Gluten: The Unwelcomed Guest at a Dinner Party

Most of us have at some stage sat down to a big bowl of pasta or a wood fired pizza and then felt like the only thing that could get us out of our seats was a firecracker or forklift. The bloating, stomach tension and feelings of general discomfort are enough for us to think that maybe the last slice of Hawaiian was a bad idea. But what if this happened every time you ate a slice of toast or had a bowl of cereal? The common link between all of these foods is a protein called gluten and it’s getting some serious press lately. 

Gluten is the main structural protein found in wheat and other cereals such as rye and barley. It’s what gives pizza its nice doughy texture and bread springy and soft. For the majority of us, gluten isn’t much of an issue and our bodies tolerate it with few or no ill effects.  In recent years, the public has become more aware that some people do react badly to gluten and others can’t tolerate it at all. This has led to classifications such as gluten sensitive and a more serious condition known as celiac disease, where the individual’s immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the gut if the person consumes gluten. The food manufacturing giants haven’t let this go unnoticed either and gluten-free products approached global sales of $2.5 billion (US) in 2010. Many are touting gluten free as a new approach to weight loss and increased vitality, so one must ask the question, does it affect us that much? 

There isn’t a simple answer to the question, but what we do know is that as a population, we are consuming huge quantities of fortified and processed grains. Just think of where cattle go to get fattened up! Australia is turning into a big feed lot and the health consequences are severe. If an individual is under high levels of stress (physical, chemical and/or emotional) they are much more susceptible to the inflammatory reaction gluten causes in their digestive system. If you consider that some people might consume a product which has gluten in it several times a day, it can lead to the body’s own anti-inflammatory defense system running on an empty tank. There are many other lifestyle factors that can run us down so changing what we eat can be a huge kick start towards greater health. 

Try substituting processed grains with healthier alternatives such as quinoa, squashes, sweet potato and mushrooms. They can all give foods that ‘full’ feeling without the gluten. Also beware of the hype surrounding ‘gluten free’ or ‘reduced gluten’ foods. Usually these foods (such as sausages) would taste pretty horrible without gluten so the food manufacturers add loads of fat and sugar as compensation. Check it out next time you’re at the supermarket and compare them side by side. Remember, if it’s got an ingredients list, it’s not technically food!