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Is going gluten free the answer?

Posted Feb 08 2013 8:00am

So many people seem to be gluten intolerant these days that you could be forgiven for wondering whether you too should embark on a ‘gluten free’ diet. But, although gluten-free food choices are certainly more readily available these days, the diet can still be restrictive, particularly when you’re eating out. If you decide to completely exclude a food or food group from your diet, it’s important that you’re really sure that it is definitely a problem – otherwise you could potentially set up a whole new health problem for yourself.

If you decide to cut gluten out of your diet you’re going to have to locate alternative foods: Like gluten-free cereals, bread and pasta. Some of these products are made with high GI grains, potentially bringing on some insulin resistance; some of them don’t have the same amount of fibre content – and in the modern world, getting enough fibre in your diet can be challenging at the best of times, so it’s an important consideration.

A typical western diet tends to look like this: Breakfast cereal as the first meal, a muffin or cake for a snack, sandwich for lunch, perhaps pasta with the evening meal. You can see how this kind of diet is dominated by grains, leaving other valuable foods like vegetables and fresh fruit out in the cold. Our bodies have evolved to cope with a wide variety of foods, containing lots of different nutrients that vary with the seasons. If your diet is grain based, it’s become too focused on one food group. That in itself can set up digestive problems, as vulnerable immune systems become reactive to the onslaught. Sometimes in the clinic I see cases where testing has found there is no frank coeliac disease (gluten allergy), but the person still experiences  digestive problems after eating foods very rich in gluten, like wholemeal bread and bran cereals. That’s gluten intolerance, signalling that you need to reduce gluten but don’t have to exclude it completely.

So, before you abandon eating gluten entirely, consider whether your digestion is just trying to tell you that your food intake has become imbalanced.  The most effective way to find out is to keep a food, symptom and mood diary. Cut out all gluten containing grains for two weeks, keep a record of what you ate and how you felt. Then re-introduce foods which contain a little gluten, like oats, and keep recording for another week or so. Last of all, try out the ‘heavy glutens’ like dark wheat and rye breads. Keep observing, keep recording. Then you’ll know for sure. This process can also be done with the help of your health practitioner.

Remember your mantra for healthy eating: Lots of variety, everything in moderation, as unprocessed as possible.

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