As many of you may know, gluten is a hot topic that is currently being discussed throughout the health community. Why you ask? It’s simple really, because there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people opting to follow a gluten-free diet. The increased popularity of this diet is likely due to its increased coverage in the media, which in turn has resulted in a large number of consumers believing that ‘gluten-free’ means ‘healthy’. But before we get down to the nit and gritty details about why this is, let’s first discuss what gluten is?
Gluten is a mixture of two proteins (gliadin and glutenin) that is commonly found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is primarily responsible for providing elasticity to dough and therefore impacts upon the texture of baked wheat products.
At this stage, you might be wondering why people are opting for gluten-free products if gluten is such a vital part of baked wheat products? Originally gluten free products were designed for individuals suffering from coeliac disease, a condition whereby an individual cannot breakdown and digest gluten without abdominal discomfort. However, in today’s society there is a common misconception that gluten is bad for you and that gluten-free products are ‘healthier’ than gluten containing alternatives. This however is simply not the case. There is absolutely no nutritional benefit to consuming these products over regular wheat products, unless of course you actually suffer from coeliac disease In fact, the nutritional composition of these foods can actually be worse for you. This is due to the fact that in order to achieve a similar flavour and texture to regular wheat products, gluten-free alternatives often contain more sugar and/or fat. In addition, due to the increased manufacturing processes required to make gluten free products, they often contain fewer vitamins and minerals. And most importantly, gluten free products are much more expensive than normal wheat products. You may ask, why are they so much more expensive? And the answer is simple, it’s because these products have been made for a niche market to overcome a food intolerance and because they are more expensive to make
Instead when looking at wheat products you should be looking at the fibre content of each product. Ideally I would recommend opting for wholemeal, wholegrain, brown or multigrain alternatives to white wheat varieties. The rationale for this is that the cereal grains used in these products still have an element of their shell/husk/seed as a result of decreased processing. This essentially means that they contain more fibre, and we all know fibre is essential for improved bowel function and satiety. So drop the gluten-free products if you don't actually suffer from gastrointestinal complications upon consumption, and instead opt for wholemeal and wholegrain alternatives.