A nationwide survey conducted by the CSIRO has found that a greater number of people are making the choice to go gluten or wheat-free as consumer foods are increasingly labelled as either gluten or lactose free.
In recent decades, the focus on ‘bad’ dietary factors has shifted to gluten: a protein found in cereal grains such as rye, barley and oats. For consumers diagnosed with a wheat allergy, the avoidance of wheat and other gluten-containing foods is essential.
Food billed as “gluten-free” isn’t necessarily healthier. Gluten-free products can be high in calories, fat and carbohydrates, leading some people to gain weight when going gluten free.
With coeliac disease, the body’s immune system reacts to consuming gluten by damaging the lining of the small intestine, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Gluten intolerant or sensitive people experience negative reactions to gluten, but do not actually have coeliac disease.
To add to the confusion, you can also have a wheat allergy, which is an aversion to wheat itself, so a gluten-free product may not necessarily be OK for those with a wheat allergy. With so many different causes, conditions and symptoms, diagnosis is extremely hard, and there is a lot of misinformation about gluten.
The data collected revealed that as many as 1 in 10 Australian adults, or approximately 1.8 million people, were currently avoiding or limiting their consumption of wheat-based products –with women more likely to be avoiding wheat on average than men.
According to current Australian Dietary Guidelines, both grain and dairy based foods are an important part of a balanced diet through contributing to the daily dietary fibre and calcium intake of both adults and children.
“Our findings, plus the extraordinary rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet in Australia and elsewhere, suggest that, apart from the coeliac disease and wheat allergy, other conditions associated with the ingestion of wheat are emerging as health care concerns. Currently, the driver of most of the research activity in this area is the concept of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS),” CSIRO said on it’s blog website.
CSIRO believes that the significant proportion of Australians undertaking restrictive diets may pose the potential danger of associated nutritional imbalances. A majority of symptomatic respondents appeared to be bypassing conventional medical advice in their decision to go wheat-free, raising the potential risk of a clinical condition going undetected.