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Should you go gluten free?

It seems that going gluten free is all the rage these days and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt in one way or another been inundated with products, gurus and pieces of advice, all naming and shaming glutens inclusion in our diet.

Everyone has apparently become an expert on this issue overnight, preaching about how this simple change is the most overlooked secret to shedding weight and improving your health.

Just like most dieting trends though, many people have hopped on the bandwagon with something they’re told or led to believe. In fact, it seems like this is the one dietary trend that’s likely here to stay.

After all, if all the celebrities are doing it, then surely there must at least be some substance behind all these miraculous claims?! And maybe this really is where we’ve been going wrong all along?

Which leaves the single question. Should you go Gluten free?

Well let’s find out.

People everywhere are stating that removing gluten from your diet helps a vast amount of conditions both mentally and physically. From easing bloating to clearing your skin, improving digestion or unlocking magical superpowers that are being locked up every time you reach for that slice of bread.

There seems to be no problem that can’t be solved by simply removing foods containing gluten from your diet and at this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if next it’s hailed as the saviour that’s finally going to bring about world peace.

So is gluten really the enemy it’s made out to be?

Let’s cut straight to the point. No it’s not, and I’m sorry if this comes across as condescending, belittling or even sarcastic, but as you’ve probably already guessed, I’m hugely against this entire craze, as it’s simply gotten completely out of control.

The reality is fad diets and products capitalise on finding something they can point the finger at and blame for health and weight problems, simply because it’s easy to sell and the issue at hand is no exception.

It’s even reached the ridiculous extent where supermarkets are littered with products labelled as ‘gluten free’. Most of which don’t and never have contained gluten in the first place, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, or a whole host of other products. But by simply whacking a sticker on them, they can take advantage of the health conscious consumer and this has become a simple way to shift a tremendous amount of everyday products, at an often elevated price.

I actually despair at the amount of people I’ve encountered who’ve said they’re going gluten free, as when asked why, most can’t give a single valid reason in regards to their decision, apart from because they’ve been told to do so.

Too make matters worse, most seem to have no clue what gluten actually is.

So before you jump ship and make the same mistake, let’s get serious for a minute and take a look at it in a little more detail.

So what is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat products, along with other grains such as barley, spelt and rye.

Gluten isn’t a nutrient vital for health and while it’s true that there are some health risks where it causes autoimmune responses for those with Celiac Disease, the reality is the amount of people it affects is relatively small in number.

In fact, it’s estimated that Celiac Disease affects between 0.3 to 1.2 percent of the population. Yet studies in the UK have shown that more than one in five people have self-diagnosed themselves as having a gluten intolerance!

Research conducted at Portsmouth University however found that in reality, only 2 percent of them actually do…

Which in itself is pretty clear evidence that this entire craze has been massively and unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?

These can range from anything to do with gastrointestinal bloating to diarrhoea, flatulence, headaches, muscle pain and fatigue. However, these symptoms can also be caused by a whole host of other food related intolerances. From dairy to certain types of carbohydrates, additives or even intestinal gas build up brought on by foods such as beans or cabbage.

Meaning that what people are interpreting as a gluten insensitivity, is in all likelihood being caused by something else altogether.

Still not convinced?

Well in 2013 a study conducted by Monash University found in participants with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity that negative symptoms were only caused when those involved knew they were eating gluten. They actually found that when they were led to believe they were consuming something else, that no symptoms were experienced. Showing a complete placebo effect in play.

It was found that gastrointestinal issues weren’t improved by reducing gluten intake from participant’s diets, but what did have a positive effect was reducing the amount of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates, which are more commonly referred to as FODMAPS. These are often found in grains, dairy, beans and some fruits.

This coincides with other studies that suggest that what many people believe to be a sensitivity to gluten, is actually down to FODMAP’s instead.

So it’s not gluten causing the problems, but rather these carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed by the small intestine, instead passing into the large intestine and creating gas, bloating or discomfort when fermented by bacteria. With more severe circumstances leading to fatigue, headaches, lethargy and constipation. Thereby concluding that these symptoms are in fact caused by irritable bowel syndrome, and not down to gluten.

The problem however is that often many gluten based foods contain these FODMAP’s as well, which in turn has played a huge role in why it’s taken the brunt of the miss focus.

So if you’re experiencing any of these side effects, chances are your body may just not respond well to certain foods and gluten itself has nothing to do with the issues.

With that being said though, if you’re having negative reactions or discomfort then obviously in these cases it makes sense to avoid foods causing the problems.

So if a food makes you feel uncomfortable, try removing it from your diet for a week and see if the feelings subsist. If they do, then chances are that something within that product is the culprit and it’s best to avoid or minimise its intake in the future.

Therefore, for the majority of people there really is no need to adapt to a gluten free diet and doing so can actually bring about many other problems. For instance, while going gluten free is currently being portrayed as ‘healthy’, the alternatives people use as replacements are often far less nutritious carbohydrates. Many of which contain less fibre, as well as being higher in fat and lower in protein.

So from a health perspective, completely removing gluten can actually have various drawbacks, as research has shown it’s common for people with Celiac Disease to have various micronutrient deficiencies.

This is because a gluten free diet can potentially prevent them from getting the full range of nutrients they require, a common factor associated with all restrictive diets.

At the same time though, without diving too far into the science behind it all. You shouldn’t go overboard with gluten consumption and instead should limit it to a few times a week.

Final thoughts

Just like anything else, it’s all about balance and consuming too much of anything can have negative connotations.

Like with all dieting trends, things are never quite as black and white as they claim to be and chances are if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. This is why you should always face the issues with a certain degree of scepticism.

So chances are there really is no need for you to remove gluten from your diet and instead of paying attention to the latest flavour of the week dietary advice, what you should be doing is listening to your body and seeing how it responds to the foods you consume.

That’s the only true sign of what you really need.

So do you still think gluten is the enemy we have been led to believe?

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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