Intolerances to foods such as eggs, nuts, lactose and micro-nutrients such as gluten are on the rise. Surveys suggest that 1 out of every 133 people in the general population is gluten intolerant. Just 10 years ago, this figure was 1 in 2500. The intolerance to gluten, referred to as Coeliac disease, is a common digestive, autoimmune condition in which a person has an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
Unlike other intolerances, Coeliac disease is not a food allergy, which is the common misconception. Symptoms include malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, anemia, nausea, diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain. The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for the condition, which can make life as a coeliac a real challenge.
Ruan Shah, second year University of Leeds student said that for him, gluten was ‘as bad as smoking’ for his insides. He discovered he had the disease when he was just 6 years old after taking a test. He was screened because the disease runs in his family; his grandmother had the disease, and only 4 out of her 30 grandchildren are not intolerant to gluten.
After reading around the topic, complex reasons permeate the gluten-free narrative, centering around the drastic changes made to our lifestyles in recent years. Increased consumption of sugar, alcohol, antibiotics, environmental toxins and the introduction of GMOs into our foods over the last 15 years has had a significant impact on the imbalance within our guts. The Weston A. Price Foundation research found that modern wheat varieties are genetically very different to more traditional kinds, so some people’s bodies have not been able to readjust to cope with this change.
Cutting out gluten however, is not necessarily good for you if you are not a coeliac, with reports emerging of individuals actually developing illnesses such as insomnia when they had cut the protein from their diet. Ella Southall, first year Food Science and Nutrition student at Leeds University said, ‘there is a pre-misconception that avoiding gluten will lead to a healthier lifestyle, although the products that are free from gluten often contain higher levels of sugar, fat and other unhealthy substances’.
We’ve tampered extensively with our diets and environment, and so it should come as no surprise when there are consequences on our health, our well-being and our relationship with food.