The internet and social media full of misinformation around nutrition (thanks pseudoscience!) which leads to a lot of confusion about what foods are actually healthy for you. Following the hype around gluten, I often get asked the questions:
Should I be avoiding gluten?
Will going gluten free help me lose weight?
Are gluten free foods better for you?
So lets debunk a few myths.
Note: If you have coeliac disease then YES you 100% should avoid gluten 100% of the time. If you suspect you have coeliac disease I suggest you get it checked out by your doctor rather than putting yourself on a restrictive diet unnecessarily. If you have no reason to believe you have coeliac disease then NO you don’t need to be avoiding gluten and should probably read on…..
Firstly: what is gluten?
Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley and all foods containing these grains. This protein is what gives bread dough its stretchiness and the bread its squishy texture. Most of us have no issue digesting this protein however in people with coeliac disease their body’s immune system reacts badly with the protein causing damage to the small intestine, stopping them from absorbing nutrients. These people need to avoid even tiny amounts of gluten. Some people believe they are gluten intolerant, experiencing gastrointestinal issues after eating gluten – this is not a medical diagnosis but may be more likely to be related to the fructans (a type of carbohydrate) in wheat causing IBS, rather than an intolerance.
Myth #1 Gluten is the root of all evils and must be avoided at all times.
Just having a scroll through a few random blogs, gluten is blamed on everything from inflammation, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. In truth there really is not much evidence for this, most of these claims have come from ‘case studies’ (the experience of just one person) or generalised from side effects of coeliac disease. For example I once read that ‘eating gluten is like taking a cheese grater to your intestines’ – that’s a pretty good example of what it does if you have coeliac disease but not for the majority of us that don’t. You can eat your gluten filled pasta in peace knowing it’s not going to kill you.
Myth #2 Avoiding gluten can help you lose weight
Ok so you decide its time to shed a few kilos and decide avoiding gluten is the way to go. Cakes and biscuits are prohibited, you avoid white bread and eat more fruits and veg instead. When you eat out you can no longer have pies, pasties, pizza, burgers, chips, battered foods and many desserts, instead opting for the gluten free option, usually a salad or the fish/steak and veg option. And you lose weight. Gluten is in so many of the less healthy foods, when many people avoid gluten, their diets also get healthier by default and as its hidden in so many products, they to think carefully about what goes in. Myth busted? Maybe not but maybe, read on…
Myth #3 ‘Gluten free’ foods are healthier
In the last few years, food marketed as ‘gluten free’ has become synonymous with health food and the market has expanded. While this is great giving more options for those with coeliac disease, it hasn’t done much for our health. Often these foods are highly processed, however most people assume that a gluten free brownie or muesli bar is healthier than a regular alternative. Gluten free flours often have a stronger taste and give a really dense texture, meaning food manufacturers add more sugar to make it taste better and more additives to give a better texture (read the ingredients list of gluten free bread and you will see what I mean). Lets face it, highly processed foods may come with a gluten free seal of approval but they are still best taken in moderation. Even commercial gluten free bread is no healthier than white bread- both are made from white flour and usually contain plenty of additives, some wholegrain rye bread or nice grainy toast are much better options.
Having said that however, so much of our diet comes from refined wheat which is not so nutritious. Bring back some variety to your day and try experimenting yourself with different types of grains and flours. Try using wholemeal spelt or rye or oat flours as well as the whole grains some of the gluten free grains such as quinoa, amaranth and millet.
Mix up your morning bowl of weatbix or toast and try this spelt porridge with apple and strawberry compote (spelt is an ancient form of wheat, it has a milder flavour and does contain gluten)
- ½ cup spelt flakes
- 1 cup plant passed milk
- ⅓ cup water
- ½ tsp sweetener
- ½ apple, diced
- 3 strawberries, sliced
- 2 tsp Norbu sweetener
- Slivered almonds and extra apple slices, to serve
- Combine spelt, milk and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes until soft.
- Meanwhile combine apple and strawberries in a small bowl and microwave for 1 min. Give it a stir and microwave for another 30 secs. It should be soft and juicy. Add a little Norbu or other sweetner to taste.
- Serve with porridge.