Is gluten unhealthy?

When it comes to food, we like to believe in certain things. For many people, food intake has virtually become a substitute for religion. They omit from their daily menu much of what used to be a treat for them. All in the belief that they are doing something good for themselves. On closer inspection, however, some things turn out to be myths and do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Today under the microscope: gluten.

Eating should first and foremost be a pleasure! And healthy! And preferably also environmentally friendly and ethically correct. When it comes to “eating well”, a lot has happened in recent years. Food, pharmaceutical and fitness industries never tire of proclaiming new trends and findings to feed this new awareness. Gluten-free, organic, veggie, vegan, low-carb, sugar-reduced, lactose-free, low-fat – the trade offers a lot of variety but also confusion. So what is really in it? What is a real enrichment for the daily menu, what is a deceptive package? In discussions with doctors, nutritionists and dieticians, we separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to nutrition myths.

Let’s start with wheat – a cereal that has become an irritant for many. And let’s go straight to the buzzword “gluten intolerance”. What does gluten actually do? And is every gluten intolerance the same as celiac disease?

For people with medically diagnosed celiac disease (gluten intolerance), getting gluten-free bread or other gluten-free products in regular grocery stores was a real challenge just a few years ago. Today, the shelves in supermarkets, discount stores and drugstores are full of gluten-free cookies, rolls, granola bars and breakfast cereals. One might think the proportion of sufferers has risen dramatically. A few years ago, one in 1,000 to 2,000 people in Germany had gluten intolerance, according to the German Celiac Society, but now it’s one in about 250. The market is booming – but not only because of the actual sufferers but also because many people believe that they are doing their bodies some good with a gluten-free diet. A mistake?!

Intolerance to gluten

“You have to know: There is the acquired gluten intolerance and the genetic celiac disease (Sprue), that is a huge difference,” explains Ursula Schöller, holistic nutritionist. Those who have this genetic intolerance must live gluten-free because they cannot break down gluten. Schöller justifies: “The patient would literally perish from the intestinal inflammation, because the nutrients are no longer absorbed in sufficient quantities. Susceptibility to infections, undesirable weight loss and other late effects of permanent malnutrition are to be feared. Even the incidence of colon cancer increases dramatically.” Not every tummy bug is automatically a gluten intolerance, however.

In acquired gluten intolerance, there is usually a reason why the body metabolizes gluten poorly. Reasons include stress and poor diet. In this case, mostly too many acid-formers such as dairy products and meat or processed carbohydrate products such as pasta, bread, ready-made sauces, ready-made meals, especially white flour products are criticized. But alcohol and nicotine also burden the body. All this ends up as hyperacidity in our system.

Schöller: “Of course, this is also due to the fact that our lives are one acidifier. We would have to, or rather must, eat much more alkaline at our current pace of life to better balance stress factors.” The need for micronutrients (minerals, trace elements and vitamins) is permanently increased with permanent tension, he said. This means, for example, that we need more vitamin C and magnesium to defuse the strain on the organism caused by cell phone radiation or other environmental pollution.

On the safe side with “Clean Eating

Back to gluten. What exactly is it? Ursula Schöller: “Among other things, seeds contain the plant proteins (lectins) gluten or gluten protein and agglutinins. They nourish the seed during germination and protect the cereal plant from predators and fungal diseases. In the past, the proportion of gliadin (the technical term for wheat gluten) and agglutinins (WGA) in wheat was about 5 percent. Today, a much higher percentage is achieved through breeding, as genetic engineering also makes use of the effectiveness of WGAs.” With this, the human body is increasingly sensitive, as these two lectins attack the intestinal mucosa, are poorly digested and can result in intestinal dysbiosis. As a result, gluten-free or gluten-reduced alternatives make perfect sense. These include, for example, non-GMO grains from the health food store, pasta made from spelt, ancient wheat or kamut. The latter is also a type of primal wheat, very tasty and also available in the health food store.”

Ready-made sauces and convenience foods should not be in the shopping cart: “There’s actually always gluten in there.” To be really sure, it’s best to prepare the meals yourself. “Then you know for sure what’s in it.” That is called new German “Clean eating”. The expert further advises, “Stay away from artificial flours that are a gluten-free option. These contain so many alternative binders and other ingredients that may well have their damaging effect on the intestinal mucosa.”

Text: Bettina Sewald
Photo: unsplash/Melissa Askew