What’s the deal with gluten?

Those who have coeliac disease are advised to avoid gluten. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Those who have coeliac disease are advised to avoid gluten. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Gluten has become a major topic of conversation in the last few years. Should you eat gluten, should you avoid it, why shouldn’t you eat it…?

Questions by the average consumer abound. So, what is the deal?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins present in cereal grains, especially wheat, which is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. Most people have no problem digesting these foods when consumed in moderation, but there are some people who simply cannot eat gluten.

This brings us to an explanation on coeliac disease.

Coeliac disease is a medical condition in which the body has an immune reaction to gluten, which causes inflammation. If you have coeliac disease and continue to eat foods that contain the proteins, you may cause damage to your intestinal lining in the long run.

“It can also lead to malabsorption of certain nutrients and various symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, diarrhoea, cramps and joint pain,” said Lila Bruk, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).

Why do people choose not to eat gluten?

“Many people without coeliac disease, but who suffer from digestive discomfort, try eliminating gluten to see if their symptoms resolve,” Bruk said.

This is because it’s possible that eliminating gluten in its most refined forms (such as white bread), rather than eliminating gluten itself, will help relieve symptoms. But if you do not have coeliac disease or a sensitive tummy, you are free to have foods that contain it in moderation.

Others who believe that cutting the protein out of their diets will aid in weight loss, choose not to eat it anymore. Bruk, however, notes that a calorie deficit is what leads to weight loss, not a gluten-free diet.

“It may be that cutting out the gluten-containing cakes and biscuits assists with weight loss,” Bruk said. “But this is then due to the calorie deficit created by cutting out these foods, rather than the elimination of gluten per se.”

The full article can be accessed via Health For Mzansi.

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