What exactly is gluten? Lisa gives us the lowdown on the latest food fad

For the majority of people going gluten-free is not necessary

Lisa Dunbar


Lisa Dunbar


What exactly is gluten? Lisa gives us the down low on the latest food fad

Lisa Dunbar gives us the lowdown on gluten

Two weeks ago I shared a recipe for a home-made banana bread and mentioned that the bread could be suitable for those who need to avoid gluten.

Gluten. That’s a word we are hearing more and more these days and I worry that it has created a bit of a panic!

You have probably noticed that there has been a massive surge in the number of gluten-free foods filling the supermarket shelves, and a large number of people buying them say they believe them to be healthier and better for them.

What is gluten?

So just to explain, gluten is a perfectly natural substance found in the grains wheat, barley and rye.

Gluten is therefore found in things like bread, pasta, cereals, cakes, biscuits, and lots of other foods made using those grains.

Gluten is the thing that helps to give these foods their shape, acting kind of like the glue that holds everything together.

What’s the problem with gluten?

The first thing I need to say about gluten is that, despite the panic, there is actually nothing specifically bad about it.

Now, about 1% of the population have something called coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease that causes a person to have a very serious reaction to gluten if they eat it, even if it is just a tiny microscopic amount.

So, for the small percentage of the population with coeliac disease, yes gluten is indeed very harmful, but for the rest of us it shouldn’t really be a big issue.

Having said that, there’s definitely a growing number of people who seem to report being ‘sensitive’ to foods that contain gluten and they often experience some digestive discomfort after eating these foods.

I meet clients all the time who say things like “I think I have that coeliac disease!” and “Can you help me give up gluten!?”. (I’ve mentioned before how we have a tendency to take things to the extreme when it comes to our health!)

But in my experience, it usually turns out that these people do not, in fact, have coeliac disease and they don’t need to completely give up gluten.

Going gluten-free is usually not necessary

I have found that most people who experience digestive discomfort, and who blame gluten for that discomfort, can often resolve their issues without having to give up gluten and by simply improving the quality of their overall diet and therefore being a bit kinder to their digestive system.

Many people who believe they have a problem with gluten can also greatly improve or resolve their digestive issues by simply cutting down on bread or eating better quality bread when they do eat it.

That post-bread-bloat is so often the reason why people go gluten-free, but it is very often the quantity or quality of bread that is to blame. And sometimes it turns out that it’s the yeast in the bread that is causing the issue.

So, for the majority of people, going gluten-free is not necessary. And it is certainly not necessary if you don’t have any issues in the first place!

Even if you do notice some sensitivity to foods containing gluten, you should always carefully investigate those issues further before making any drastic decisions to completely cut something major out of your diet.

Gluten-free does not equal “healthy”

The other thing, and in my opinion, the most important thing about gluten, is this. “Gluten-free” does not automatically mean “healthy” or “good for you”.

A head of broccoli is gluten-free, and so too is a bag of sugar – hopefully, we are all aware that one of them is much healthier than the other!

Like I mentioned earlier, there are more and more gluten-free foods popping up on supermarket shelves, usually in the health food section, leading many people to believe that they are a healthier option, that gluten-free bread is healthier than regular bread and gluten-free cake is healthier than regular cake.

But “gluten-free” just means there is no gluten in that particular food. What is way more important than what’s NOT in our food, is what IS in our food.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great foods out there being advertised as gluten-free, providing great alternatives for those with coeliac disease or a genuine sensitivity to gluten.

But there are also some very questionable gluten-free foods that use a laundry list of weird and wonderful ingredients to try to replicate the taste and texture of ‘real’ bread or ‘real’ cake.

If you are lucky to not have any issues with gluten, then just enjoy the real thing, it tastes much nicer.