This week I was invited to speak at Fare Healthy, the annual festival of food, fitness, and wellbeing.
The topic of discussion was ‘Gluten and Grains’ and sat on the panel with Karen Collins, founder of The Happy Tummy Co., & Nutritionist Lilly Soutter.
I have a huge interest in gut health and gluten, so I jumped at the opportunity to share my opinion and offer some evidence based advice on the topic.
Ryan Reynolds (that dreamy hollywood actor) recently tweeted:
“People in LA are deathly afraid of gluten. I swear to god, you could rob a liquor store in this city with a bagel.”
Proving that not only is he very good-looking, he is also pretty funny too. Jokes aside, he makes a good point, and a good observation, one which we are seeing over this side of the ocean also. People fear gluten. They’re scared it’s going to cause havoc to their gut, give their children ADHD, cause them to gain weight, and develop autoimmune diseases.
I am here to hopefully put your mind at rest.
Gluten is a family of protein found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It binds baked goods together and makes them chewy, but as it is found in flour it’s also in lots of other food products like sauces, stocks, crackers, and even chocolate bars. Its virtually everywhere, and it always has been. What many people don’t realise is that gluten is a natural component of most whole grains, and we’ve been consuming it since we first started cultivating crops.
Without giving too much away, as I go into much more detail in my book, for the most of us – Gluten is not harmful (or fattening, or unhealthy, or toxic.) Going gluten-free is fashionable right now, although not many people know what gluten actually is or why a gluten free diet would benefit them. There’s lots of scaremongering surrounding gluten that it will put holes in your gut, toxins in your blood, and shrink your brain – especially with books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. However these books aren’t based on quality scientific evidence, and pieces taken from papers are often cherry picked and taken out of context.
That said, although gluten is harmless for most of us, it is the root cause to the symptoms experienced by coeliac disease.
This condition affects 1 in 100 people in the UK and Europe and is diagnosed by a special blood test or by a biopsy of the intestine wall.
People with coeliac disease get very sick, very quickly, if they eat even the most microscopic amount of gluten. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease, not a food allergy or a food intolerance. The immune system mistakes gluten as a harmful substance and mounts an attack against it. This reaction to gluten damages the surface of the small bowel, interfering with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. This is often picked up in childhood when the infant ‘fails to thrive’, cannot gain weight, falls behind on their growth centiles, and experiences digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain.
To further muddy the waters, there is another group of people who are not coeliac (i.e. they test negative) but experience similar symptoms when they ingest gluten.This is now referred to as ‘Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)’, but as it stands there is no diagnostic test for this and many healthcare practitioners are still on the fence as to whether it actually exists as a separate condition. Furthermore, some people with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) also report similar symptoms following ingestion of gluten containing foods.
The spectrum of gluten tolerance is quite broad, and we still have a long way to go in terms of research and development of gold standard tests.
In these situations I recommend that you go with your gut, if you can tolerate gluten and grains then why restrict yourself and cut them out? On the flip side, if you experience symptoms after consuming gluten containing products (ie. bloating, diarrhoea, stomach pain, or wind!) then seek out a registered dietician and see if it would be appropriate for you to have a trial period where you exclude it from your diet.
If you’re interested to hear more about my views on this topic, and other popular nutrition myths, then check out my book THE FOOD MEDIC which is available to pre-order now. In addition to de-bunking myths, this book contains your basic guide to nutrition, a tool kit for how to build a healthy diet, 70 delicious recipes, a workout guide you can tailor to suit you, and a glossary of ‘health’ buzzwords (and what they really mean!).
More pictures from the event…
Photography: Jon Payne