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Gluten and Leaky Gut

To gluten or not to gluten, that is the question. Gluten is the stuff that makes bread soft and chewy, that holds cakes and biscuits together. The modern diet is high in gluten – most people consuming the gluten containing grain wheat at least once a day. Bread, pasta and pastries have become staples in our diet – but are they ruining our guts?

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, kamut and barley. Perhaps once, when these grains were eaten in small amount and in their natural form, gluten was not so problematic. The issue is that we are eating more gluten than ever and wheat is far removed from what it used to be – having been cultivated and modified to contain higher levels of gluten and to be more pest resistant. Gluten-free diets seem to be all the rage right now, but is there any merit to it?

 

Gluten and your gut

Studies have found that gluten is bad news for our guts. One example is this study, that found that gliadin, a component of gluten, increased the production of an enzyme called zonulin. Zonulin causes the breakdown of the glue that holds the tight epithelial junctions of our intestines together. In simple terms this means that the spaces between your cells become bigger and you begin to get large molecules and even whole bacteria passing through the intestines and into your bloodstream. Termed as ‘leaky gut’ – this process means that you are more likely to get an abnormal reaction of the immune system and develop an autoimmune disease. It also means that you’ll have more inflammation in the gut, which can impair your digestion.

 

Gluten and inflammation in the gut

This review article summaries the research available on grain intake and inflammation. Basically, there are a lot of studies that show that the intestinal permeability or leaky gut caused by gluten intake is very pro-inflammatory and may have a role in chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. Most people are best to eat a low gluten diet, but for those patients with any autoimmune disease, severe digestive problems or inflammatory conditions like endometriosis, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia our naturopaths recommend following a strict gluten free diet.

Gluten free is the way to go if you have any type of inflammation in your body.

Gluten alternatives

If you’re used to eating a lot of bread then you will need to make some changes to your diet when eliminating gluten. Gluten free bread is not a healthy option – most that are even close to bread are highly processed and have additives to make the bread light and fluffy like traditional bread. For pasta you can use wholegrain brown rice, buckwheat or quinoa pasta. Including quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat in the diet is a good way to get the benefits of fibre and protein from grains while preventing damage on your digestive system.

 

Need help with your diet? Make an appointment with one of our qualified nutritionists by calling 07 3367 0337 now.

 

Is bread for you?

Bread is the staple of the west. We have toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and sometimes even bread with dinner. But is all this bread doing us any good?

There are several problems with eating too much bread. This first is linked to wheat – a grain that is high in gluten and reactive to a lot of people. Wheat has become problematic for us because it is far too refined and we eat far too much of it. 99.9% of bread consumed is made from flour that is highly refined and bleached, which then makes it low in nutrition. Even wholemeal bread is made from white flour with bran added back in, so although a little healthier than white bread it does not do us much good.

Then comes the issue of the fast rise loaf of bread. Commercial bakeries use lots of yeast that causes the bread to rise in under 30 minutes. As well as the fact that yeasts can disrupt our digestive systems and lead to fungal overgrowths, rising a loaf of bread in this fashion does not allow the proteins to be broken down. Traditionally bread was risen over 6-12 + hours using a sourdough method. In naturally fermented sourdough bread the proteins have begun to be digested and nutrients are released so you can better utilize them.

Sourdough Bread

Traditional sourdough bread

Some people may cope with small amounts of organic, wholegrain wheat sourdough bread, although better alternatives are breads that are made with spelt, kamut (khorasan) or rye flours. Beware of the ‘sourdough’ bread you find at the supermarket and regular bakeries – they are most likely yeasted bread with a little bit of culture or sour flavouring added in.

If you’re very sensitive you may need to avoid gluten, which even spelt, kamut and rye contains. I do not recommend eating gluten free bread however as it is highly refined and usually has lots of additives to make it taste like ‘real’ bread. Unfortunately if you are gluten sensitive then eliminating bread is the best way to go.

If bread is something that you love, eat it, but use the following rules:

  • Only eat organic, traditionally leavened sourdough bread
  • Eat bread a maximum of once per day, 5 days a week
  • Buy bread that is made with wholegrain flour
  • Opt for spelt, kamut or rye breads over wheat
  • If you have digestive issues then see a naturopath to check if bread is right for you.

Katherine Maslen

Principal Naturopath
Bachelor of Naturopathy