If you’re like us, you’re probably seeing ‘gluten-free’ stamped on more and more products at the supermarket and on restaurant menus. It seems like ‘gluten-free’ is suddenly popping up everywhere but it’s not immediately obvious why you would want to avoid gluten. Unless, of course, you already live with coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is a condition in which gluten (a protein present in wheat, barley, rye, and oats) harms the lining of the small intestine. This causes permanent damage to the body and uncomfortable side effects that range from gastrointestinal pains to extreme dehydration that can cause further damage.
Coeliac Australia estimate that at least 1 in 100 Australians are living with coeliac disease, but that 75 percent of them (about 160,000 people) don’t even realise it. Gluten can also cause a condition known as ‘non coeliac gluten sensitivity’, in which the person suffers some of the effects of coeliac disease without the permanent intestinal damage.
Like Melinda Trembath – who shared her story with us this week- people living with coeliac disease will do so their entire lives. The only treatment available is a strict avoidance of all gluten. However, gluten-free diets are becoming more and more common amongst people who do not live with coeliac disease. Is it possible that a lifestyle some are forced to live with can provide benefits to those who adopt it by choice?
As with most diets, the results vary greatly with each individual person. Many gluten-free dieters are quick to share their success stories of rapid weight loss and overall feelings of wellbeing, but Forbes points out that many of these dieters are more likely benefiting from an unintentional side-effect of their hunt for gluten-free meals: the avoidance of processed and otherwise unhealthy foods.
So, is a gluten-free lifestyle right for you? The answer is as individual as you are. If you suffer from some of the symptoms of coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, a blood test is all it takes to see if you are one of the 160,000 Australians unknowingly living with coeliac disease. If you wish to take up the diet as a lifestyle choice of your own, it’s important to know you may need to supplement your diet to maintain the vitamins and minerals that gluten based foods can provide the average person. In many countries (including Australia, New Zealand & the US) bread is fortified with B vitamins (such as Folic Acid) which you may miss out on going gluten-free. A visit to a dietician/nutritionist is recommended to determine if gluten-free is the right choice for you.
Coeliac Australia is a great resource to check out, whether you are gluten-free by necessity or choice. Members enjoy many benefits, not the least of which being recipes and a gluten-free restaurant finder. There is also catering advice for those who are not gluten-free, but find themselves cooking for somebody who is.
Do you live a gluten-free lifestyle and have a story to tell? Please share it with us in the comments!
Note: The above is provided for information purposes only. Please consult your GP if you think you have Coeliacs disease, gluten sensitivity or Fructose Malabsorption.