Fad diets have been around for many years, but in recent times there seems to have been an upsurge in people declaring themselves to be ‘free from’. These fads include being ‘free’ from gluten and sugar, to carbohydrates and dairy products. Each seem to have their own celebrities shouting about the benefits; but are there any benefits to cutting food groups from your diet or perhaps could these exclusions be causing more harm than good?
You may have only heard of gluten from contestants on the Great British Bake Off, or from people cutting it out of their diets. With celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Kim Kardashian tweeting about the benefits going gluten free has bought them, with Kim saying “Gluten free is the way to be” and Miley tweeting “the change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing”. But what is gluten and can it possibly deserve all of the hate it gets?
Found in the endosperm of wheat and grains such as barley, gluten gives elasticity to doughs, which often gives products a chewy or bouncy texture. Common gluten containing foods include pizza, pasta, cereal and beer (the four staples of the student diet).
Gluten can be linked to a number of health conditions, and people with these conditions have a pretty clear reason to avoid the protein. The most problematic of which is coeliac disease, which affects between 1-2% percent of the general population and is a chronic immune-mediated process that occurs when a sufferer ingests gluten. Osteoporosis, an increased risk of developing some cancers and pain are just some of the long-term health effects associated with the condition if left untreated, with treatment involving cutting gluten from the diet.
The other main condition affected by gluten is gluten intolerance, which is though to affect between 6 and 20 percent of the population. But this condition remains difficult to diagnose, and as such people often self-diagnose which is thought likely to cause more harm than good. Speaking to a dietitian or a doctor is strongly encouraged before making any significant changes to the diet.
When it come to the belief that cutting gluten will cut your weight, Tanya Thomas of the British Dietetic Association said “people assume that by cutting out gluten that are going to lose weight; it’s a myth”, and the chief executive of Coeliac UK has said that the amount of fats in gluten free products can be alarming. Links have also been found between the cutting out of gluten containing foods and the lack of some nutrients from the diet, for example vitamin B12.
So, unless you’ve got good reason to, it’s probably best to keep gluten in your diet – not least because gluten free pizzas are still hard to find.