What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found naturally in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. However, Gluten is present in many other foods as it is often used as an additive due to its many useful properties. The most well known being its use in baking to help dough to rise and keep its shape. It is also added to breakfast cereals and many not so obvious foods such as soups and sauces like Tomato Ketchup due to it being a good thickener, binder and flavour enhancer.
Do Oats contain Gluten?
Oats don’t naturally contain Gluten but are often contaminated during processing and distribution and so are often considered as containing Gluten, albeit a relatively small amount. Also, recent research has found that a protein in Oats (Avenin) has peptide (chains of amino acids) sequences similar to wheat Gluten and so can replicate the effects of Gluten on the body, some of which may be negative....
Is Gluten bad?
No, not necessarily, but for some people, avoiding Gluten may be beneficial to their health, and for a small minority of people, it is vital it is avoided...
For some people, the consumption of Gluten can lead to Gluten Intolerance which can cause symptoms such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, joint pain, diarrhoea, headaches, migraines, lethargy, tiredness and muscle cramps. Therefore, avoiding Gluten can help reduce these unwanted symptoms. Gluten Intolerance can develop at any age, so food which you were once fine to eat may become a problem at any time of your life.
Severe Gluten Intolerance may mean that a person has Celiac Disease which is an autoimmune condition characterised by chronic inflammation of the small intestine which results in reduced absorption of nutrients from food which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and related conditions such as weight loss and Osteoporosis. It is vital for people with Celiac disease to avoid Gluten, even in small amounts due to the irreversible intestinal damage that will occur. People with Celiac disease are born with a predisposition for the illness, but that does not mean they have it from birth; it can be triggered by factors such as stress, surgery and illness, and can be avoided by excluding Gluten.
What is the treatment for Gluten Intolerance/Celiac Disease?
There is no medication for people with Celiac disease and so sufferers must eliminate Gluten from their diet for the rest of their life. However most people who are Gluten Intolerant only need to avoid Gluten for a short period of time for symptoms to disappear, and they will not suffer any irreversible or adverse effects on their health.
Why can Gluten cause these problems?
It is thought that Gluten is a difficult protein for the body to breakdown and digest because we do not have sufficient stomach enzymes required for its digestion. This is thought to be the reason why some people experience stomach/intestine discomfort.
Should I avoid Gluten?
If you don’t experience any symptoms of Gluten Intolerance or Celiac Disease then there is no reason for you to avoid foods which contain Gluten.
If however you often experience any of the above symptoms, have a closer look at the food(s) which seem to go hand in hand with the symptoms. Avoid these food(s) for a period of time to help determine whether or not you may be Gluten Intolerance. It is possible to have a blood test to check for antibodies, but not everyone who is Gluten Intolerant will produce antibodies and so the blood test can be misleading. Obviously if your symptoms are severe, and you think you may have Celiac Disease then you need to go to your GP so that you can be advised accordingly.
By avoiding Gluten you will be missing out on its benefits such as it being a source of protein, fibre, vitamin B, and Iron, however, these can all be obtained from other food sources and so personally I don’t see excluding Gluten from your diet as being a bad thing. I would also argue that if your diet contains a lot of Gluten, you must be eating a high amount of processed foods which is never a good thing. Always try to eat clean, natural food sources which have had little or nothing added or taken away.