Is going gluten-free a fad?

The diet of the moment is going gluten-free. Many celebrities are saying that it helps you to lose weight and gain energy, but is there any fact behind these claims or is this just another dieting fad?

One in every 100 Australians has coeliac disease, but only 25 per cent of these cases have been diagnosed. Coeliac disease is a condition where a person’s immune system reacts badly to gluten, causing damage to the intestine. This disease can be very harmful if not diagnosed and treated properly, and yet 75 per cent of those who suffer from coeliac disease have never been tested.

For those with coeliac disease, going gluten-free is essential. But what about for the rest of us? For about 2.5 million years humans did not eat grains such as wheat (which contains high gluten levels). Instead we mostly ate fruit, nuts and meat. It was only 10,000 years ago that we discovered agriculture and began to grow grains, thus introducing gluten into our diets. Considering we have only had a relatively short time to adapt to this new food, it is not surprising that some people are reacting badly to it.

There is a fast-growing condition, called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which has doctors confused. People with this condition have all the symptoms of someone with coeliac disease. These symptoms can be cured by simply avoiding gluten, much like someone with coeliac. But they do not have the disease, and eating gluten does not cause intestinal damage – they just feel better if they avoid it.

There is no test for non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Some doctors may offer saliva, blood or stool testing, but none of these methods have been verified. The only way to test for it is an exclusion diet. If you think you may be sensitive to wheat, the first thing you should do is get yourself tested for coeliac disease and wheat allergy. If both of these tests are negative then you can try an exclusion diet, where you simply cut all gluten out of your diet.

Note: make sure you talk to your GP before making any dietary changes, especially if you are taking any medication or have a pre-existing condition.

Those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity who have cut gluten out of their diet have reported drastic health improvements. Most people find that they are no longer bloated, their flatulence reduces greatly, they have more energy, their stomach pains and nausea are gone, and some have even reported noticeable weight loss after a few months on the diet.

So, for those who can happily eat gluten without any side-effects, yes, going gluten-free is a fad. But with so many undiagnosed coeliacs, and so many more people coming forward with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, there are definitely health benefits to be had from getting tested and trying out a gluten-free diet.

Find out more about coeliac disease

Read up on the basics of food intolerances