If there is one subject that has been on almost every single food blog for the past 10 years, it’s definitely gluten. Even if it was already well known by people affected by coeliac disease, gluten was for a lot of people, simply a new complicated term associated with the food industry. Nobody really knew at that time that gluten would have such a huge impact on the food industry.
Flash forward ten years, gluten can now be found in pretty much every food product available in our grocery stores, as it is widely used as a binder for countless products. Doubtful? We challenge you to take a close look at the ingredient list of processed food you have at home.
Today, gluten is mostly associated with coeliac disease, but also with other conditions that can have a significant impact on certain individuals, such as joint pain, bloating, or diarrhea. But surprisingly, it is also part of a new social phenomenon, where gluten-free diets are now associated with a healthy and active lifestyle.
Since it became one of the most polarized ingredients in the food industry, we wanted to dig a little deeper and find out what Is the real deal with gluten. But let’s be crystal clear here, we’re not here to polarize the debate even more. We simply want to share some scientific facts that we think can bring another dimension to the debate.
What is gluten?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye (Harvard School of Public Health, 2022) However, even if it is found naturally in several grains, it can also be extracted and added to food and other products to add protein, or simply change the texture and flavour of different food products (Dr. Selvi Rajagopal, 2022) This is why we find gluten in pretty much everything, as it is a cheap and effective way to add some texture to almost any food products.
The Impact on our Health
This is where things get a little bit complicated. As mentioned earlier, we now have a clear understanding that people with coeliac disease are tremendously impacted by gluten. The main reason behind this is that gluten can trigger a severe autoimmune response to those who don’t process this protein appropriately. Indeed, the enzyme that helps our body process gluten (and other proteins) is, in fact, called the Protease. And for some people, this enzyme fails to properly digest this protein. Which can cause intestinal damage, malnutrition, etc.
But what happens to people who don’t have celiac disease, but still feel some discomforts after eating gluten? According to Dr Selvi Rajagopal from the John Hopkins School of Medicine, some people may indeed experience symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, headaches, or skin rashes, even if they don’t have celiac disease. However, these reactions can also be caused by poorly digested carbohydrates, not just gluten (Dr. Selvi Rajagopal, 2022). Which makes it a little bit difficult to clearly link gluten with the apparition of these symptoms.
Also, several studies claim that gluten can have a positive impact on non-celiac patients, as gluten may also act as a prebiotic, feeding the “good bacteria in our bodies (Hardvard School of Public Health, 2022).
Gluten-free diet: the real solution?
The answer to this question is simple yet complicated at the same time: IT DEPENDS. Obviously, people affected by celiac disease will benefit from a gluten-free diet, as their metabolism cannot break down efficiently the gluten protein. But it is not that clear when it comes to Non-Celiac Disease patients.
Several experts warn that a gluten-free diet can lead to a lack of nutrients, simply because many gluten-free foods are not enriched and may be deficient in several nutrients, including dietary fiber, folate, iron, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. (Niland & Cash, 2018). Furthermore, Other studies evaluating the nutritional composition of processed gluten-free products have demonstrated higher levels of lipids, trans fat, sugars and salt compared to their gluten-containing counterparts (Niland & Cash, 2018). But don’t worry, our 100% natural vegan energy bars do not fall in this category, as we do not use any added sugar or any preservatives!
However, it is also worth mentioning that a gluten-free diet can also have serious benefits, especially for people who experience irritable bowel syndrome. According to Hajiani et al, a gluten-free diet can lead to a significant improvement in the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea. Other studies tend also to confirm that people experiencing irritable bowel syndrome that follows a gluten-free diet see their symptoms improve significantly after a gluten-free diet.
We mentioned earlier that gluten was one of the most polarized topic in the food industry. And this is exactly what we realize when we look at the literature, as some experts demonstrate the positive impact a gluten-free diet can have on some individuals, while others are reluctant about the true benefits.
Even if there is no clear consensus about the positive impact it has on non-celiac disease patients, a tremendous amount of people have decided to switch to a gluten-free diet. Not because it is trendy, but simply because they’re feeling better without eating it. Anyway, who knows our bodies better than ourselves?