You’ve heard the buzzword ‘gluten-free’ out there – but do you really know why it’s such a good thing – and do you know what a positive impact a gluten-free diet can have on your health, besides the obvious weight management aspect?
First of all, what IS gluten?
Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley, and therefore present in most breads, cakes and cereals. It is the only protein in nature that humans cannot completely metabolise. And because it’s hard to digest, it basically stays around, irritating and inflaming the gastro-intestinal tract, wreaking havoc on our bodies, and causing symptoms that range from simple fatigue, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, headaches and skin conditions to severe problems such as mal-absorption of nutrients, infertility and even osteoporosis.
Fortunately, most gluten-sensitive people experience the less serious symptoms. Dr Alessio Fasano, director of the University of Maryland Centre for Celiac Research, estimates that at least 10 million people in the USA are gluten-sensitive. Many people go through most of their adult lives with these symptoms, thinking that they just have to live with them. What they don’t realise is that cutting back on wheat or even eliminating it completely can help them feel much better.
How SERIOUS can gluten-intolerance become?
Before you get into a spin, it’s important to remember that, like with everything else, there are degrees of gluten intolerance. Some people are mildly sensitive, and can do with just cutting back on their gluten intake – while others can develop the more extreme coeliac disease, which means a life-long gluten-free diet with absolutely no exceptions.
Coeliac disease is an hereditary auto-immune disease with no known cure except the elimination of all forms of gluten.
People who are affected often know something is terribly wrong but have trouble getting an accurate diagnosis, because this disease mimics so many other conditions, most notably irritable bowel syndrome.
Look to the past, for a HEALTHY future
How do you find out if you have coeliac disease or just a sensitivity? A simple blood test called a coeliac panel can give you a pretty good idea. Only gastro-intestinal endoscopy can give a definite diagnosis, but you should undertake that only after a positive blood test.
We didn’t evolve on a diet that had gluten in it. Wheat wasn’t used until 10 000 years ago, so our ancient DNA is still trying to catch up with modern foods. With the rediscovery of ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and wild rice, now is a great time to try going gluten-free. Not only are they a great-tasting alternative to wheat, they’re healthier too. Pop in to your nearest Dis-Chem Pharmacy and check out the huge variety of gluten- free and specialised health foods.