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Is gluten free right for you? By Emily Greenfield

Allergies & Intolerances , Cooking / Recipes, Diets, Digestive / Gastrointestinal Health , Healthy Eating
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Miley Cyrus’s dramatic weight loss has been hitting the headlines all week with claims by Miley that it’s all down to a gluten free diet. She has been twittering to fans that everyone should try going gluten free but will avoiding gluten really help you lose weight? And what are the possible consequences of following such a diet?

What is gluten?

Gluten is the main protein in wheat flour and is an equal mixture of the proteins glutenin and gliadin. Gluten makes rising in cooking possible by stretching around trapped air and sets when cooked. Gluten is found in wheat, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), rye, barley and to a smaller extent, oats. Grains that are naturally gluten free include corn, rice, soy, millet, tapioca, buckwheat and quinoa.

Who can eat gluten?

Gluten containing foods are a normal part of many peoples diets but around one in every one hundred (1%) Australians has an immune reaction to gluten which is called Coeliac Disease. Coeliac disease damages the lining of the small bowel and prevents the absorption of nutrients from food. This can lead to very serious consequences such as osteoporosis or intestinal cancer and people with coeliac disease must avoid gluten for their entire lives.

Can a gluten free diet help me lose weight?

There is no evidence that a gluten free diet promotes weight loss. In fact it is well known among people with coeliac disease that a gluten free diet typically causes weight gain. This is often due to the foods which are substituted in for the gluten containing foods. Gluten free products sometimes have extra sugar or fat mixed in with high glycemic index flours such as white rice flour or potato starch to make them more palatable. It is far better to manage your weight by committing to a healthy lifestyle which focuses on a balanced diet of healthy foods and physical activity most days of the week.

What are the dangers of a gluten free diet?

A gluten free diet could result in one that is lacking in nutrients:

Fibre is generally low on a gluten free diet due to the low fibre gluten free flours used in bread and baked products. Good gluten free fibre flours include soy, buckwheat, brown rice, polenta and besan.

Many gluten free snacks and baked goods tend to have a high glycemic index (GI) which means they raise blood sugar levels quickly.

Folate can be found in wheat breads and cereals due to mandatory fortification of these foods. However, folate supplementation is not mandatory for gluten free products. Folate is an important vitamin before and during early pregnancy.

Iodine in Australian soils is very low which has led to mandatory fortification of breads and cereals. However, iodine supplementation is not mandatory in organic gluten free bread or gluten free bread mixes. Iodine is incorporated into thyroid hormones which help control metabolism and growth. Iodine is also important during pregnancy.

B12 might be at risk for those who are vegetarian or vegan and on a gluten free diet. B12 is fortified into wheat breads and breakfast cereals but this is not mandatory for gluten free products.

Of course there are lots of foods that are naturally gluten free including fruit and vegetables, pulses, meat, fish, nuts and dairy. However, this is not what most people think of when they talk about a gluten free diet. In a gluten free diet, gluten free products are often substituted for gluten containing foods. Just because a food says its is gluten free, it does not mean it’s a healthy food. Like other processed foods, gluten free products can still be high in saturated fat and sodium and are often low in fibre. A gluten free diet is only necessary if you have coeliac disease or an intolerance to gluten.

Share your experiences: 

Are you a coeliac or currently on a gluten free diet? Share your experiences below. 

If you are considering changing your diet or believe you have an intolerance to gluten, visit a dietian or a nutritionist to have your diet and symptoms assessed. They can help you adopt an eating plan which is right for you. Find a practitioner here >> 

Author: Emily Greenfield

References and Further Reading  

   Gluten-Free Diet Warning After Miley Cyrus's weight loss. 2012. Gluten-Free Diet Warning After Miley Cyrus's weight loss. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/miley-cyrus-diet-under-fire-20120411-1wpj1.html. [Accessed April 2012]. 

Coeliac Disease | Dietitians Association of Australia. 2012. Coeliac Disease | Dietitians Association of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/coeliac-disease/. [Accessed April 2012]. 

What is a gluten free diet http://www.bupa.com.au/health-and-wellness/health-information/healthy-living/nutrition/types-of-diet/doc/gluten-free-diet

Faulkner-Hogg, K (2012) Coeliac Disease Lecture, University of Sydney

Gluten-Free Diet: a Cure for Some, a Fad for Most - US News and World Report. 2012. Gluten-Free Diet: a Cure for Some, a Fad for Most - US News and World Report. [ONLINE] Available at: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/digestive-disorders/articles/2008/10/31/gluten-free-diet-a-cure-for-some-a-fad-for-most. [Accessed 19 April 2012].

Is gluten free right for you? By Emily Greenfield