Naturopath and Holistic Health Expert
Gluten is a simple protein found in certain cereal grains, but with the avid avoiders, you’d be mistaken for thinking it’s something much more sinister. It can certainly prove extremely problematic for the intolerant and allergic, however it is helpful to inform yourself of the facts before filling your kitchen with gluten-free goodies. Many substitutes are worse than the original! Use my 5 tips to navigate ‘gluten free’ with healthy ease.
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Where is gluten found & why avoid it?
Gluten is found in wheat (also contained in bulgur, semolina, cous cous, farina, wheatgerm, wheat bran), oats, rye, barley, triticale, kamut and spelt. It binds baked goods and acts as ‘glue’ in cooking.
A natural part of these grains, gluten seems to be wrecking increasing havoc in our digestive systems. A multi-faceted result of modern processing, greater toxicity and nutritional deficiencies, gluten sensitivity and allergy are on the rise.
Coeliac disease is true gluten allergy. It is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. Essentially, the body attacks itself every time a person with Coeliac consumes gluten. The damage to the intestine makes it ‘leaky’ and researchers now believe that this is one of the primary predisposing factors for conditions like obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease.
Coeliac disease can be confirmed via blood testing, small intestine biopsy or a gene test (however clients presenting as negative can still sometimes have an intolerance to gluten). An elimination diet is a very useful tool, as well as assessing co-reactions to dairy, all cereal grains (including pseudo cereals such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth due to cross contamination at the factory end) coffee and chocolate.
What are the symptoms?
Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body Primal Mind, in her blog called Cereal Killer describes possible gluten reactions: “…exposure to gluten in a sensitive individual essentially shuts down blood flow to the prefrontal cortex—the part of our brains that allow us to focus, manage emotional states, plan, organise and exercise our short term memory”. Gluten can thus interfere with concentration, mood and energy levels.
Other common symptoms include bloating, wind and irritable-bowel-type conditions.
My 5 Tips for going gluten free
1. Avoid ‘gluten free’ or ready-to-eat products such as gluten free biscuits & cereals as they are highly processed and usually made from refined gluten free alternatives such as potato, corn, soybean and rice. They are devoid of nutrients due to extensive processing methods, and often loaded with sugar & starch.
2. Be mindful where else gluten is found:
– Commercial soups and vegetables such as baked
– Sauces such as soy sauce.
– Thickeners in ice cream, custards, cheeses, creams and yoghurts.
– Tapioca starch and icing sugar.
– Pasta, most cereals, muesli, breads, biscuits, cakes, batters, crumbs and flours (unless specified), farina and thickeners, malt, soba and udon noodles, pumpernickel bread, pastry, pizza, pancakes, waffles, doughnuts, wafers, cones and rusk.
Sausages, burgers, rissoles, frozen dinners and imitation seafood.
– Spreads such as yeasted varieties.
Commercial condiments e.g. chutney, relishes, pickles, mustard, stock cubes and gravy mixes.
– Coffee substitutes, drinking chocolate, beer, ale, lager, porter and stout.
– Licorice, flavouring essences and filled chocolates.
3. Even gluten free grains like rice, millet, corn, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat can set off a sensitive gluten intolerant individual, due to factory cross-contamination. Going completely grain free is often a great relief.
4. Beware of grain free products, such as “High Protein Gluten free Cereals”, which replace grains with nuts, seeds, legumes or beans. Digestible and whole protein only comes from animal sources; these nuts and seeds are not prepared in a way that makes them digestible. See point 5.
5. Embrace the lost art of food preparation. Prepare your gluten free grain, pseudo cereal, nuts/seed or legume alternatives well, as people used to. They were always soaked, sprouted and/or fermented prior to eating. Why? All grains, cereals, nuts, seeds & legumes contain phytic acid that can impede digestion and bind to important minerals in the body. By employing traditional methods of loving preparation, you can reduce these anti-nutrients and improve digestion immeasurably. Gluten free breads, cereals and other products do not consider this and are often loaded with phytic acid.
Eschewing gluten can see your health soar, however it’s wise to check your facts, labels and motivations before declaring your home a gluten-free zone. Do it properly, become informed and refuse to be seduced by highly processed alternatives!