The Gluten-Free Myth

 I recently visited a good friend for a little chit chat. We had some food and she offered me some vegan gluten-free muffins. When I questioned the gluten-free option, she said “gluten is bad for you and makes you put on weight!”  So me being me, as soon as I got home I had to look into this! What the heck is gluten, is it bad for us, should we avoid it, is gluten-free better, does gluten make us put on weight?

 the gluten-free bandwagon

 

 

WHAT IS GLUTEN

Gluten is a type of PROTEIN! Yes PROTEIN! It nourishes plant embryos and it effects the elasticity of the dough! Gluten is found in three types of cereal: (1) wheat (2) barley (3) rye and various products such bread, muffins, flours, sauces, cookies etc. Fruit, vegetables, potatoes, rice and lentils are naturally gluten-free.

OK so if GLUTEN is PROTEIN why avoid it?

You must follow a gluten-free diet if you suffer from coeliac disease! Coeliac disease is a autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue after consuming gluten. In other words, it is a serious digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten. It isn’t merely an allergy or an intolerance as the consumption of gluten will cause damage to the small intestine. Coeliac disease is a life long condition although symptoms may improve if following a gluten-free diet. Please check with your doctor if you think you may be suffering from such disease.

 

WHAT If I’M NOT a COELIAC?

According to the Food Standards Agency, only an estimated 1 per cent of the population is classified as coeliacs — yet this market (gluten-free) is growing by 15 per cent every year and is worth £238 million annually. (2013) source

Eating a gluten-free diet has become somewhat trendy. Many people consider gluten-free foods healthier and are willing to pay extra money to basically have gluten (protein) removed from their foods!

 

WHAT REPLACES GLUTEN IN GLUTEN-FREE

Let me ask a few questions and let’s use store-bought bread as an example; What happens when you remove gluten from bread dough? It will lose its elasticity and texture hence why gluten will have to be replaced with something else! Generally, a gluten-free loaf will contain a significantly higher amount of fat (up to 3 times more fat than traditional bread) and added sugar and even extra flavourings just to make up for the loss of gluten! I wanted to buy gluten-free bagels to illustrate this, however after closer inspection of the ingredients I found out that gluten-free bagels in fact contain egg even though  ‘New York’ bagels (containing gluten) are egg-less thus vegan friendly! Not even mentioning the fact that the gluten free ones cost twice as much! In some products the cost is up to 200% higher just because they have no gluten in them!

 

GLUTEN-FREE = HEALTHY

Gluten-free is by no means synonymous with healthy, vegan, nutritious, low fat or low sugar. On the contrary, these products generally contain more fat, more sugar, more artificial flavorings and may in fact be de-veganised just because the natural plant protein (gluten) had to be substituted with eggs.

 

LOSING WEIGHT ON A GLUTEN-FREE DIET

You’ve probably heard of celebrities who claim to have lost or maintain their slim figures thank to gluten-free diet. Well, if you avoid wheat and all products containing wheat (bread&pastries) you’re bound to lose weight, not because you don’t eat gluten but because you cut out a major food group from your diet. However, if you replace muffins with store bought gluten-free muffins then chances are you will put ON weight! Muffin is a muffin.. gluten or no gluten! People who eat gluten-free to lose weight do not merely replace muffins with gluten-free muffins, they avoid them altogether. See how misleading this might be?  Just as eating diabetic sweets (if you’re not a diabetic) won’t make you lose weight, in fact your body would be better off digesting natural sugars rather than artificial sweeteners.

 

WHEAT INTOLERANCE

Wheat intolerance isn’t the same as coeliac disease! Gluten is only one element of the grain. If you think you’re wheat intolerant, following a gluten-free diet may not actually help you. You may still experience discomfort due to other parts of the wheat. Good news is that wheat intolerance unlike coeliac disease may be eliminated in time.

 

I BAKE GLUTEN-FREE AND FEEL BETTER

 If you bake your own bread, cakes, etc and choose to go gluten-free you may be better off. Why is that? Well, firstly you won’t be adding artificial ingredients into your mixture, you will not accidentally add eggs into your mixture (if you’re vegan that is) and you will generally replace wheat flours with almond meal, coconut flour, chick pea flour which may in fact be more nutritious. You also won’t be adding extra unhealthy fats just to keep your dough moist you choose good fats such as nut butters, avocados etc, same goes for sweeteners. I felt it was only fair to mention. I’m not opposed to making a gluten-free cake if the ingredients happen to be gluten-free but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to make it gluten-free and I would absolutely not buy gluten-free in the store if there was a “traditional” option available.

