Gluten friend or foe?

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I wanted to write a blog post about gluten free diets. I feel there is a lot of confusion over the topic. People are labelled as ‘fussy eaters’ if they choose not to eat gluten even if they do not suffer from Coeliac disease. Many people believe there is nothing wrong with eating gluten and it’s just another ‘diet du jour’/ fad that everyone is following.

This really could not be further from the truth and here are a few reasons why!

The proteins in wheat are irritants to the gut – they act like a splinter digging in to the lining of your gut and causing inflammation. Inflammation in the gut is responsible for causing intestinal permeability. The gut has a very complex system of ‘border control’ that lets nutrients from digested food in to the bloodstream, while keeping other harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses and undigested protein molecules out. The ‘border control’ is made up of a single layer of cells that make up the mucosal barrier. This barrier is effective at absorbing nutrients, but prevents large molecules and germs passing from inside the bowel into the bloodstream and potentially causing widespread symptoms. In some circumstances, this barrier can become less effective and “leaky”. Inflammation, aspirin, antibiotics and a protein called ‘Zonulin’ all contribute to intestinal permeability AKA leaky gut.

Interestingly, gluten directly increases the amount of Zonulin, which directly increases the tight junctions in the gut (essentially the gaps between the cells). This messes up the guts ‘border control’ and starts to let foreign material through in to the blood stream. The immune system being the clever devil that it is recognises these proteins as invaders and mounts an immune response against these foods every time you eat them. So gluten can cause a leaky gut and it can also be a trigger food that causes an IGE immune response once it is eaten. This is not the same immune response as in Coeliac disease (as this is an autoimmune response) yet it still causes nasty side effects.

So to recap… gluten not only causes inflammation in the gut but it increases Zonulin, a protein that increases the gaps between cells in the gut causing them to become leaky…  A leaky gut can allow large food molecules to pass in to the blood stream, causing an immune response against them and creating food intolerances and autoimmune diseases.

A leaky gut can then allow for bacteria to grow in the gut causing ‘gut dysbiosis’ (an imbalance in the good bacteria and bad bacteria). This can cause a whole host of IBS symptoms.  You can soon see how cutting out gluten can go along way in reducing the risk of many diseases and unpleasant symptoms.

Furthermore, if your immune system is constantly busy trying to react to all of these food intolerances, then can it really be surveying for the more important things for example rogue cancer cells??

If there is a family history of auto-immunity or a compromised immune system in any way then a food intolerance test and avoidance of trigger foods is wise. As is healing a leaky gut. Gluten and dairy happen to be the worst offenders and should be eliminated in anyone with an auto-immune condition. If invisible damage to the lining of the gut and your microflora is occurring regularly then there is simultaneous damage to the immune system. 70% of our immune system is based in our gut, so you can see that if there is constant damage to the micro-biome within the gut via gluten then a weakened immune system is likely. So expect recurrent colds, flu, infections and viruses.

Check out the fab work by Doctor Fassano who has extensively researched in to gluten, zonulin and leaky gut here:

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Furthermore, there are huge links between the gut and the brain, therefore many people who are sensitive to gluten, or have issues surrounding IBS will often simultaneously have symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety and depression. Latest research actually shows huge links between children who have intestinal permeability also having autism and ADHD. This goes to show how essential it is to look after the health of our micro-biome and digestive health to prevent a whole host of unwanted diseases. The link between the brain and the gut is really quite fascinating.

Check out Pubmed for scientific journals and research on this area here:

  • Gluten is highly inflammatory and acidic on the body. If you are suffering with any inflammatory condition then it is imperative that you alkalise your body. Eating gluten is definitely not the way to alkalise your body as it is very acidic. It affects the pH of the body and prevents balance. Most chronic diseases stem from and thrive in an acidic environment, especially cancer. Eating a predominantly alkaline diet is a good way to actively prevent disease. A few acid forming foods include wheat and gluten, meat, dairy, alcohol, certain nuts.
  • Gluten is linked to serious skin conditions including eczema. For the reasons mentioned above regarding a leaky gut – it is also linked to the following auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, crohns disease, hashimotos, graves, lupus, psoriasis, alopecia, type 1 diabetes and many more. If you suffer with any of these then cutting gluten out will help in alleviating your symptoms.
  • Gluten is different to how it used to be many years ago. The gluten content in grains has tripled in the last 100 years because our grains are now genetically altered to be hardier and yield more crop, so the amount of gluten we are consuming has increased in every way. It’s actually the prevalence of IBS symptoms that is one of the main reasons why more and more people are giving up gluten (and with great results). Also, it’s important to note that while symptoms may not immediately present themselves, long term health could well be affected. In 2002, The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 ‘diseases’ that can be caused by eating gluten. Continuing to eat gluten is a sure way to never recover from your disease.

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  • Products containing gluten are often very high glycaemic index, often paired with lots of sugar and no protein. They are often labelled as healthy as they may be ‘low fat’ so people are tricked in to thinking that they are a healthy option. This could not be further from the truth, being heavily processed and high GI, they wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. This causes a roller coaster effect throughout the day with constant dips in blood sugar and hence low energy and cravings. I am personally not a fan of most gluten-free products, as they tend to contain poor quality ingredients and are often loaded with things like corn starch or potato starch as well as sugar in varying forms. My advice would be to read labels carefully and check that they don’t contain a long list of ingredients and certainly not E numbers or chemicals. Keep things simple. Making your own is the best way to ensure you are putting in the best ingredients.

Gluten is found in wheat (including spelt, kamut, bulgar, farro ), rye, barley and oats. There are however many foods naturally free from gluten such as:

All fruits, vegetables and nuts, eggs, fish and meat













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Try brown rice pasta, corn pasta or lentil pasta instead of normal pasta – which by the way tastes EXACTLY the same! Experiment with brown rice, quinoa, polenta and buckwheat in place of things like couscous, pasta, bread. Rice noodles are a lovely alternative to wheat noodles. As are ‘zoodles’ which are spiralised zuchini/courgettes. You can also use vegetables such as cauliflower, combined with eggs to make a low carb, gluten free pizza base. I have also noticed that most restaurants are offering gluten free pizzas and pasta dishes too – even big chain restaurants such as Zizzi’s, Pizza Express, Prezzo etc.

You can buy gluten free flour from every supermarket and that can be used in baking bread, cakes and biscuits. You can also experiment with other types of flours such as almond flour, buckwheat flour, rice flour and coconut flour.

All the recipes on my website are 100% free from gluten so you can make everything on here without having to worry or change ingredients!!

Wishing you all a happy and healthy weekend