Most of us would’ve heard of gluten, gluten-free, GF etc… But do you know what gluten actually is and why it has become a no-go zone for some? Let me clear up some misconceptions about gluten…
Firstly gluten is a mixture of two proteins – a glutelin protein and a prolamin protein – that is found mostly in wheat, but is also contained in rye, oats , barley and triticale (a mixture of wheat and rye flour). The prolamin protein in these grains is what causes an abnormal immune response, such as that with coeliac (pronounced see-lee-ak) disease. The gluten triggers the immune system resulting in an attack on the small intestine. The small intestine is then damaged and the absorption of vital nutrients is impaired. This disease may present with symptoms such diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue, joint pain, bloating, flatulence, weight loss (or sometimes gain), irritability and anaemia.
However not everyone who is intolerant to gluten has coeliac disease. Scientists have found persons who still suffer from the above symptoms but don’t actually have any intestinal damage. This is called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. N.B. It’s very important to see a health practitioner and be properly diagnosed if you are suffering from any digestive issues, like that mentioned above, to prevent further serious health issues such as infertility, osteoporosis, seizures and nerve damage. This is done by a simple blood test and/or a tissue biopsy.
So why are so many people sensitive to gluten? Well some people are born with a predisposition to it. It is, unfortunately, in there genetic make-up. However I believe there is another reason…and that is what we are feeding our babies.
Before the age of approximately one year old, babies don’t have the enzymes to break down complex carbohydrates (such as grains). Babies are also born with an ‘open gut’ – a normal state which allows antibodies from breastmilk to pass through the gut into the bloodstream and provide immunity. However if we feed our babies food that they are unable to fully digest then there is a high chance that those undigested foods can get into the blood stream and cause an immune response.
The immune system has a memory bank that remembers all foreign bodies. The next time that particular undigested food makes it into the blood stream another immune response will be triggered. This is what is referred to as a food allergy.
Food allergies are on the increase, with most allergies developing within the first year of life (can anyone see the link here?)…
Unfortunately, we live in a society that is highly reliant on wheat products…you’ll find it in most processed, pre-packaged foods:
- noodles & pasta
- baking products (including those with malt extract from barley)
- cereals – including those containing rye, wheat, barley, corn or oats
- all breads, biscuits and cakes prepared with the flour from any of the above mentioned grains
- meat products prepared with batter or breadcrumbs & processed meats (such as sausages)
- frozen meals & thickened soups
- dairy products that contain malt
- condiments that contain malt or yeast extract (e.g. soy sauce, salad dressings & malt vinegar)
- confectionary such as liquorice, some chocolate and lollies, packet chips etc
- powdered milk drink products
- pre-packaged baby foods
- some medications
Unless labelled “Gluten Free” or similar, you can bet the product contains gluten. Luckily there are now plenty of gluten-free products readily available in our supermarkets, recipe books and better options in cafe’s and restaurants. One such product is green banana flour! I came across this amazing product whilst holidaying in Cairns, at the Mt. Uncle Distillery. It is a nutritious resistant starch that is gluten-free and can be used as a replacement in any recipe calling for flour.
Such as this gluten free blueberry pancake recipe.
The benefits of green banana flour include:
- Prebiotic – feed your natural gut microorganisms and heal your gut
- Weight loss – promotes satiety and boosts metabolism
- Increases absorption and function of minerals (especially calcium) and antioxidants
- Promotes colon health
- Helps prevent diabetes and aides in diabetic treatment
- Lowers triglyceride levels and cholesterol
- Reduces occurrence of gallstones
But what if you are not sensitive to gluten? Well hallelujah! Gluten is what gives our bread that delicious ‘chewiness’. Also wholewheat (or wholemeal) foods are an important source of fibre (our bowels need this to work properly), vitamins and minerals (scratch that though if you eat the white variety of grains as the nutrients have been stripped).
It has become almost trendy to eat gluten free, but if your digestive system tolerates it then save your money and remember the age old saying “everything in moderation”.
Yours in health,
Better Health Channel 2014, Coeliac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity, <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/coeliac-disease-and-gluten-sensitivity>
Better Health Channel 2013, Food Allergy and Intolerance, <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/food-allergy-and-intolerance>
Better Health Channel 2014, Gluten-free Diet, <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/gluten-free-diet>
Erlich, K & Genzlinger, K 2012, Super Nutrition for Babies, Fair Winds Press, Massachusetts
Strawbridge, H, Harvard Health 2013, Going gluten-free just because? Here’s what you need to know, <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/going-gluten-free-just-because-heres-what-you-need-to-know-201302205916>
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