 

CONCLUSION

Gluten is a naturally occurring plant protein. You will not lose weight or become healthier by simply switching to gluten-free diet. The only thing you lose is pounds from your wallet. You may lose weight if you avoid wheat based products as you would if you cut out any other food group. Ceoliac disease is a serious condition and not the same as wheat intolerance or allergy. There is a big difference between store bought gluten-free and home made gluten-free! I hope you found this helpful and you’ll feel even more confident when it comes to your food choices.

 

Sources:

https://www.coeliac.org.uk/gluten-free-diet-and-lifestyle/gf-diet/

https://www.allergyuk.org/common-food-intolerances/wheat-and-gluten-intolerance

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Coeliac-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

12 Comments

  • Andrew says:

    Hello Petra,
    I never really knew the facts about Gluten, now I do! Thanks, this was very informative.

    Andrew

    • pj says:

      Hello Andrew,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I watched a documentary on this recently and 9 out of 10 people who were actually buying gluten-free didn’t know why. I’m glad I could shed some light on this ‘issue’.
      Have a great week!

  • Holly Hood says:

    Great article lovely! This has come up in conversation for me a number of times as I eat a generally healthy veggie diet people automatically assume I’m gluten free. I’ve always found it interesting as I’m not at all! It’s just like low fat products to me – as you say, packed full of other not so healthy ingredients.

    Although speaking to a Coeliac friend yesterday, she is loving this gluten free movement as it makes everything so much easier for her! 12 years ago people didn’t really understand it. Every cloud

    • pj says:

      Hello Holly!
      I’m so glad you can relate! That actually happened to me as well, one of my colleagues thought gluten-free meant vegan when in fact it is not related at all. And that’s a really good point I’m glad there’s so much more choice for people who actually suffer from the disease and can not eat gluten so as you say they will benefit from this gluten-free, I dare to say, fad! Thank you so much for sharing!
      Have a great week xxx

  • This is so thorough!! There are so many misconceptions and gluten-confusions circulating around its ridiculous!! I find it kind of silly when people are like “Oh its gluten free so its healthy!” As if wheat protein is the only thing that makes food unhealthy 😀 haha

    • pj says:

      Hi Natalie,
      I did fair amount of reading on this and all the credible sources actually warn people off from going on gluten-free diet! (unless you must of course!). I’ve read some forums of people following gluten-free diet for no medical reasons and many actually claimed to feel worse. Makes you feel sorry for ‘gluten’ poor misunderstood protein!haha Thanks for you comment I’m so pleased you can relate xxx

  • Lily Lau says:

    Can’t stand that now everybody thinks a gluten-free diet is healthy for them! People believe myths so easily…

  • carla says:

    Hi Petra,

    I totally agree that there are many unhealthy gluten free products out there, and that being gluten free does not mean you are being healthy. Just as you can be an unhealthy vegan you can equally be an unhealthy person without eating gluten. However, there is a lot of research to show that gluten is actually not good for us, coeliac or not. There is an awesome book on the subject called Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter. It’s a very contentious issue, but I actually think there is some merit to the gluten free movement. I’d love to know what you think if you do read Grain Brain, it’s a great read 🙂

    • pj says:

      Thanks for your input Carla, I only wanted to give a basic explanation on gluten as I’ve noticed that many people actually don’t know what it means going gluten-free and are rather misled about the benefits of gluten-free diet. I just wish people didn’t demonize certain foods especially of the plant-based family! And the ‘vegan diet is healthy’ is something I certainly want to write about because that is such a myth. Thanks for the reading recommendation although I heard Dr McDougall’s opinion on this book and let’s just say he wasn’t happy hehe. I will read it, it’s essential to be aware of opposing views.
      Thanks for stopping by and chatting,
      Petra x

  • Simona says:

    Dear Petra, thank you for this article. You’re right, many times people just follow what is trendy without understanding. We need more people like you to help people understand and then help them to make the right choices.
    Keep up your great work, can’t wait to read more articles from you

    • pj says:

      Thank you, I couldn’t have said it better. That’s precisely my sentiment, make choices for yourself not because everyone else is doing it! I’m relieved people can relate. Thank you!

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