Q: Is gluten really bad for us? It seems to be in so many foods
Gluten – the protein naturally found in wheat, rye and barley – isn’t inherently bad for you unless you have an underlying medical condition. People who suffer from coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes adverse reactions to gluten, have to follow a gluten-free diet for life to stay well.
As you’ve said, it’s found in such a wide variety of foods – from obvious sources like bread and pasta made with wheat, to soy sauce and stock cubes. For coeliac sufferers, cross contamination with gluten can also be an issue – for example, they can’t have chips from a chip shop if they’ve been fried in the same oil as battered foods.
Some people also report sensitivity to gluten but do not have coeliac disease. This is called ‘non coeliac gluten sensitivity’ and it’s not clear what causes it.
Most people, however, don’t need to avoid gluten and, in fact, cutting out all gluten-containing foods may make it more difficult to get all the nutrients you need. The many gluten-free versions of pasta, bread, cakes and pastries aren’t necessarily healthier, so make sure you check labels for calories, sugars, salt and saturated fat.