What is Gluten and Can It Be Part of a Healthy Diet
There are a huge number of different diet types that have become more and more popular in recent years, and one of these is a gluten-free diet. The gluten-free diet is followed by many, and no longer just those with celiac disease.
But, why do so many people choose this diet? Is gluten actually bad for you? And can it ever be part of a healthy diet? We've done some research into what gluten is and whether it can be part of a healthy diet. To find out more, read on!
What is gluten?
To start, let's find out what gluten actually is?
Gluten is a family of storage proteins found naturally in many grains. A storage protein serves as a biological reserve of metal ions and amino acids. Gluten comes in different forms and is usually named after the grain that it is found in.
Gluten helps to change the texture of foods. In most foods, it adds a certain chewiness and creates an elastic structure in bread. For this reason, gluten is often added to processed foods. This is so that the food will retain moisture and can help to improve its texture.
Gluten is found in many different food products, sometimes naturally and sometimes as an additive. To find out which foods contain gluten, keep reading.
Which foods contain gluten?
Lots of foods contain gluten naturally, while others contain added gluten. Below, we've listed which foods contain gluten, splitting them into three categories: grains, processed grain-based foods, and others.
This list is by no means extensive and you should always check the label on the food you are buying to find out its ingredients.
Processed, grain-based foods:
- Barley malt
- Malt vinegar
- Soy sauce (for gluten-free hunt down Tamari)
- Some salad dressings, sauces, and gravies
- Some spice blends
- Flavoured chips
- Some wines
- Some processed meats
A few notes on gluten-containing foods
As with many processed foods, cross-contamination with gluten is possible where the same machinery is used or transportation methods are the same. This means that, though some foods are naturally gluten-free, they may not be labelled as such due to this possibility.
The most well-known gluten-free food that is never labelled as such is oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free but are commonly processed using the same machines as wheat and transported with the grains too. This means that it cannot be guaranteed that oats are gluten-free.
You can find gluten-free oats that are processed in separate factories on separate machines, and anyone following a gluten-free diet would need to do this. However, even though gluten-free oats do exist, there is some disagreement over whether or not oats actually are safe for those with celiac disease and other wheat and gluten sensitivities. This is because oats contain a protein called avenin which is structurally similar to gluten proteins and has been known, in very rare cases, to cause allergic or adverse reactions in those who cannot tolerate gluten.
There are many foods that don't contain gluten and to find out more about a diet free from gluten, check out the next section on gluten-free diets.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is commonly followed by those with celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivity. It is a diet that is completely devoid of gluten-containing foods and focuses on eating naturally gluten-free foods as well as foods made gluten-free.
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment known for celiac disease and can be the only way to deal with any kind of wheat or gluten sensitivity.
People with celiac disease and others who follow a gluten-free diet can eat lots of different foods that are naturally gluten-free along with other gluten-free options of usually gluten-containing foods. As eating gluten is completely out of the question for people with celiac disease and other gluten-related conditions, gluten-free options are processed completely separately from gluten-containing foods.
Wheat allergy, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity: what do they all mean?
As you've guessed, there are quite a few medical reasons that people choose to eat a gluten-free diet. These include people with a wheat allergy, people with celiac disease, and people with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These three conditions may seem interchangeable but they actually aren't. To find out more, keep reading.
What is a wheat allergy?
A wheat allergy, though sometimes confused, is not gluten intolerance, gluten allergy, or celiac disease. A gluten allergy technically doesn't exist, and so if people say this, they may mean a wheat allergy.
Unlike celiac disease and a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy induces an allergic reaction in the person. This means regular allergy symptoms, like hives, a rash, headaches, and in some rare and very severe cases, anaphylaxis.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is not an allergy or intolerance to gluten, but it is triggered by gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body, upon the ingestion of gluten, sees the intestines as foreign and begins attacking them. This leads to an inflammatory reaction.
People with celiac disease tend to experience negative symptoms like diarrhea, headaches, stomach issues, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, and constipation.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance
Gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity mean the same thing and are interchangeable terms. What this means is that your body is sensitive/intolerant to gluten. You will likely get lots of the same symptoms as those who suffer from celiac disease, but any blood test would not show proteins like in those with celiac disease.
People have different levels of intolerance meaning some people can tolerate low levels of gluten, whereas others cannot tolerate any.
Gluten-free foods: understanding gluten-free food labels
If you do have a condition that means you need to avoid gluten, or you have just chosen to follow this kind of diet, then you may want to understand more about gluten-free product labelling.
