Gluten intolerance & the popularity of gluten free diets

Why have gluten free diets become so popular in the last 10-20 years?  Every other person seems to be following the ‘gluten free’ trend!

There are several reasons for the surge in popularity of gluten free diets.  Better diagnosis techniques mean that doctors pick up more people with coeliac disease, which is an auto-immune response to gluten.  Close relatives of people with coeliac disease are also screened to check whether they have the condition, even if they don’t have symptoms.  Those who do have coeliac disease need to follow a strict gluten free diet for life or otherwise risk damaging their small intestine which can lead to health complications later in life.  This can happen even without any symptoms when they eat foods with small amounts of gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in many grain foods.  Strict gluten free diets exclude: wheat, rye, barley, oats, triticale, spelt, dinkel and any foods that may contain traces of these ingredients.  It is a challenging diet to follow, especially when eating out as food is easily cross-contaminated by crumbs or flour dust.

In addition another group of people without coeliac disease are sensitive to gluten and can experience a wide range of symptoms after eating it.  In my practice I also see many people who believe they are sensitive to gluten but it turns out that the Fructans in wheat (fructans are a FODMAP) are an issue for them and they can actually tolerate other gluten-containing foods.

Other people swear by gluten free diets as the key to weight loss – actually it’s not gluten that’s the issue.  But if most of us cut out bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, muffins etc etc we would probably lose some weight!

I’ve met many people who try a gluten free diet just because ‘they think they should’ although they’re not quite sure what they’re hoping to achieve.  My advice: don’t go looking for a solution if you don’t have a problem.  Trying new foods and adding variety to your diet is a great idea.  But just because a food is gluten free doesn’t necessarily make it healthy and many gluten free foods are very expensive so may cut unnecessarily into your food budget.

My take on it all – don’t go gluten free without a  good reason.  If you think that gluten is a problem for you there are a few options.  The first step is always to be tested for coeliac disease.  Once you know that this is clear, trialling an elimination diet plus rechallenge can be useful.

Consider whether the problem could be FODMAPs rather than gluten – if you don’t always get symptoms after eating gluten, what else did the meal contain when you did experience symptoms?

You could consider gene testing.  The Nutrigenomix NGx-Gluten test analyses your DNA to investigate your risk of coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.  Contact us at NutritionWorks to enquire about gene testing for personalised diet advice.