Is Gluten Free Healthier?
August 28, 2013
By Amanda Adell
Is Gluten Free Healthier?
Nowadays it is becoming increasingly common to find menu items in restaurants and products in Australia with the "gluten free" label.

A growing number of people are choosing to eat gluten free food even if they aren't actually sensitive to gluten. So what exactly leads them to choose this diet? Is it better to eat gluten free food? Is it always necessary? Or healthier?

Gluten is formed from several different proteins. It is found mostly in wheat but also in rye, barley and oats, and all the products made with these grains. Gluten is responsible for making dough elastic and expandable, and has an impact on the texture of the final product.

During the kneading process the gluten is stretched out and captures the gases produced by the yeast, therefore making the dough expand. This enables baked goods to rise more and retain their shape instead of crumbling.

What is Gluten Intolerance?

There are certain cases where people have gluten intolerance. This is caused by an inappropriate immune response to gluten in their diet. Sometimes it may cause symptoms similar to food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, bloating and diarrhoea. Although other people may not notice major digestive symptoms, they may have other symptoms like fatigue, anaemia, or they may have no symptoms at all.

Gluten intolerance is a term that is used to describe three conditions: wheat allergy, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and the best known, celiac disease. The important thing to be aware of is that in most cases, these symptoms are related to other diseases with similar signs, and which may cause a late diagnosis and, hence, delay correct treatment.

But no matter which of these three conditions you have, the treatment is exactly the same: a strict and lifelong adherence to a gluten free diet.

Why Switch to a Gluten Free Diet?

Switching to a diet without gluten is a big change and it takes some time getting used to it. A gluten free diet requires a complete understanding of what gluten is and where it can be found. Gluten is found in many products, not only in products made with flour, so it's necessary for someone following this diet to read labels carefully and know what products might contain gluten.

In general, "gluten free" means that the product contains less than the minimum standard that is considered to be harmful. Because so many foods contain these proteins, finding alternative sources for all of the vitamins, minerals, and fibre required for a healthy diet can be a challenge.

Despite the above, nowadays a lot of people without any of these pathologies or symptoms are choosing to follow a gluten free diet. They simply choose to because they think it´s a healthier way to eat, or that they will have a better digestion by eating gluten free.

Is it True that Gluten Free is Healthier?

When somebody starts to eat gluten free food, they also immediately start to eliminate a variety of unhealthy foods, such as fried foods (if they are crumbed or breaded), many desserts, doughnuts, pastries, pasta and other foods that are high in unhealthy fats, simple carbohydrates and sugar.

At the same time, they start including more fruit and vegetables in their diet, and extra sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, increasing the nutritional value of their diet.

Therefore, because of all these changes, eating a gluten free diet can help people maintain a healthy weight, reduce their cholesterol and blood sugar levels, increase the antioxidants in the body and improve intestinal function.

The truth is that all of these improvements are not directly related to removing gluten intake, but to the rest of the changes in their diet and lifestyle. So in fact it could be possible to actually improve your health without completely removing gluten from your diet.

The most important advice for anyone who believes they might have gluten intolerance is to get your levels checked and consult a health professional before adopting a gluten free diet. It will be necessary to test for celiac disease, which is not accurate if it is done after you have already eliminated gluten from your diet. Once confirmed, a dietician will be able to help you develop a balanced eating plan.

Amanda Adell is a Nutritionist who graduated in Buenos Aires, Argentina and now lives in Australia. Amanda also has a Masters in Food Technology and a Postgraduate degree in Non-Profit Management. You can reach Amanda at adellamanda@hotmail.com.
"A lot of people without any of the pathologies or symptoms of gluten intolerance are choosing to follow a gluten free diet."