Gluten has become a bit of a swear word in a world overtaken by fad diets.
However – according to Dr Jacques Badenhorst, a Cape based Gastroenterologist – there are only 3 groups of people with medical conditions that should not eat gluten. The rest of the population should not be avoiding it.
Who shouldn’t eat gluten
“Gluten is only bad for you if you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten intolerance, which is a small minority of people. If you’re not sure, it’s helpful to work with a dietitian or gastroenterologist to get diagnosed.”
“People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease definitely need to avoid gluten at all times,” says Dr Badenhorst. “Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune reaction and when someone with celiac disease eats gluten, it causes diarrhoea, bloating, fatigue, malnutrition, and damage to the lining of the gut – with the potential to damage the small intestine if left untreated. “Celiac disease sufferers may experience severe reactions from just a dusting of wheat flour on their food.”
The disease affects about 1 percent of the population, and can be diagnosed with a blood test. If that’s inconclusive, a gastroenterologist may perform additional tests, like a biopsy. The only treatment is a lifelong, gluten-free diet.
“There are also people who have a non-celiac gluten intolerance. These people do not have celiac disease, but their doctors have determined that they can’t eat gluten. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation, headaches and tiredness – amongst others.”
“Finally, a gluten allergy is when someone experiences signs of allergic reaction when they eat gluten,” says Dr Badenhorst “People who suffer from a wheat allergy would likely experience typical allergic reactions — symptoms like swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing.”
In defence of gluten
“For the rest of the population gluten is not the evil ingredient that it has been made out to be. A recent study by Harvard Medical School indicated that an unnecessary gluten-free diet can cause heart problems and eliminating gluten can even slow down the metabolism, burning off fewer calories. Many gluten-free foods are also highly processed and contain fewer nutrients than their gluten counterparts. In fact, the complex carbohydrates found in food containing gluten are vital to the body. They provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that the body craves to stay full and satisfied.”
Dr Badenhorst concludes that ultimately it is important to resist diet trends and demonizing certain foods without fully understanding them.
Important to note: If you suspect that you may have celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a gluten allergy, Dr Badenhorst advises that you must NOT stop eating gluten before seeing your doctor to be tested as this could result in a false negative diagnosis.
For more information visit www.capegastroenterologist.co.za.