When I was training to become a dietitian (lets just say a few years ago now!) we learnt about gluten in only one context – people who suffered from celiac disease. We learnt that this was a condition diagnosed in babies once weaning started and that once diagnosed they faced a lifetime avoidance of grains containing gluten i.e. wheat, rye, barley and for some very sensitive people oats too. Cut and dried, simple as that.
Fast forward to today and the problems people experience with gluten are much more complex. For a start, if we take coeliac disease, the condition is much more prevelant than once thought maybe affecting 1 in 100 people. It can be diagnosed at any time in life, often picked up through another medical complaint where celiac disease is the underlying problem (such as iron deficiency anaemia). The symptoms can manifest themselves in many different ways, or indeed may lie silent, and as such it is thought that maybe only 1 in 8 people are properly diagnosed. However, once diagnosed those with the disease still must follow a gluten free diet for life.
It is now widely recognised by the medical world that many people can suffer from gluten sensitivity in the absence of coeliac disease. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a relatively newly recognised condition which is still being researched and results from studies show that although sufferers do not have coeliac disease, their symptoms appear to be related to gluten and improve after following a gluten free or a low gluten diet. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can include exhaustion, headaches, diarrhoea, constipation or limb numbness.
Some people blame gluten sensitivity for weight gain. One of the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity is bloating where the stomach swells and causes uncomfortable abdominal pain. While this is not the same as weight gain, those experiencing frequent bloating can feel lethargic and lacking in energy. This makes exercise difficult and may lead to an unhealthy eating pattern with sufferers often relying on sugary drinks and foods in an attempt to ‘give them more energy’.
Wheat is ubiquitous in our diets and readily available in the form of biscuits, cakes and other snacks. Typical diets in the UK can be gluten/wheat heavy, it’s quite easy to eat a wheat based cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta or pizza for diner. Compounding the problem is the type of flour used to make bread, which has a high gluten content to suit the process (known as the Chorleywood process) used to make commercial breads. Although complete avoidance of wheat and gluten may not be necessary for everyone, choosing alternative grains such as wholegrain Basmati rice or spelt for meals can lead to a healthier pattern of eating and improved health.
Wholegrain Basmati rice is a popular and nutritious choice for people who have been diagnosed with coeliac disease or another type of gluten sensitivity. It contributes energy, protein, fibre and a range of micronutrients to the diet. In particular diets rich in wholegrain Basmati rice are associated with some health benefits such as improved gut health and weight control.
People following a gluten-free diet may be susceptible to nutritional deficiencies in individuals if they do not include alternative grains. Grains such as rice and quinoa provided a higher nutrient profile compared to the standard gluten-free products. Intakes of several nutrients including protein iron, calcium, fibre and B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin and folate) are much higher when these grains are included.