We are constantly being told about which foods to avoid or what food we should be eating to achieve great health. There are a myriad of articles in the paper and on the internet, some more believable than others. However what is clear it that all health begins with the food we eat and the cause of most disease begins in the gut.
2,500 years ago, Hippocrates is said to have quoted, ” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. This is especially relevant today when the convenience of processed and fast food dominates our culture and our supermarkets. However if we want to be truly healthy, we need to be aware of what goes into the food we eat, how much sugar or salt it contains and if it is actually detrimental to our health. Not all things labelled ‘natural’ are good for us due to the many additives and preservatives. Science is proving that the less processed and more fresh food we eat, the healthier we will be.
One ingredient that has been mentioned a lot is Gluten. There are many gluten-free products around now which makes it easier for those who have Coeliac disease (an auto-immune condition where the small intestine is damaged due to gluten, resulting in a severe malabsorption of nutrients). But what exactly is gluten and should only coeliacs avoid it? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, semolina, spelt, kamut, rye and barley and is usually present in oats. It is often ‘hidden’ in foods such as wheaten cornflour, malt extract, some baking powders, some icing sugar mixes, malted milk, salad dressings, mustards, lollies, processed meats and small goods. The list goes on and on. It is used in so many products because it gives bread its elasticity and chewiness and provides a stabilising agent to processed foods.
Gluten is made up of two proteins – gliadin and glutenin. The proteins in our food are normally broken down by enzymes so that we are able to digest the food. However we do not have an enzyme to break down gluten. Grains containing gluten have only been a part of our diet for about 10,000 years since the advent of agriculture. This may sound like a long time but in the history of mankind, it is only a very brief period in our total evolution. We have therefore just not developed an enzyme to break down gluten. As wheat has become more hybridised and processed over the years, the content of gluten has increased and more sensitivity has developed.
Many people may cope with not digesting gluten and have no symptoms. But many others may develop a sensitivity to gluten as the body detects it as a foreign invader. As a result, the immune system is triggered and inflammation results. The ability of the gut to absorb nutrients and filter unwanted substances is decreased and chronic inflammation develops. This in turn can lead to multiple food allergies and autoimmune disorders. Gluten sensitivity has also been linked to ADHD, Adrenal Fatigue, Alzheimer’s, stroke and cancer.
This may sound very dramatic and you may think that it doesn’t apply to you. However if you have any autoimmune or inflammatory condition or suffer from constant headaches, fatigue or any digestive issues, take a look at gluten. There are many tests available to check if you are sensitive to it. At the very least, you could try eliminating it from your diet and see if you feel any better. There are many reports of symptoms disappearing on a gluten-free diet. Of course, with any disease process, there are many factors at play such as genetics and environment and gluten is only one part of this. However more and more evidence is emerging of the important part that gluten has to play in many diseases.
We so often put our health into the hands of others when we can make a huge difference on our own by looking at what we put into our mouths. The food we eat determines to a large extent, how ill or healthy we will be. Hippocrates certainly knew a thing or two and his advice though ancient, is even more relevant in today’s modern world.
May the food you eat nourish and enrich your life.