Should I go gluten-free?

Lots of my clients tell me that bread doesn’t agree with them and wonder should they try a gluten free diet…  There is a lot of confusion out there about gluten and it’s worth understanding, as you may be missing out on some good, nutritious foods unnecessarily if do go on a gluten-free diet.

In this article I’ll help you understand why wheat products like bread might make you feel bloated or give you abdominal pain – and I’ll give you some tasty alternatives… it often has nothing to do with gluten by the way!

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein; it’s found in wheat and wheat products (bread, pasta, cous-cous, biscuits etc) as well as rye and barley. For people with coeliac disease, gluten produces an autoimmune reaction (the body starts to attack itself) and leads to problems with absorbing nutrients through the gut, thereby causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and fatigue, slowed growth in children.

Could I have Coeliac disease?

The symptoms of coeliac disease are not always very marked and it can go undiagnosed for years. I have known clients who have slipped through the net as they did not show typical signs of coeliac disease and it wasn’t until complications arose in the form of nerve damage years later that the condition was diagnosed. It is always worth asking your GP for a blood test if you suspect you could have the disease, particularly if it is in your family. The prevalence of coeliac disease is higher in Ireland than in most countries as we are not all ‘genetically programmed’ to consume cereal foods since the only cereal our ancestors would have consumed before the famine were oats.

So why can’t I tolerate wheat? 

If we don’t have coeliac disease why can’t we tolerate wheat products? Why do so many people suffer bloating, discomfort and wind after eating these foods? Nowadays bread and other baked goods are made using fast acting yeast and the dough is usually refrigerated or frozen before baking.

These methods stop the naturally occurring, good bacteria from doing their work in the bread, helping to break down starches and sugars in wheat to a more easily digestible form. These sugars are not well digested by some people and they pass into the large intestine undigested – then the gut bacteria take over and ferment the sugars causing wind, bloating, pain and sometimes diarrhoea – these complex digestive issues may be classified as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

BUT…It’s not easy to stop eating the things we love! Even if tasty bread, scones, pizza etc are causing discomfort we can still find it hard to give them up! Apart from the taste, there is an addictive quality to gluten containing foods (and cheese is another one!) as they hit the pleasure centre in the brain with morphine-like opioid substances making us feel mildly euphoric, which can lead to an addiction of the foods that generate these feelings and make it hard to control weight gain.

What can I eat instead?

This will vary from one person to another but even cutting down the amount of wheat you eat can really improve that lethargic, ‘brain fog’ feeling you can get after indulging in too much bread or eating a scone (they are more like little loaves in some coffee shops I know!). You can also try sourdough bread – it’s made with slow acting, natural yeasts which make it more digestible – or spelt or rye bread (these grains are different to wheat but still contain gluten).

 

If you still suffer symptoms try making my low carb bread recipe – delicious, filling and nutritious! Just keep to one slice as it’s full of protein and healthy fats so will fill you up much more than regular bread.