The Gluten Revolution and Food Intolerance

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, gravies and baked goods.

What does gluten intolerance mean?

An intolerance to gluten is a digestive condition that can have symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and indigestion.

It is not to be confused with coeliac disease, a lifelong auto-immune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine when gluten is consumed, but these conditions can display similar symptoms.

Removing gluten from a diet is essential for people with coeliac disease, which is estimated to affect one per cent of the population, as it can lead to other debilitating problems if left undiagnosed. The digestive condition of gluten intolerance, on the other hand, can be pinpointed and overcome via tests and dietary adjustments.

What is a gluten-free diet?

Gluten-free diets have surged in popularity in recent years. 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. From gluten-free vodka to popcorn, there doesn’t seem to be a food that is not ‘free from’ if you want it.

A diet of this nature consists of cutting out all foods that might be igniting the intolerance, such as wheat, rye or barley, which could appear as wholegrains or thickening agents in processed foods. Couscous, bulgur, spelt and matzo are also commonly removed from the diets of people with a gluten intolerance.

What are the health risks associated with gluten-free foods?

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 that they must avoid gluten due to digestive disorder symptoms, 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 [1].

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.

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. Only eating gluten-free foods 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 and excess carbs are then stored as fat.

How do you test for gluten intolerance?

If you often feel bloated or get constipation or stomach pain after eating, 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 certain foods could be contributing to your symptoms, it is worth considering a food intolerance test. Food intolerance is characterised as a delayed onset food reaction and is estimated to affect 45 per cent of the UK*.

However, since 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.

Many people try keeping a food diary or cutting out certain foods themselves, but it can be hard to ascertain what the culprits are; moreover, a diet suitable for one person may not help another as every individual has his or her own food triggers [2].

Understanding your personal food and drink intolerances or ‘food fingerprint’ can help you identify what your body is reacting to in an adverse manner. A YorkTest Food&DrinkScan programme can pinpoint precisely which foods are causing elevated levels of IgG antibodies in your blood, as it tests reactions to foods and shows the degree of reaction through a ‘traffic light’ system: red for high, amber for borderline and green for no reaction at all.

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 to losing weight, too.”

How removing ‘trigger’ foods can aid weight loss

Food intolerances have a crucial impact on weight loss and obesity. Dr Hart authored a whitepaper [3] 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 per cent experienced weight loss in the first two-to-four weeks
  • 43 per cent lost between 11Ibs and 20Ibs
  • 9 per cent lost even more than this, despite the fact that the main objective for the majority (87 per cent) was to ease digestive issues or other symptoms.

Dr Hart says: “Evidence suggests a food intolerance-led elimination diet can help sufferers of conditions such as bloating, migraine, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (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 advises that you consult with your GP first if you are experiencing the types of symptoms mentioned in this testimonial.

Further reading

To learn more about gluten intolerance and how to identify and manage it, explore our blog posts about:

as well as our case studies about

Help and support

If you experience any of the symptoms of gluten intolerance, we advise that you speak to your GP before taking any further steps.

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