There always seems to be a debate raging around whether those who choose not to eat gluten are just ‘fussy eaters’ and whether or not there is any benefit to our children in terms of going ‘gluten free’. So let’s start by defining what gluten actually is:
Wikipedia defines gluten as: ‘Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue“) is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten is used in cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations’.
Perhaps the greatest clue with regards to the impact on our bodies of gluten comes from the name itself – from the Latin gluten meaning “glue”. It is this elasticity that makes gluten so important when it comes to baking breads and other baked goods. The more elastic the happier the baker! This same sticky, elastic grain is very difficult for us to digest and it has been estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people in Britain may be allergic to gluten. The digestive effects of gluten are quite widely known and certainly not limited to digestive issues as many people believe. Patrick Holford lists the symptoms of gluten intolerance as the following:
- Upper respiratory tract problems like sinusitis and ‘glue ear’
- Fatigue caused by malabsorption of nutrients
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Mouth ulcers
- Weight loss
- Short stature in children
- Iron-deficiency anaemia
- Abdominal bloating
- Crohn’s disease
- Attention and behavioural problems in children, including ADHD
Patrick Holford describes the reasons for the widespread gluten sensitivity as follows:
One of the most common ways that we now eat carbohydrates is in grains, especially wheat. Since wheat is such a staple food in our diet, with 600 million tons eaten annually making up half of the calorie intake of the average person’s diet, the idea that it isn’t good for you may be difficult to swallow. Yet two top medical experts, Dr James Braly and Ron Hoggan, say just that in their ground-breaking book Dangerous Grains.
The old view was that about one in one thousand people had coeliac disease, a digestive disorder caused by sensitivity to gluten. What Braly’s research now shows is that coeliac disease affects almost one in a hundred people while gluten sensitivity affects possibly as many as one in ten, often with no digestive symptoms at all.
Why would this be? Well, our distant ancestors ate almost no gluten grains. Grains started to be cultivated only 10,000 years ago, and even then, only in some parts of the world. Many of us have simply not yet adapted to tolerate grains, unlike ruminant animals that live off grasses and grains. This may explain why grain allergy is so widespread. Of all grains wheat is the number one culprit.
In his book, Allergies, fight them with the blood type diet, Peter J D’Adamo write this about wheat:
Wheat as we know it today is not the same as it was at the very beginning. The wheat that we eat now has a protein content as high as 13 percent, versus the more ancient wheat varieties, which had a protein content of about 2 percent. Increasing the protein content has had the effect of making wheat a viable source of protein for many people around the world but has also increased the allergenic, pro-inflammatory and metabolic-blocking portions of the plant almost sevenfold. Aside from the under investigated metabolic effects of wheat lectin, classic hypersensitivity to wheat is found in infants and adults. Reactions are often localised in the GI tract. In a study of asthmatic patients, 46 percent of children and 34 percent of adults were found to have IgE to wheat.
The evidence tells us that even to cut down on the gluten in our diets would add significantly to the health of our families and yet most of us continue to consume gluten at almost every meal. The reason for this I believe is simply convenience. We actually just don’t know what else to eat! I challenge you with this. Try a gluten free week together as a family. It is incredibly important that this is a family initiative and not focused on one family member in isolation. You need to support each other through this. For one week consume absolutely no gluten. Sit down at the beginning of the week to discuss how you feel health wise as a family and then do the same at the end of the week and assess whether there have been any improvements.
Here are some things that you can try during the week:
- Breakfast – You can buy gluten free oats which are a nice winter breakfast, or there are now gluten free cereals available at health food stores. Our kids eat gluten free cereals with rice milk for breakfast. Try a smoothie or freshly pressed juice as an even better alternative.
- Lunch – replace normal breads with gluten free breads. Remember that gluten free does not necessarily mean healthy as many gluten free products are made with white rice flour for example which has no nutritional value. We use a brown and wild rice gluten free bread which is so good that you wouldn’t know it wasn’t normal gluten laden bread.
- Dinner – replace wheat pasta with the gluten free kind. There are many available. You can also buy brown rice noodles or try some beautiful whole grains such as brown basmati or quinoa.
Most of all enjoy thinking of new ways to enjoy food as nature intended!