Until fairly recently the term “gluten free” really only meant something to a relatively small group of people, but times have changed.
The original people who were interested in gluten free foods were those who had coeliac disease. This is a not particularly common condition whereby people are not actually able to absorb and digest gluten. Now, gluten is a particular protein found in wheat mainly and a couple of other grains. For people who can’t digest gluten they will obviously get stomach and abdominal symptoms if they eat it; stomach cramps, sometimes diahorrea, nausea, weight loss, feeling off, sluggish and tired are some of the symptoms.
True coeliac disease can generally be diagnosed on a blood test. It does tend to run in families but like a lot of genetic conditions it’s not quite as straight forward as because my mum or dad had it therefore I’m going to get it but certainly there is an increased tendency. Blood tests do give a pointer and also it is diagnosed on endoscopy where biopsies can be taken from the small intestine. On the plus side, coeliac disease if one does have it, is relatively easy to treat in as much as whilst it is not a true allergy as such, it not the same as like a bee sting allergy; the solution is just to eliminate gluten from your diet. It’s like if you’re beating your head against a brick wall, the best way to stop it hurting is to stop doing it. For those who have coeliac disease it really is about avoiding gluten.
Now over the last 10 or 12 years a lot of people are finding they are gluten intolerant or sensitive. Again there is a lot of argument over this – a lot of people poo poo the whole concept, other people say we are not recognising it enough. It is important also to remember that in terms of human history gluten is a relative newcomer. Our ancestors didn’t eat a lot of grain and today in a lot of our foods have a high concentration of gluten, even food you wouldn’t think have wheat or gluten in them when you read the labels you find that they do. We are exposed to a lot and it seems that our genetics haven’t quite caught up with it so for some people there seems to be a level of tolerance. I can eat maybe a half a bowl of pasta and be okay but if I eat a whole bowl and maybe some garlic bread I start to get a bit queasy or bloated or some other symptoms. This is not a “disease” but it’s sort of saying that different foods don’t agree with our systems.
So, for those people who find that they are eating gluten and it doesn’t sit well in their stomach, now I stress this is not a disease, but they find they get nauseated or bloated or just they feel better when they haven’t had so much gluten – they are looking for gluten free alternatives. Now, industry being what it is, is catering for the need and hence an increase in the number of gluten free foods that you can get and people are buying these because a lot of people are saying; look I don’t want as much gluten in my diet as what I have had and a lot of these people are feeling better for it. So for those of you out there in this group and there are probably a reasonably large number of you watching this video now, be prepared to experiment a little bit. If you want to, try cutting out gluten for a week or 2 and see if you feel a little different. If you don’t well that pretty much solves the whole question. If you do feel a bit different, then try introducing little bits of gluten and just find what is your level of tolerance. There is no right or wrong and there is no “one size fits all”, there’s no blood test around this thing and I do stress this is not a disease. However, a lot of people find if they eat a little less gluten they feel better in themselves, and feeling better in yourself – for whatever the reason – is a fairly good outcome. So be prepared to just trial and error and see what you come up with. For those with true coeliac disease, it’s not a matter of trial and error; you definitely need to avoid eating gluten and people who have coeliac and eat gluten know what happens when they do. So again it’s good these days that there are a lot of options for people compared to even just 10 years ago.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) For more information on coeliac disease, including how the digestive system works, tips and treatments, see Coeliac Disease.