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By this point, most people know about going ‘gluten free’ – either someone they know has done it or they’ve seen any of the hundreds of blogs, videos and TV shows about it. What may not have cropped up is exactly what gluten is or why it’s such a problem.
Put simply, gluten is a complex protein that you find in a large number of grains, such as barley, wheat and rye. Anything that contains these grains – along with a number of others – invariably also contains gluten, including pasta, bread, many breakfast cereals and even some beers.
For most people, gluten’s not a problem. There’s a growing number of people, however, that are badly affected by gluten as they have Coeliac Disease (CD), an autoimmune condition that affects the intestines and stops them from absorbing nutrients. This leads to any number of digestive problems and even malnutrition, meaning that cutting out gluten is a necessity, not a choice. Some figures suggest that one in 100 people have CD, but as it can take years to diagnose the disorder or a gluten sensitivity, figures could be much higher.
These days there are also a lot of people cutting out gluten because they ‘just feel better’. Many nutritionists now think that we simply have too much gluten in our diet and as a knock-on effect, it’s starting to cause reactions to gluten in otherwise healthy people. It’s true that we’ve become very reliant on wheat and barley, mainly because it’s cheap and there’s lots of it. What many people don’t realise is that wheat and barley are now food additives, being put into processed foods as thickeners or emulsifiers, meaning that we’re eating more gluten than ever before.
Relying on a few mass-produced and cheap grains could mean that a lack of variety is increasing the number of people developing sensitivities; common complaints include bloating, lethargy, skin irritations and any other number of digestive complaints. If you’re starting to see these effects, it makes perfect sense to try and reduce the amount of gluten in your diet for health reasons. We’ve known for years that eating a varied diet is best and relying heavily on one food source isn’t the healthiest dietary habit.
If you’re going to remove gluten from your diet because you’ve been diagnosed coeliac or you’re concerned about over-exposure to gluten, the first step is to identify where gluten is getting into your diet. As well as the obvious bread and pasta, there are many ready-made sauces and even sausages that contain gluten thanks to wheat and barley based additives.
It’s commonly accepted that many products will contain gluten ‘as a matter of course’ but this isn’t so! It’s easy to find makers of products that don’t use gluten-based ingredients or additives. Many healthcare professionals advise newly diagnosed coeliacs to avoid beer as it contains gluten – this is only true of beers brewed from barley or wheat! Green’s Beers are all gluten and wheat free.
Once people identify the number of items they buy that contain gluten, it’s far more than they thought possible! By increasing the dietary variety and reducing reliance on mass-produced grains, there can be immediate improvements in digestion, making going gluten-free not only a viable option, but a very attractive one.