Everybody loves gluten

On Ch.7’s morning show Sunrise yesterday, I watched a segment asking if giving up gluten was actually harmful for you.  It featured angry coeliacs’ defending their life-threatening aversion to gluten and a scientist whose words were muddled by the hosts, ending up with a story chastising people who give up gluten as jumping on the bandwagon.

It’s an interesting debate going on right now and I suppose I welcome it because it’s getting people to question what is in their food.  I did laugh when one woman with coeliac disease spoke about being irritated by people ordering gluten free burgers with a gluten free cake followed by a beer.

You could argue that the discovery of the role of gluten in coeliac disease has lead us to this movement away from grains but that the findings are very different and shouldn’t be confused for each other.

I recently gave up all grains (as well as sugar and dairy, you can read about that here and here) and did not replace with gluten free products, so I no longer eat pasta, rice, beans or grains of any form.  At the moment I’m even avoiding any form of flour if possible and here’s my reason why.

The science:

Grains are seeds right?  And seeds are meant to survive all sorts of conditions – drought, baking sun, flood and digestive enzymes in the human stomach.  They hold within their shells the energy to germinate the seed and the enzymes to process this energy and because they are waiting for the correct growing conditions (seed can sit on shelves for years) they must contain enzyme inhibitors to stop the seed using its food and germinating immediately.  Do you want them in your gut where we use enzymes to break down food?  Probably not.

Grains contain phytic acid – the principal storage of phosphorous (energy) and inositol, both of which are not what they call bioavailable to humans, meaning we don’t have phytase (which cows do) to break down these products and so they pass into our intestine unchanged and phytic acid has a strong binding affinity to iron, calcium and zinc, so guess what?  It binds these minerals OUT of your system and takes them with it.

Grains contain complex proteins, gluten being one.  Gluten is a composite of 2 proteins – gliadin (monomer) and glutanine (polymer – large molecule made up of wrapped chains of monomers), does that sound like an easy product to break down?

And before you ask; but we’ve been eating grains for years, why the problems now?  People knew that grains needed to be soaked or fermented before use and bread needed to be left at least 12 hours to prove so those enzymes had a chance to break the proteins down.  But do you think that is happening to the mass-produced bread you buy from your supermarket?  No, it’s not.

I spoke to many people last year who had reported feeling ‘better’ after removing grains from their diet or even just being gluten free (and I’m one!) and above are the reasons why.  Not because everyone is gluten sensitive but the crappy food we eat with grains in it isn’t as easy as other foods to digest.  So even if you’re in perfect health you’re likely going to feel better and have more energy with grains removed from your diet.

This is obviously up to you as a dietary choice, but for me with a compromised digestive system, it’s made a big difference.

On that topic, grains also are made up of disaccharides (double sugars) and when you’ve had a digestive issue – taken anti-inflammatories for too long, antibiotics or had a candida infection – your enterocytes are often damaged – the little cells on the lining of your gut that do the digesting, and they struggle to break down the disaccharides into monosaccharides resulting in 2 things, you lose the benefit of that energy source, and the bacteria in your gut get yummy sugars to feed on, resulting in more imbalance.  But this is not only restricted to grains, starchy foods like potatoes also contain disaccharides.

It’s amazing what modern science is providing to our understanding of the human body but sometimes it feels like we are re-learning what people have known for years and recognising that the mass-production approach of getting food to people faster may not actually be beneficial to long term health.

This issue is complicated by the fact that many countries only have grains as their major source of foods and that mass-production actually saves lives by providing at least some food of nutrition.

But we’re talking about our restaurants and lifestyles here in Australia where gluten free is now everywhere.  So I certainly don’t see a problem with people giving up gluten, as usual, it’s the marketing teams advertising products as ‘gluten free’ to suggest ‘healthy’ that are catching people out.  There is a site aimed at calling out products advertising ‘gluten free’ when they don’t actually contain anything remotely like a gluten product in the first place.  I think what we’re seeing is the consumer backlash against advertising and not actually against the people who choose no gluten.



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