.
  • Beverages. Most beverages, except for beer (unless labelled as gluten-free).
Always be sure to consult your doctor though before making any snap and/or long term decisions. 

The bottom line is that if you're suffering from Celiac disease, then you obviously need a gluten-free diet. And if you find you're sensitive to gluten, then be sure to follow a gluten-free diet. Consult your doctor before making any long term decisions. 

 

References

Biesiekierski JR. What is gluten? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:78-81. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13703. PMID: 28244676.

Lebwohl B, Ludvigsson JF, Green PH. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. BMJ 2015;351:h4347.

Aybar A, Fasano A. A global disease: the iceberg dilemma. In Real Life with Celiac Disease. Dennis M, Leffler D, Eds. Bethesda, Md., AGA Press, 2010, p. 11–19.

Leffler DA, Green PH, Fasano A. Extraintestinal manifestations of coeliac disease. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015;12:561–571.


Busby E, Bold J, Fellows L, Rostami K. Mood Disorders and Gluten: It's Not All in Your Mind! A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1708. Published 2018 Nov 8. doi:10.3390/nu10111708

Lebwohl B, Rubio-Tapia A, Assiri A, Newland C, Guandalini S. Diagnosis of celiac disease. Gastrointest Endosc Clin N Am. 2012;22(4):661-677. doi:10.1016/j.giec.2012.07.004