Gluten Free Beer
Gluten Free Beer

The gut-wrenching truth about gluten-free diets

Many Australians are needlessly going "gluten-free", according to new research which found almost a quarter of people are avoiding gluten despite the fact that only one per cent of the population have coeliac disease.

The gluten-free diet - which involves giving up traditional breads, pasta, pizza and beer - is appealing because it is seen as an easy way to shed kilos even though there is no convincing evidence to back this up.

And researchers are warning it could potentially lead to "adverse effects on cardiovascular risk, higher rates of micronutrient deficiency, and even increased ingestion of toxins such as arsenic".

Brittany Ferdinands, 26, and Katrina Chan, 26, enjoying a Two Bays Gluten Free Pale Ale at The Taphouse in Darlinghurst. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Brittany Ferdinands, 26, and Katrina Chan, 26, enjoying a Two Bays Gluten Free Pale Ale at The Taphouse in Darlinghurst. Picture: Jonathan Ng


A new study of 1322 Australians reveals wheat or gluten avoidance was reported in 2018 by 316 people, with over half saying they were doing it for their "general health", 39 per cent for "abdominal symptoms" and 34.5 per cent citing "weight loss".

But authors of the paper - published today (Mon) in the Medical Journal of Australia - said the idea that gluten avoidance improves weight control or general health "is not supported by published evidence".

In one example, they referred to a study that looked at gluten intake in 110,000 people and discovered increasing estimated gluten consumption was actually associated with lower cardiovascular risk.

"Together with our findings, this suggests that a large proportion of people in Australia avoid gluten or wheat for reasons of weight control or general health without convincing evidence supporting this choice," researchers wrote.

 

Ms Chan said she feels “less bloated” when consuming gluten-free food and beverages. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Ms Chan said she feels “less bloated” when consuming gluten-free food and beverages. Picture: Jonathan Ng

They also established that many people who cut out gluten showed symptoms of other gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.

About three in 20 Australians believe they are wheat sensitive, according to the study which stressed the importance of "identifying genuinely wheat-sensitive individuals" given the "potential disadvantages" of the gluten-free diet.

Surry Hills-based naturopath and nutritionist Rebecca Warren said that while some people may feel better off gluten, they could just be managing symptoms of an underlying problem.

"That is why it's really important to get to the bottom of why there's a reaction in the first place," she said.

The trend has seen a rise in the number of gluten-free products, with pubs such as The Taphouse in Darlinghurst now even serving gluten-free beer by Two Bays.

Katrina Chan, 26, is not coeliac but said gluten-free food and beverages make her feel less bloated.

"I don't get that energy slump associated with glutinous carbs," she said.

Brittany Ferdinands, 26, said the gluten-free diet was a fantastic option for people who are sensitive to gluten or mindful of the amount they consume.

Authors of the MJA paper were from the University of Newcastle, Macquarie University, the University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital.



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