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Food & Nutrition

Should You Go Gluten-Free?

Is gluten really the enemy or are we in the midst of yet another over-hyped health fad?

What do a Wimbledon champion, an Oscar winner, an A-list foodie and a former US president have in common?

Apart from the odd fairly public misdemeanour, Novak Djokovic, Russell Crowe, Gwyneth Paltrow (obvs) and Bill Clinton are all openly riding the gluten-free diet train, boosting its status as the most en vogue diet doing the nutritional rounds.

Novak Djokovic, Russell Crowe, Gwyneth Paltrow (obvs) and Bill Clinton are all openly riding the gluten-free diet train

Interestingly, none of them have actually been diagnosed with an intolerance to gluten, instead they’ve cut it out for health or weight-loss.

“I was lighter, quicker, clearer in mind and spirit …  I sprang out of bed, ready to tear into the day ahead,” says Djokovic.

But does shedding gluten from your diet really help you lose weight and increase energy or is it just another celebrity-led diet fad? How many of us are actually intolerant to gluten, and what the hell is it anyway?

What is gluten?  

‘Gluten’ is a fairly broad term for a variety of proteins – known as prolamins – found in cereals such as wheat, rye and barley. These prolamins cause an allergic reaction in those who are intolerant and suffer from coeliac disease. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation and even hair loss and anaemia.

Where can gluten be found?

Gluten is found in pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, beer, pastries, sausages… better steer clear of Greggs then

Gluten is present in a wide variety of commonly consumed products. Primarily found in barley, rye and wheat, it’s also present in any foods that contain these grains such as pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, beer, pastries, sausages… better steer clear of Greggs then.

How do you know if you should be cutting gluten from your diet?

People who self-diagnose and cut gluten from their diet, are often depriving themselves of valuable nutrients

While those who favour a gluten-free diet say it helps them control bloating and stomach issues, nutritionist Laurent Bannock, says gluten likely isn’t to blame.

“Most people aren’t actually intolerant to gluten,” he states. “About one in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease, which is a serious auto-immune response to gluten. In these cases, the only option is to remove gluten from the diet. But that doesn’t mean anyone else needs to do so.”

“People who self-diagnose and cut gluten from their diet, are often depriving themselves of valuable nutrients,” adds nutritionist Kate Arnold. “For many, bloating and digestive problems stem from the chemicals and additives in highly processed food like mass-made industrial bread instead.”

So, does cutting out gluten help you lose weight?

Gluten-free packaged products are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food

Cutting out certain foods that contain gluten (like cakes and muffins) may well help you lose weight, but replacing them with gluten-free alternatives won’t.

“You lose weight when you expend more calories or energy than you consume – not by avoiding gluten,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

“Gluten-free packaged products are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food, and these products often contain high-glycemic refined ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings.”

So – unless you suffer from coeliac disease – it seems avoiding gluten may not be the cure-all  it’s purported to be. Instead a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg, lean proteins and starchy foods is the best way to control bloating and cravings and manage your weight. No such thing as a short cut.

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