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Think you’re Gluten Intolerant? Probably not

Gluten free becoming a health trend?

Lisa Simcock

Gluten free becoming a health trend?

Lisa Simcock, ECU Reporter

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According to new research published in the Medical Journal of Australia only one in six people who claim to be gluten intolerant actually are. Gluten free diets are a health trend, but researchers from the University of Newcastle have cautioned that the diet can be bad for people without an intolerance.

Researcher Nick Talley said: “Most people who think they are gluten intolerant are not when given blinded food challenges.”

The research involved inviting people with a self diagnosis of a gluten/wheat intolerance to take part in a blind placebo test. The results showed 16% had reproducible symptoms when they did not know if they were being given wheat or placebo.

Gluten is protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Holly Milne, a masters student in Nutrition and Dietetics said: “Gluten is comparable to glue, exhibiting elastic properties and enabling dough to hold its structure and shape.”

She described coeliac disease as an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system reacts to gluten causing damage to the lining of the small intestine. In turn, this can result in reduced nutrient absorption resulting in various deficiencies, malabsorptive and gastrointestinal symptoms including  bloating, fullness, pain, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, anxiety, depression, or even rash and joint pains.

But if you have these symptoms, before you self-diagnose and go gluten free, Talley warns that there may be unintended negative consequences.

He said:  “A gluten free diet changes the gut bugs and we do not know if this is good or bad or unimportant. Occasionally a gluten free diet leads to vitamin deficiencies… and might increase heart disease risk, but this is probably not a major risk.”

Milne explained that the production, sale and consumption of gluten free products has increased considerably in the past 10 years and there is no sign of this slowing down in the near future.

She added that “similar to any health claim, ‘gluten free’ labels on packaged foods can automatically entice individuals to perceive the product as healthier than their gluten containing counterparts.”

Instead of wheat, gluten free products use rice flour, potato flour and tapioca starch, as well as stabilisers and gums to keep maintain their shape and structure.

“There is concern that these packaged products can be nutrient poor, low in fibre and contain fewer vitamins and minerals,” she said.

Milne believes “there is no reason why individuals should consume a gluten free diet if they are not coeliac, gluten intolerant or have an allergy to gluten containing products.

“Gluten free products present no health benefits to individuals, unless there is clear evidence of a medical condition or intolerance.”

Not only can gluten free diets have a lack of nutritional content, they can cost around 17% more and be difficult in social settings, according to the report.

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Quality journalism by ECU students
Think you’re Gluten Intolerant? Probably not