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Gluten Free- Health Fad or the Truth

If your nearest supermarket is anything like mine, you will have noticed increasing space being given over to “free from” products.

Sporting images of foods that look as good as their regular counterparts, the packaging hints at health benefits; the labels proclaim their contents free from lactose, dairy, and most commonly, gluten.

 Gluten-free bread, cakes, curry sauces and pesto; displays of gluten-free Easter eggs.

Such is the hype that foods that have never traditionally contained gluten are now marketed by some producers as “naturally gluten-free”. As well as a dedicated aisle, around the store you will find gluten-free ready meals in the “healthier choices” chiller cabinet, and gluten-free chicken nuggets in the frozen food aisle.

If you ask someone what exactly is Gluten they most likely will say pasta or bread. Quiz them further more and they will be confused.

Why?

Because main stream media and the fitness world has convinced us that EVERYONE must not eat gluten products.

But what is Gluten?

Gluten is made up of two protein groups, gliadin and glutenin, brought together when flour and water are mixed to make a dough for bread and other processed foods, giving structure and elasticity.

It is found in wheat, but also in other grains such as barley and rye.

It isn’t simply enough to avoid bread, pasta and cakes – gluten can be found in sauces, stock cubes, sweets and a wide range of other products.

It is vital for people with coeliac disease to avoid it – their immune system reacts to gluten, damaging the lining of the small intestine which hampers the absorption of nutrients, and can cause anaemia, weight loss, fatigue, bloating and pain.

The long-term consequences of going undiagnosed and continuing to eat gluten include osteoporosis, anaemia and even bowel cancer. Around 1% of the population is thought to suffer from coeliac disease – and of those, nearly three-quarters remain undiagnosed – accounting for the small proportion of people who actually need to buy gluten-free products. But millions of others are.

A Major issue is modern, industrialised bread making. Once man found out he could make bread using high-speed machinery, and put additives such as extra yeast, hard fats and enzymes, bread could now be made quickly and cheaply. Suddenly the fermentation process was taken out of 80% of our breads.

The fermentation process is the time during which the yeast converts the sugar present in the flour and the dough into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

In bread, carbon dioxide provides the light, airy texture of bread by leaving gas pockets inside the bread dough. The alcohol, in addition to more complex compounds, produces the main taste in the finished bread.

However, don’t worry about consuming the alcohol since it is evaporated off during the baking process. Likewise, the high temperatures during the baking process kill any live yeast cells left in the bread dough.

Another area of concern is that commercial bread manufacturers add extra gluten to loaves. This is purely technical – it’s simply to make a fluffier, lighter loaf. To make it look as big and as good value as possible.

The problem I see is that most people eat a hell of amount of bread. Between toast in the morning to sandwiches at lunch to toast before they go to bed.

So when they need to lose weight bread is often the first to go and here enters the compromise: Gluten free bread.

But, there is often more sugar and fat in most of those products.

My advice is to find a baker that will tell you exactly what is in their bread and that they use a fermentation process.

If you have coeliac disease, then it’s essential that you have gluten-free products, but if you don’t have an intolerance, for the general population, gluten-free products are really not required and they won’t help you lose weight.

If people spent more of their money on eating more green vegetables and having a protein based breakfast, then undiagnosed coeliac clients would be way better off.

Brian Roache

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