In recent years, gluten has been labelled (alongside sugar) as “enemy number one” in the war against ill health. But provided you’re not gluten-intolerant, is it really that bad for you?
Browse your local café menu over brunch and you’ll likely see at least one meal touting its gluten-free status: gluten-free pancakes, gluten-free salads, gluten-free brownies and cakes…
So what is gluten, and why is it suddenly considered so evil?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains, wheat, barley and rye. In simple terms, it is responsible for making our food exactly how we like it — it gives pizza dough its stretch, makes bread spongy and light, and allows sauces and soups to thicken up.
For some, such as those who have a genuine gluten intolerance, such as coeliac disease sufferers, going gluten-free is a must. Eating gluten causes a range of unpleasant and downright painful symptoms in these people, from bloating and fatigue through to abdominal pain, chronic diarrhoea and anaemia.
Around 1 per cent of the population has this rare digestive disorder, according to Coeliacs Australia, but they’re not the only ones stocking up on gluten-free goods at the supermarket.
Can gluten make you gain weight?
Cutting gluten from the daily diet has become the latest trend in weight loss circles, although dietician Shelley Case cautions that simply cutting gluten from your diet isn’t likely to get you far.
“Going gluten-free doesn’t necessarily equal healthy — especially if people yank wholegrain foods from their diets and replace them with gluten-free brownies,” she explains.
“And without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers often use more fat and sugar to make the product more palatable.”
This means that while a meal or snack may be gluten-free, it could be loaded with calories, so it will do nothing to help you reach your weight loss goals.
Is gluten bad for your health?
Unless you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may not benefit from cutting gluten from your diet, especially when you consider how difficult it is to eliminate it completely.
If you experience a little pasta bloat or bread bulge after indulging in carb-heavy foods, then perhaps cut back to eating these foods two or three times a week. If you’re concerned there may be a gluten intolerance at play, you’ll need to visit your GP for a blood test to confirm. If not, however, then remember the golden rule: As with all diets, the key really is moderation.