In most countries, food can only be labelled gluten-free if it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. These countries include the US, UK, and other European countries and the idea is that food containing less than 20 ppm of gluten would not induce a reaction in most sufferers. In Australia, however, the regulations on gluten-free produce are much stricter.
Australian food regulations, set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, mean that any food that is labelled gluten-free cannot have any detectable levels of gluten contained within it. If it is labelled 'low-gluten' this means that it contains up to 200 parts per million of gluten. This level is not suitable for those with celiac disease.
Foods that have been processed in the same factory as gluten may have a label that reads 'May contain gluten,' or something similar. This is an optional label and is not regulated. This means your best to look at the ingredients list to ensure what you're eating is gluten-free!
In Australia, like in lots of other countries, allergens will be highlighted on the food label. This means 'wheat' or 'gluten' will be highlighted to ensure you are aware of the gluten in the food.
Can gluten be part of a healthy diet?
With so many people choosing a gluten-free diet, you're probably wondering if it is healthier to cut gluten from your diet. We've done a bit of research and we've found out whether or not it is healthier to choose not to eat gluten.
Cutting gluten out of your diet means cutting out lots of options in terms of whole grains. Whole grains are an integral part of a balanced and healthy diet and contribute to good levels of dietary fibre and can protect against obesity, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
If you don't need to cut out whole grains, it is best not to completely as they're really good for your body and can help you to maintain your health.
Additionally, many gluten-containing foods are either fortified or contain high levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Many gluten-containing foods are fortified with B vitamins and cutting out this food group could lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you have to avoid gluten for medical reasons, you will be offered nutritional advice to stop you from missing out on these vitamins and minerals.
Finally, many proponents of the gluten-free diet claim that it is better for weight loss but this has been proven untrue. While limiting processed carbs can help you to maintain your weight, cutting out grains entirely can be bad for your health and can lead to a lack of fibre.
Overall, the research suggests that cutting out gluten is not a quick fix to a healthy lifestyle. While limiting processed carbs can be great for your health, eating lots of whole grains is good for your health and you should try to add more of them into your diet.
Most of our bodies can process gluten in a perfectly normal way, meaning we do not need to cut it out of our diets.
Gluten is naturally present in many popular foods. We eat gluten almost every day, probably without even thinking about it. For some, gluten can cause adverse reactions, and these people usually suffer from gluten intolerances, wheat allergies, or celiac disease. For these people, a gluten-free diet is essential.
A gluten-free diet has become very popular in recent years with options now for gluten-free bread, gluten-free cereals, and gluten-free pasta, but whether this kind of diet is healthier for those who can digest gluten normally remains to be seen. Current research suggests that eating a gluten-free diet will have no effect on weight loss and could result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Choosing a gluten-free diet may lead to a lack of whole grains in your diet when whole grains are considered an integral component of a healthy and balanced diet. While cutting down on processed carbs, like white pasta and bread, can be good for your health, you should get as many whole grains as possible into your diet.
If you're choosing to reduce the amount of gluten in your diet, consider where you will be getting essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients from, such as B vitamins and fibre. Check out our full gluten-free range today to see the amazing products we offer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is gluten healthy or unhealthy?
Gluten is neither healthy nor unhealthy, it is simply a component of food. Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in grains like whole wheat, rye, and spelt. For those with gluten intolerances, wheat allergies, or celiac disease, gluten can have adverse effects and should be avoided, but for people who do not suffer from these conditions, gluten isn't good or bad. The healthy and unhealthy part comes from the gluten-containing food that you are choosing to eat. While grains, like whole wheat, barley, and rye are good for you and recommended as part of a healthy and balanced diet, processed carbs like white pasta and bread can be bad for your health when overconsumed.
Is it healthy to cut out gluten?
Cutting out gluten can lead to nutrient deficiencies and should be avoided unless you suffer from a condition that means you can’t tolerate gluten. Though it is thought to help with weight loss, research suggests that cutting out gluten will have no effect on your weight and instead you should eat more whole grains and less processed carbs if you want to lose weight. So long as your body can tolerate gluten, there is no reason to cut it out.
What is the healthiest gluten?
The healthiest gluten-containing foods are whole grains in which it is found naturally. Gluten may be added to many products to affect their texture and taste, but the best gluten-containing foods you should be eating are grains like whole wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and semolina. You should avoid eating too many overly processed carbs, like white bread and white pasta.
Why is gluten so bad?
Gluten is not bad or good. If you have a condition that makes it impossible for your body to tolerate gluten then you should avoid gluten, but as a protein, gluten is not bad. Gluten is found in many grains which are considered good for you and should be consumed as part of a healthy and balanced diet.