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Gluten Free PDF Print E-mail

A few years ago, cutting out gluten seemed the fashionable thing to do. Is there a genuine basis to iliminating gluten?

The term ‘gluten’ encompasses two primary families of proteins, the gliadins and glutenins. Gluten is the storage protein found in most grass plants (or grains as we know them). It's the gluten that occurs in a specific sub-group of grains -- the Pooideae subfamily of the Poaceae family of grasses -- that causes specific reactions in those of us who have coeliac disease or are gluten-sensitive. The Pooideae subfamily includes wheat, barley, rye, bulgur, kamut and triticale.

If you’ve ever baked bread or watched how pizza dough is rolled out and stretched, you would have noticed how elastic that dough actually is – the more its bashed around, the more elastic is gets. This is so that the gluten in the flour can get broken down as much as possible in order to achieve the correct consitency. Thus the more the dough is worked, the more the gluten is ‘released’. In fact, modern wheat has been bred to contain far more gluten than older varieties of wheat such as einkorn wheat and spelt wheat which makes modern wheat more toxic for those who react to it.

Other grains like oats for example also contain a form of gluten called avenin. If you have cooked rolled oats in water before, you would have noticed how gooey the liquid becomes as the oats release the avenin. Although avenin is a ‘cousin’ of gliadin it is generally not a problem for most people unless you have coeliac disease.

How does gluten become a problem?

In order to produce the drought-resistant, bug-resistant, shorter and faster growing wheat that we have today, scientists have hybridized the grain. This means that the structure of this grass seed hardly resembles what was grown at the start of the agrarian period 10,000 years ago. It is the D genome of modern wheat that has accummulated substantial change in genetically determined characteristics of gluten proteins. Today's wheat has also been deaminated which allows it to be water soluble and capable of being mixed into virtually every kind of packaged food. This deamination has been shown to produce a large immune response in many people.

In our modern, fast-paced world, convenience precedes health and as a result we are consuming much more gluten-based products and processed foods (to which gluten is added) than our ancestors ever did.

What happens in your gut when you eat gluten?

Whether you are eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut or organic multi-seed bread, the effects of gluten on your gut are the same. Continuous exposure to the gluten protein will eventually damage the intestinal lining leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome. This means that undigested food particles may actually ‘leak’ through the damaged intestine into the bloodstream thus provoking an immune response to these unrecognizable substances. This process may start with gluten but may eventually extend to any food as the body goes into hyper-defensive mode that can eventually lead to a whole host of food allergies and autoimmune conditions.

Symptoms are experienced in varying degrees. The most common being IBS and acid reflux. However some people only experience mild bloating, gas and occasional constipation and/or diarrhoea, which most accept as part of a ‘sensitive digestive system’. It is only when they eliminate gluten from their diets and these irritations finally resolve themselves that they realize that they had a problem all along.

In coeliac disease the gluten protein (specifically alpha gliadin) provokes an immune response that inflames the intestine, causing incapacitating abdominal cramps and diarrhoea to varying degrees. The difference is that coeliac disease is a permanent condition that doesn’t disappear with a healthy diet, exercise, weight loss, drugs or supplements. The only ‘cure’ is to eliminate gluten entirely.

Who should avoid gluten?

Obviously Coeliac sufferers should avoid gluten but in my opinion everyone can benefit from eliminating this noxious substance. As previously mentioned, one of the biggest problems is frequency of exposure to gluten, which can be several times in a 24 hour period.

Lets examine the typical modern diet:

  • Breakfast: All Bran Flakes or toast 
  • Snack: Muffin
  •  Lunch: Sandwiches or a wrap 
  • Supper: Pasta or pizza 
  • Dessert: Malva pudding

These are the obvious culprits but almost all pre-prepared meals, milk-shakes, crisps, snacks and even skimmed-milk powder contain gluten. The poor digestive system never gets a respite from gluten and it is guaranteed that it is only a matter of time before you develop a chronic post-nasal drip, blocked ears and possible digestive niggles (not to mention insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome).

People often think that health disorders come ‘out of the blue’ but that is hardly ever the case! It’s the fact that people don’t associate seemingly disparate and unrelated ‘symptoms’ with intestinal damage.

The biggest challenge with following a gluten-free eating-plan is that people tend to look for substitutes. Let’s take a loaf of bread as an example. There are many gluten free breads on the market these days. Cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch and tapioca starch are generally used in the place of wheat gluten. The problem is that these cause havoc with your blood sugar and should rather be avoided. The prudent approach is to exclude all gluten-containing products for at least six months in order to allow your gut to heal and for your body to eliminate the antibody’s to gluten. In this time one should focus on eating whole foods (read the Paleo section). After this you can introduce gluten containing products ocasionally, always allowing at least three days in-between for your body to recover. Failing this you will head down the same glutinous slope as before.

To clarify:

1. If something is WHEAT FREE, it is NOT necssarily gluten free. However if something is gluten free then by association it should be wheat free!

2. The method of processing makes no difference to the gluten content. Just because the wheat is stone ground makes no difference to the protein structure of the wheat.

3. By the same token, if the wheat is ORGANIC, it is not gluten free no matter how it was pollinated, sown or grown!

4. Ancient wheat varietals like Einkorn still contains gluten (even if it is less) and should be avoided by those who are sensitive.

5. Eating a smaller portion of gluten-containing products will make no difference if your gut lining is already compromised. The only solution is to completely elimainate the offending products.

6. Beware of clever marketing. Granted, oats do not have the same gluten that is found in wheat and other grains. However, there is no such thing as “gluten free oats”. Its like marketing a chicken breast as “protein free”. The avenin is the actual storage protein in the oats- how can that be removed without changing the nature of the oat?

7. Even if the oats are grown 1000km away from other gliadin-containg crops, they will still contain avenin.