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The gluten free fad: is gluten always the bad guy? | Torrens University

Gluten free. Is gluten always the bad guy?

Louise Rubic is a Nutrition, Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine Lecturer and Clinical Practitioner Naturopath.

With over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, Louise is passionate about delivering the best knowledge to the student, especially around food “We must all eat and good nutrition is a vital component of good health.” She has previously worked in the practice, has been involved in the projects for wider engagement with the community, as well as working with a manufacturer of Nutritional products (Bioglan).

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Gluten is a word that conjures the jitters for many struggling with gastrointestinal symptoms. For some, gluten can be an irritant to the digestive system, and it is becoming more common to see “gluten-free” food options widely available in supermarkets and cafes. Gluten is a natural food protein present in some grains including wheat, rye and barley. In the 1950s, gluten was identified as the toxin that led to damage of the gut lining in genetically susceptible people, causing a condition known as Coeliac Disease.

The prevalence of Coeliac Disease in Australia is 1.2% in men and 1.9% in women*. For people living with Coeliac Disease^, avoiding gluten is paramount to good health. However, when suffering from bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits, many individuals without Coeliac Disease noted improvement when gluten was removed from their diet. This phenomenon resulted in a new diagnosis termed Non-Coeliac Gluten Intolerance, and has caused researchers to rethink – Is gluten always the culprit?

Torrens University Australia

There are other proteins in grains, such as trypsin inhibitors and lectins, which can cause digestive issues for some individuals. These proteins can even trigger immune responses creating similar symptoms as seen in Coeliac Disease. However, there is a carbohydrate component of certain foods known as Fructans, viewed as being just as problematic. Fructans contribute sweetness to many grains, fruits and vegetables and can be beneficial for slowing the rise of blood sugar levels after a meal. However, Fructans have demonstrated they can be difficult to digest, causing malabsorption in the small intestine.

Malabsorption means that Fructans are then readily available for bacteria to work on, causing fermentation and contributing to the unpleasant gas and bloating experienced by many. Symptoms that are often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome tend to reduce when Fructans are minimised in the diet. Is it any wonder that gluten is blamed for causing digestive upsets triggered by eating bread, breakfast cereals and pasta when actually Fructans are a significant carbohydrate component in wheat?

Torrens University Australia

So if you’re confused about what’s contributing to your sore tummy, you are not alone. A key learning outcome from studying a degree in Nutrition is to develop and implement clinically relevant holistic dietary treatment plans and prescriptions for complex clinical cases, including all manner of digestive concerns. The beauty of developing a sound understanding of nutrition based on solid research is that you can make informed choices for dietary changes that do not result in you missing out on nutritious foods. Have a look at the range of courses on offer to find one that serves your journey in Nutrition.

*Walker, M.M., Ludvigsson, J.F. and Sanders, D.S. (2017). Coeliac disease: review of diagnosis and management. Med J Aust; 207 (4): 173-178. doi: 10.5694/mja16.00788
^Biesiekierski, J. R., & Iven, J. (2015). Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: piecing the puzzle together. United European Gastroenterology Journal, 3(2), 160–165.

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