gluten free cooking
I was doing it a bit of internet research on gluten the other day and it struck me how many different reasons there were for taking gluten out of your diet.
Unless you have been ordered to avoid it by a doctor, I figure it must be pretty confusing for anyone weighing up the pros and cons of this inconvenient dietary regime.
So I have decided to do a quick review of the multitude of reasons so many of us are taking this path.
Coeliac disease This is a well documented medical condition in which the stomach lining is damaged by gluten. It might cause many painful symptoms or none at all, but sufferers must strictly avoid all gluten – even trace fragments that could be picked up by accident from other nearby foods. A blood test from your doctor can determine whether you might be suffering from this condition.
Gluten intolerance It might be eczema, regular tummy aches, IBS or some other annoying condition that leads many to avoid gluten. Taking gluten out of the diet or even just reducing it can be enough to help sufferers of these sorts of irritating conditions, but doctors are unlikely to suggest gluten free regimes because little research has been done on their effects beyond the very serious coeliac condition. There are some tests that can be done to detect intolerances but they are not easy to track down.
Sick, grumpy children They could be included in the category above, but many gluten intolerant children are not able to articulate particular health issues. Instead they may eat poorly, sleep poorly, suffer constipation or diarrhea and demonstrate unhappy or disruptive behaviour. They may also have particular behavioural issues or poor concentration and could be underweight (though some may also be big for their age). The medical community at large does not really acknowledge this condition though some dieticians and paediatricians are starting to cotton on to the devastating impact of food intolerances on children.
Because there are such a wide range of reactions in children, key clues to gluten and or dairy intolerance may be things like chronic ear infections, stuffy noses, and strong favouritism of the very foods they have trouble with. Ironically it is this key symptom that makes it so difficult for parents to choose a gluten and/or dairy free diet because they are unsure what their child might eat instead.
Of course most adapt quite happily to alternatives once the offending foodstuffs are removed but its quite a big leap of faith (I know because I have taken it!). A dietician who specialises in food intolerances could help you conduct an elimination diet if you want to be sure that these are the offending foods, and could also advise you on the type of dietary supplementation you may need to do to rebalance the diet.
Autism, ADD, ADHD At the core of this gluten and dairy (casein) free regime is the belief that gluten and the dairy protein called casein have an opiate effect on the brains of some children with these conditions.
While the number of doctors promoting this diet as a treatment for conditions such as autism are still in the minority, there are many stories to be found online of a reduction of symptoms in some children (though not all) in response to this diet. The theory is that for these children the food particles are not properly digested because of damage to the stomach called a leaky gut. The opiate effect of these undigested food particles in the blood stream is then thought to act on the brain exaccerbating many behavioural and physical symptoms.
So there you have it – a potted summary of the many reasons we might choose to avoid gluten. While I cannot vouch for the science behind any of these beliefs, what I can vouch for is my own experience. Taking dairy and gluten from my son’s diet was a revolution for us. It was scary and challenging but we could never go back. (and believe me we have lapsed from time to time on holidays or at special events but we always live to regret it)
We would love to hear your stories and please tell us if you think we have missed something important.