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Gluten tag: The trend that won’t be going away

Last week, we spoke about how nutrition influences our well being. However, there are many questions still to be answered. In the public sphere, there are new nutritional trends every week. High protein kesogenic diets are the way forward, gluten is the devil and even the great Jordan Peterson promotes a carbivore diet. So what do we believe? What is healthy eating? Food is complicated and it should be noted that like mental health, plans should be individualised. What works for Beyonce might not work for you so try new diets but be skeptical. It is also important to emphasise that when we refer to diet, we do not mean having to eat less food. Always eat until you are full in accordance to intuitive eating (in stay active blog post). Last week, we highlighted the importance of the Mediterranean diet, which involves lots of different types of fruit, veg, fish, seafood, whole-grains and extra virgin olive oil alongside some eggs, dairy and meat in moderation. While this of course emphasises a variety of different types of food rather than one big burger, it is also important because it means the meals cannot be processed. While it is still unclear why, processed meals have been found to improve your chances of developing health complications. Alternatively, a study by Amminger and colleagues found that healthy fats such as fish oil reduce the chances of developing psychosis by 80%. Studies have also continuously found that non-processed meals (fish, nuts, healthy fats, low in sugar) have been proven to reduce your chances of developing depression, and Western meals (processed meals, high in refined grains, sugary, low in fresh produce) increase your chances of developing dementia. It is very clear that the Western diet is not kind to mental health and well being. So let’s start with our first villain: Gluten.

In the US, the likelihood of gluten free being on a food menu has increased by 182%. In the UK, there has been a 27% rise in the sales of gluten free food. And in Ireland, there has been a 25 million increase in spending on gluten free food. It is safe to say that it can no longer be deemed as a trend that will go away. Gluten refers to the proteins that make up grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It is found in most breads, several ready made sauces and beer. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, who is qualified as both a neurologist and a nutritionist makes the point that we have been evolving for 2.5 million years and grain only came into play in the last ten thousand. Consequently, we are not genetically destined to eat as much gluten as we do and this is resulting in our blood sugar spiking and inflammation of our brains. His statements are backed up by an abundance of research linking gluten with inflammation and vignettes of patients he has had with dementia, ADHD, chronic headaches and depression all improving their symptoms by taking gluten out of their diets. It should also be noted that there is continuous anecdotal evidence of people claiming that lowering their gluten intake paired with regular exercise reduces their body fat and increases their energy levels.

Furthermore, when gluten is eaten, there is bacteria in the colon that wants to go to the small intestine, where all the food is. However there is a gate between the colon and the small intestine that guards this bacteria getting out. When someone is celiac, the gate is forced open when gluten is consumed, meaning that this bacteria gets into the small intestine, which then over activates the immune system, which makes the celiac person sick. However, even when you’re not celiac and we overconsume gluten, the gate opens more frequently, leaving more bacteria into our small intestine, and while this won’t make us sick, it will cause uncomfortable feelings such as bloating.

Gluten causing inflammation and a higher level of bacteria in the small intestine has led to the explosion of the ketogenic diet, which emphasises calorie intake through proteins and fats rather than gluten and carbohydrates. However, it is important to be careful here because gluten in the form of fibre is very important. There are specific bacteria in the gut that need fibre and if they do not receive it, they shed the lining of the gut, which can be very dangerous for gut health and successful digestion. And of course, we can gain fibre from different sources other than carbs but specific types such as porridge can be great for specific bacteria in the stomach. Remember; variety is key. Additionally, studies have found that whole grain consumption reduced the chances of developing heart disease. Therefore, giving up gluten completely is not beneficial.

So it appears that eating less gluten is very good for you, but eating none of it is not. Find the balance!

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