What is gluten and do I need to cut it out?

With a growing market of gluten-free products, should you be reducing your intake?

It’s probably fair to say that the majority of us have heard of gluten and many of us will have tried gluten-free food, whether intentionally or not.

Infact, a survey by Mintel found that 26% of those questioned had bought, eaten or drunk gluten-free products in the past 6 months[1].

Plus, Covid-19 had an impact on the sale of gluten-free products, with 2020 seeing sales in the ‘free-from’ market (of which gluten-free is a part of) significantly increase, breaking through the £1 billion ceiling[2]. This was said to be driven by an influx of new buyers due to stock shortages of other foods.

But what exactly is gluten and is there actually a need for you to cut it out?

We delve a little deeper…

What is gluten and where is it found?

Put simply, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye[1]. This means that gluten is actually present in all of the foods or drinks that contain these cereals, which is likely to be far more than you think!

These foods can include breads, pasta, noodles, certain sauces, ready meals, cakes and biscuits, pastries, some meat substitutes and of course, breakfast cereals. Plus, most beers are made from barley, meaning they too, also contain gluten.

You might wonder why gluten is still so commonly used. In short, gluten is like a ‘glue’, holding food together and giving a stretchy feel[2]. The chewy feel of bread for example is down to gluten.

A gluten-free diet: do I need it?

If you decide to follow a gluten-free diet, then all foods and drinks containing gluten need to be eliminated.

However, whilst going ‘gluten-free might be seen as somewhat of a ‘trend’, with several sources touting its many health ‘benefits’, the NHS has made clear that a gluten-free diet is only essential for people diagnosed with coeliac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis[1]. In these cases, a lifelong gluten-free diet needs to be maintained.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is another condition that could benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Although, according to one study[2], a diagnosis of this can be difficult, and it can often be mistaken for other gut related problems. Plus, other components of wheat could be a trigger to the sensitivity too.

Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include bloating, brain fog, headaches, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and fatigue[3]. If you think gluten might be an issue for you then keeping a food diary can be a great way to track how you feel after eating gluten-containing foods. Eliminating these foods, and then continuing to track could offer an indication as to whether gluten is causing you problems.

A point worth mentioning: if you do need to go on a gluten-free diet, it’s a good idea to also give oats a miss. This is because of the potential cross contamination with the gluten-rich cereals, wheat, barley or rye[4].

Aside from this, there isn’t actually any distinct evidence to suggest that avoiding gluten will help, unless of course you do suffer from coeliac disease.

What is Coeliac disease?

It’s more common than you might think, as coeliac diseases actually affect at least one in every 100 people in the UK[1]. This autoimmune condition can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea, as well as vomiting, prolonged fatigue, skin rashes and vitamin/mineral deficiencies[2].

How so?

Coeliac disease involves your immune system attacking your own tissues when you eat gluten, which damages your small intestine, preventing nutrients from being taken in and absorbed[1].

Although it’s still not clear what causes the immune system to go into attack mode, it’s said that the environment as well as genetics, does play a part[2].

To help control and ideally remove symptoms, as well as prevent further issues arising from coeliac disease,

Where can I find gluten-free foods?

There’s a vast array of gluten-free foods available now in supermarkets, online and in local shops, and you usually don’t need to look too far to find your favourite foods in gluten free form.

Eat Natural has a vast array of gluten-free bars and cereals available including our Gluten Free Granola, Fibre Packed Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt bar and our Almond & Apricot with a Yoghurt Coating bar.

Going gluten-free definitely does not need to mean missing out on delicious foods!