Gluten-free is having a moment. But what does gluten do to your body?
With the UK free from market currently estimated to be worth £365 million and 13% of the UK population avoiding gluten altogether, you might be wondering whether you should swerve on the nutrition staple, too.
Coeliac sufferers aside, first you should read expert advice from nutrition and health professionals on whether gluten is actually harmful for you or your health.
Don’t put your bagel down just yet.
WHAT DOES GLUTEN DO TO YOUR BODY?:
1. YOU DIGEST
‘Gluten is a large protein with a low surface area,’ says Dr Ayesha Akbar of the British Society of Gastroenterology. ‘As proteins pass through the digestive system, a greater surface area helps enzymes break them down.’ How can you help? Aim to chew 15 times per mouthful to keep those enzymes working.
2. YOU ABSORB
‘In the less than 1% of the population who suffer from coeliac disease, the body launches an autoimmune response to gluten, leading to nutrients not being absorbed,’ says Dr Akbar.
Another 5-8% of us still experience some sensitivity, resulting in stomach upsets, but the rest are golden.
3. YOU BREAK IT DOWN
When you get down to the nitty gritty of what does gluten do to your body, it’s made up of peptides gliadin and glutenin. Once these enter your intestines, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase (tTG) breaks it down. It’s here that coeliacs’ bodies attack gliadin, disrupting their ability to absorb nutrients from the food.
4. YOU HAVE ENERGY
Think skipping the spaghetti will give you extra va-va-voom? Think again. ‘Giving up gluten can increase tiredness,’ says Dr Akbar. ‘Foods containing gluten also provide other nutrients, and losing these can cause deficiencies that lead to fatigue.’ Focus on eating more fruit and veg over wheat substitutes.
5. YOU MAY BLOAT
Bread leaving you bloated? Don’t be quick to blame gluten. ‘It’s not uncommon to experience bloating after eating wheat-based foods,’ says Dr Akbar. ‘But how much of that water retention is down to gluten and how much is because of short-chain carbs is hard to say.’ Use your loaf: cutting off crusts isn’t worth losing the fibre.
Intrigued? Read our guides to macros and a vegan diet or discover what are ‘good’ carbs to eat.