Around 1.5% of Australians have Coeliac’s disease where gluten can’t be digested, but 12% of Australians eat a gluten free diet. Coeliac’s disease causes inflammation in the small bowel, which leads to bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, pain, and weight loss and malnutrition if severe. But what’s the medical basis for the majority who don’t have Coeliac’s, but choose to avoid gluten?
The anti-gluten movement is growing – the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council report that attitudes towards core grain foods have declined by almost one third over a recent 3 year period. There is a noticeable shift away from grains (which is worrying our farmers) and many are self-diagnosing as gluten-intolerant.
Here are the facts:
- Gluten is a bunch of different proteins (called prolamins) that are found in wheat, barley and rye. Incomplete digestion of these prolamins can cause bowel inflammation
- Some people without Coeliac’s disease may have gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy, so they may also benefit from a gluten-free diet. Many people with Coeliac’s disease or these other conditions are not diagnosed
- However gluten-free foods are often less fortified with folic acid, iron and other nutrients, and tend to have less fibre, more sugar and more fat. Gluten-free is also often more expensive
- On the other hand, grains contain essential nutrients and reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease, plus is associated with a lower chance of gain weight
- There may be other reasons people feel better without gluten; for example, eating less refined carbs and sugars in processed foods can reduce weight gain, fatigue, joint pain, poor mood, and digestive issues.
So in summary, a gluten-free diet is needed for some but a choice for others. Although gluten-free isn’t bad for you, unless you have affected conditions and associated bowel symptoms, it isn’t necessarily healthier. Overall a balanced diet is important – interestingly, a third of Australians eliminate either gluten, lactose or meat from their diet. If you have any questions about eliminating gluten from your diet, talk to a credential dietitian.