Against The Grain
Oxygen Magazine Australia|Issue 100

Does cutting gluten from your diet lead to better health? Oxygen separates the facts from the fad.

Emily Joyce

Gluten has suffered the same fate as fat, carbohydrates and sugar, with the notion that eliminating it improves your health. Products from pizza to pet food have banished it, and “I’m gluten free” has become so common, it often elicits an eye roll.

In fact, the 2016 CSIRO Healthy Diet Score found around 9 per cent of Australians avoid gluten – a protein found naturally in wheat, rye, barley and oats. However, research shows only 1.5 per cent have coeliac disease - an autoimmune disease caused by gluten that results in small intestine damage. A lifelong gluten-free diet is the only treatment.

Emily Greenfield, Clinical Dietitian, explains the aversion to gluten started with the University of Maryland Centre for Celiac Research’s ground-breaking study in 2003. It found that one in 133 Americans had coeliac disease, much higher than original estimates.

“Before this study, not many people knew about gluten… suddenly, it became a bit vilified as it had people wondering whether it could be bad for them too,” says Greenfield. She says around the same time, the low-carbohydrate diet – which made wheat the enemy - was gaining popularity. With gluten being in wheat, gluten also started being shunned.

But what really catapulted the gluten-free lifestyle to wide adoption was when it gained traction with celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow. “Once celebrities start endorsing it, it’s going to become fashionable,” explains Greenfield.

Dr Jason Tye-Din, gastroenterologist and Head of Coeliac Research Lab at the Walter and Eliza Institute, says that in addition to those with coeliac disease, there are people who report feeling better when they avoid gluten.

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