A dietitian busts some popular food myths around gluten free diets, weight loss and coeliac disease.
1. MYTH: “Eating gluten free means you miss out on essential nutrients.”
The perception that eating gluten free is ‘unhealthy’ or ‘limited in nutrients’ is certainly a myth. While wholegrain breads, pasta and barley are out, there are plenty of gluten free carbohydrate choices available such as quinoa and brown rice. If grain foods are totally eliminated, then some micronutrients found in whole grains such as fibre, magnesium zinc and some B vitamins are at risk. Including plenty of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes can ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients in your diet. As long as there are a great variety of whole foods, lean meats, good fats, and limited refined foods including high sugar foods, the gluten free diet can be just as healthy as any other well-balanced eating plan.
2. MYTH: “Oats are gluten free.”
In Australia, foods can be tested to detect gluten as low as 3 parts per million. The current tests for gluten can only measure gliadin, hordein, and secalin but not avenin (the type of gluten in oats) due to the difference in amino acid composition. As there is no way of testing the gluten content, all oats, pure oats and oat containing products are not permitted to be labelled as gluten free in Australia and New Zealand. It is also said that 1 in 5 people diagnosed with coeliac disease will react to uncontaminated oats (oats not grown in close proximity to other gluten containing grains), so it’s best to avoid these whilst on a gluten free diet.
3. MYTH: “Eating a gluten free diet will help me lose weight.”
Gluten as a food component does not cause weight gain, and so removing it from your diet will not help you to lose weight. Adopting a gluten free lifestyle however can cause some positive changes that do help cut out excess and empty calories. A lot of takeaway and processed foods have gluten, and as result people find making food from scratch and eating at home is easier. People who are avoiding gluten can sometimes cut out carbohydrates altogether, so the reduced kilojoules intake helps shed weight. Replacing gluten containing foods with high fat foods or eating high calorie gluten free foods can have the opposite effect, causing people to gain weight.
4. MYTH: “Wheat free is the same as gluten free”.
This is not necessarily the case. There are a few differences between gluten free and wheat free. One of the most notable is that it is possible for someone on a wheat-free diet to also eat other gluten containing grains such as rye, oats and barley. However it is quite the opposite for someone on a gluten free diet or who has coeliac disease – they cannot consume wheat, as all wheat contains gluten. A wheat-free diet is usually associated with an allergic reaction to wheat itself and is not specifically related to the gut. Some symptoms can include: skin rashes, hives or gut related problems. Wheat allergy can be diagnosed by a skin prick or blood test for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies to wheat protein.
5. MYTH: “Going gluten free is not necessary unless you have coeliac disease.”
Although there is no test to diagnose gluten sensitivity, there are people whose coeliac-like symptoms diminish after starting a gluten free diet. Emerging evidence suggests there are more factors at play than gluten, and FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) are being studied as an alternative to gluten sensitivity. While these people may be criticised for following a fad, removing gluten from their diet is necessary as it helps manage fatigue, brain fog, headaches and constipation/diarrhoea and bloating. Once eliminated, re-introducing causes a recurrence of symptoms in people with gluten sensitivity.
Dietitian Sharon Curtain busts some popular food myths around gluten free diets, weight loss and coeliac disease.