The Gluten Revolution and Food Intolerance

In recent years, gluten-free diets have surged in popularity. Supermarkets devote whole aisles to products and restaurants have entirely gluten-free options on the menu to cater for customers’ dietary requirements. Gluten-free is one of the biggest revolutions in the food industry since vegetarianism and businesses are keen to cater for the growing demand. This lucrative market is currently worth £530 million and is forecast to hit £673m by 2020 [1]. From gluten-free vodka to popcorn, there doesn’t seem to be a food that is not ‘free from’ if you want it.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), and acts as a glue to bind food. It is also hidden in various other foods including beer, sauces and gravies, plus baked goods. Removing gluten from the diet is essential for people with coeliac disease, a lifelong auto-immune disorder, which causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine when gluten is eaten. This prevents nutrients being absorbed from food and if not diagnosed, can lead to other debilitating problems. Estimated to affect 1% of the population, symptoms of coeliac disease include diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain and indigestion.

The obesity link

However, the gluten-free market is being driven by people keen to adopt a ‘free-from’ lifestyle, rather than needing to avoid it for health reasons. Many assume it is healthier, or have digestive disorder symptoms and assume they must avoid gluten, while others want to jump on a food fad bandwagon. However, some experts warn that choosing gluten-free options without a specific health reason may increase the risk of obesity because such products often contain more fat and less protein.

In a Spanish study, researchers compared 655 conventional food products with 654 gluten-free options across 14 food groups and discovered that gluten-free loaves were twice as fatty; the biscuits were lower in protein and higher in fat than conventional ones, while gluten-free pasta contained just half of the protein of standard pasta[2]. As childhood obesity is on the rise and children are more likely to eat biscuits and breakfast cereals, gluten-free households could potentially add fuel to this health epidemic.

Health risks

When people restrict their diet without medical supervision and self-diagnose without proper support, there is the danger of missing out on various minerals and vitamins. And only eating gluten free means eliminating the healthy fibre found in wholegrains and not compensating with other sources, which can lead to constipation.

There is also the risk of weight gain. Wholegrains cause you to feel full and take longer to digest, so sugars are released into your blood gradually. Since gluten-free foods – which can contain extra carbs and calories to mimic the texture and taste of gluten-containing foods – are often lacking in wholegrains, you feel hungry not long after eating, while excess carbs are then stored as fat.

Should I avoid gluten if I am bloated?

If you often feel bloated, get constipation or stomach pain after eating, then you should first be examined by your doctor before cutting things out of your diet or deciding to go gluten free. If you get the all-clear and think food could be contributing to your symptoms, then it is worth considering a food intolerance test. Food intolerance is characterised as a delayed onset food reaction – and is estimated to affect 45% of the UK.* However, as symptoms may not manifest until up to three days after eating problem ingredients, and on average people react to between four and six ingredients, it is difficult to work out what is causing a reaction. The body produces food-specific IgG antibodies as a defence against certain ingredients that may not agree with you and a reaction manifests when incompletely digested food particles enter the bloodstream and are treated as foreign substances – antibodies are formed and can generate an inflammatory response.

Be a food detective

Many people try keeping a food diary or cutting out certain foods, but it can be hard to ascertain what the culprits are and a diet suitable for one person may not help another as every individual has his or her own food triggers[3]. Understanding your personal food and drink intolerances or ‘food fingerprint’ can help you identify what you are reacting to. A YorkTest blood testing programme can pinpoint precisely which foods are causing elevated levels of IgG antibodies in your blood, as it tests reactions to foods, and shows degree of reaction through a ‘traffic light’ system – red for high, amber borderline and green for no reaction. It is also important to get expert nutritional advice, so you can replace your trigger foods with balanced alternatives.

Dr Gill Hart, Scientific director at YorkTest, says: “A lot of people now are self-diagnosing, the fad being gluten-free and dairy-free. People are doing that without any support and sometimes without replacing eliminated foods with something equally nutritious. They are doing that on their own and starting an elimination diet with no knowledge at all. What YorkTest provides is a starting point for an elimination diet, with results that reflect the body’s needs. The IgG antibodies are there in your blood, we measure them accurately and let you know about the foods your body is fighting.

“We encourage anyone who experiences negative symptoms after eating and drinking that they think may be attributable to food or drink ingredients to find out what’s personally holding them back from being the healthiest they can be. We’ve learnt from our customers’ feedback that diet personalisation not only holds the key to good health but losing weight too.”

How removing ‘trigger’ foods aids weight loss

Food intolerances have a crucial impact on weight loss and obesity. Dr Gill Hart authored a white paper[4] showing that a balanced diet that removes common food triggers may aid in shedding excess weight. The pilot study surveyed a wide range of individuals who took a food-specific IgG test programme with YorkTest and embarked on an elimination diet after they identified their personal food triggers. The findings revealed that:

  • 83% experienced weight loss in the first two to four weeks
  • 43% lost between 11Ibs and 20Ibs
  • 9% lost even more than this, despite the fact that the main objective for the majority (87%) was to ease digestive issues or other symptoms.

Dr Gill Hart says: “Evidence suggests a food intolerance-led elimination diet can help sufferers of conditions such as bloating, migraine, indigestion and IBS, among other complaints, and improve quality of life. But these findings show an important link to weight loss too. There are countless dietary programmes out there, but none recognise the possibility that some foods, even healthy ones like carrots or lentils, buckwheat or limes, could be an obstacle to losing weight.”

YorkTest advise that you consult with your GP first if you are experiencing the types of symptoms mentioned in this testimonial.

1 Trends data from market research company Mintel
2 Research from Instituto de Investigacion Sanitaria La Fe
3 Defined as those causing a positive IgG reaction to antibodies in the blood
* Allergy UK
4 White paper: Food-specific IgG guided Elimination Diet: a Strategy for Weight Loss? Dr Gillian R. Hart, May 2016. The pilot surveyed 38 subjects.