Gluten-free diet: More than just a fad
People who are coeliac and have a gluten intolerance have to avoid wheat, rye, barley and oats – but more people are choosing to follow a gluten-free diet. We take a look at why and how.
What is a gluten-free diet?
Gluten is found in a lot of foods: bread, pasta, ready meals, pastries and confectionery, and even soy sauce. Switching to a gluten-free diet means completely changing your eating habits. Some people don’t eat gluten because of an intolerance or allergy. Others with gluten sensitivity avoid it to prevent digestive discomfort.
Gluten intolerance and sensitivity
While it’s possible to identify the signs of coeliac disease (gluten intolerance), it’s often difficult to diagnose. Blood tests, endoscopy and biopsies of the duodenum are all used.
“Many people who aren’t affected by coeliac disease say that a gluten-free diet improves their general health, especially reducing tiredness and digestive discomfort. This probably means they’re sensitive to gluten, not allergic or intolerant,” says Professor Bruno Bonaz, gastroenterologist at Grenoble University Hospital.
A good way to find out yourself if you are indeed intolerant or sensitive to gluten is to trial a gluten-free diet to see if it improves your digestion.
A difficult diagnosis
Gluten intolerance can be asymptomatic or have a range of different symptoms, from digestive problems such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and bloating to weight loss, chronic fatigue or depression and repeated miscarriages. The illness is also sometimes connected to skin problems and diabetes. The fact that symptoms can vary so much means it’s difficult to diagnose gluten intolerance and sensitivity. There’s still a lot we don’t know about these conditions.
So is sensitivity to gluten really an illness? Why do some people develop it? Are you always allergic or can your sensitivity to gluten vary? “There’s no easy answer to any of these questions; all the more so as the emotional impact can sometimes have a direct effect on the digestive system, making problems worse. Stress can disrupt your system and stop your body from digesting a food it normally tolerates well. We don’t call the stomach the ‘second brain’ for no reason,” explains Professor Bonaz.
A quick guide to going gluten free
Going gluten free won’t have any harmful effects on your health as long as you eat a balanced diet. “If you’re intolerant or just sensitive to gluten, minor troubles like constipation or bloating may disappear rapidly. Generally, though, you need to give a gluten-free diet three months at least to see if you want to continue with it or not,” explains Anne-Charlotte Fraisse, a naturopath at the Synactiv Health Centre in Paris.
To help you, we’ve put together a typical gluten-free day's menu:
- Breakfast: Fruit to start with or during your meal (to aid digestion), tea or coffee, gluten-free breakfast cereal with milk (e.g. rice flakes) or boiled eggs.
- Lunch: Raw vegetables or salad, meat or fish with a helping of potatoes, rice or vegetables, cheese or a fruit dessert.
- Dinner: Soup, Caesar salad (without the croutons) or a Chinese dish with fish and rice.
“To completely eliminate gluten from your diet, you need to make sure you read labels carefully. Gluten is often used as a binding agent in ice cream, ready meals and pre-prepared veg,” says Anne-Charlotte Fraisse.
If you want to try a gluten-free diet, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you take the plunge. You can get advice and support from a nutritionist, too. A gluten-free diet involves simple, healthy food, but it’s difficult to stick to on a daily basis. It’s a lifestyle choice, and not simply a fad diet.
Press conference on gluten by Dr. Schär, Paris, Tuesday 29 May 2012
Interview with Professor Bruno Bonaz, a gastroenterologist at Grenoble University Hospital
Interview with Anne-Charlotte Fraisse, naturopath at the Synactiv Health Centre in Paris and author of La tonic attitude des Parasseuses, Marabout editions, 2012
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