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The Truth about Gluten

February 10th, 2016 | Nutrition

By Lorna Driver-Davies, Nutritional Therapist at Grace Belgravia Medical Clinic

Many of us are now more familiar with gluten-free diets, either through our own experience or via the media and friends or family. I felt it was important to clear up a few misunderstandings around the diet itself and to establish the sensible way to approach gluten.

1. “Gluten-free is always healthier”?

Not always the case. Every time I walk past the gluten-free section in a supermarket, I am crestfallen at the junk that is available; this isn’t just supermarkets but health food stores too. Gluten-free products often contain double the amount of sugar of non-gluten-free foods. The types of sugar used in gluten-free versions of common gluten containing foods e.g. shortbread, often contain sugars that are much more damaging. The ingredients list in gluten-free products tends to go on and on and quite a few of these include sugar syrups like dextrose, fructose and glucose. These kinds of sugars are especially inflammatory, which means they are very ageing to the inside and outside of our bodies. Try to avoid commercial gluten-free products and stick to homemade recipes where you know what has gone into them. See gluten free biscuit recipe below.

2. “Negative test result of coeliac disease – therefore I must be fine to consume gluten”?

Not necessarily. Conventional tests for coeliac disease do not always identify gluten sensitivity because they may only look at 1 or 2 types of gliadin – a protein found in gluten. US testing (that is now available in the UK, privately and through Grace Belgravia) covers a wide range of different types of gliadin. This means that sensitivity may be picked up when it may have previously been ruled-out by a conventional GP/NHS test. On this type of special test, you will also be able to see if an immune response is beginning to take place (if you like, an early warning sign) which allows you to take action before the situation is more full-blown.

3. “All my bloating is to do with a gluten intolerance”?

No, not always. Some people remove gluten from their diet and still experience bloating, flatulence or headaches etc. It may be that they are reacting to another type of food e.g. dairy or nuts. There may also be a bacterial imbalance causing reactions in the small or large intestine. This is exactly why it is sensible to visit a nutrition practitioner to determine what is really going on through functional medicine testing. Breath tests, for example, may determine if you have bacteria in your small intestine called ‘Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth’ (SIBO) and, if you do, it might explain why innocent foods like beetroot, garlic and apples cause you to bloat. Another test called a ‘cross-reactivity’ test may also show you if your immune system has created a ‘cross-reaction’ between one food and another. So this test may show that if you react to gluten found in rye bread you are also reacting to a non-gluten containing food such as quinoa. This means that you still experience unwanted uncomfortable symptoms even though gluten has been removed from your diet and you will need to remove quinoa for a period of time to allow the immune system to settle down. Stool tests may identify if you are harbouring bacteria, parasites or yeast in your large intestine and this may better explain your bloating, fatigue and wind. By continually removing foods without really understanding the deeper issue, you run the risk of missing out on required nutrients. Supporting recovery from symptoms is also greater than simplistic food removal. You may need to repair your gut lining or use herbs and supplements to remove an unwanted pathogen or microbe. Be especially careful in pregnancy and breastfeeding if deciding to remove gluten. Get advice so the foods you replace gluten with are nutritious for you and your baby.

4. Scientific research has enlightened us about the wonderful connection between our gut and our brain.

Some people who experience genuine gluten intolerance may not experience overt gastrointestinal symptoms but experience mood and other neurological symptoms instead. Some patients I have seen with symptoms of low mood have benefited (under professional guidance) from removing gluten alongside other dietary improvements such as oily fish, vitamin D and natural serotonin supplements.

5. Going gluten free can mean a change in carbohydrate eating patterns.

We need a certain amount of carbohydrates to give us energy and mental capacity, so removing gluten foods without comprehension and research into healthy alternatives could result in a drop in energy. Those that are very physically active through work or sports should be especially careful of this. Alternatives should also provide slow releasing energy. A classic example of poorly chosen gluten-free alternatives would be white rice or white potatoes. Take time to get expert advice on what to eat and invest in good cookery books or classes.

Overall, gluten intolerance is genuine for some but you shouldn’t make quick assumptions; unwanted symptoms may be an indicator of a different issue. Get expert advice before making any dietary changes.

RECIPE: Lorna’s Ginger & Currant Biscuits (gluten free)

These are still a treat as they contain natural sugar. So all in moderation!

  • 200g almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 50g butter (you could also make them with coconut butter if avoiding animal butter)
  • 3 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of currants
  • 2-3 tablespoons of ginger powder (use two if you prefer them less gingery)
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A small pinch of fine rock or sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a food or cake mixer and use your hands to work into biscuit shapes. You can make them as big or small as you wish but they are easier to handle if you make them small to medium sized. They may not look very neat but no one will care…they taste delicious!

Place on a greased flat oven tray or on baking parchment paper and cook for around 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 150-160 degrees C. Ovens vary so they may need less time. Don’t let them over-brown.

Once cooled, keep in a sealed container and they should last 4 days!

To book an appointment with Lorna, please call 020 7235 8900 ext 2 or email medical@gracebelgravia.com 

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