Is a low-gluten diet good for you?

Gluten has become a dirty word for some, but is there really any benefit in reducing or excluding it in your daily diet?

Bloating, cramping, diarrhoea – just a few of the reasons some people are deciding to go gluten free, or to follow a low-gluten eating plan.

But is there any point if you don’t have coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity? New research has looked at exactly that.

The University of Copenhagen found that a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet – where people eat around 2g of gluten a day compared with an average of 12g a day – may help reduce bloating in healthy people.

Researchers believe the combination of low-gluten and fibre alters gut bacteria, and this reduces bloating.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, barley and rye.

People diagnosed with coeliac disease cannot digest gluten, so even the smallest amount triggers nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhoea, stomach pain and tiredness.

Gluten also aggravates inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome – problems that affect up to 20 per cent of people in the western world, say the Danish researchers.

It’s about fibre too

But different fibres in foods can also aggravate bloating and cramping, too, says Aloysa Hourigan, an accredited practising dietitian in Queensland.

“Wheat, rye and barley contain gluten but also contain more fibres that convert to fructose and some people can’t digest that,” says Aloysa.

“If people have problems with bloating, it may be worth trying a diet lower in those fibres.”

The foods in the Danish study fit this category and include vegetables, brown rice, corn, oats and quinoa.

Australian adults should have 25g to 30g of fibre a day.

Things to know about low-gluten eating

The Danish research found gluten-free may not be the super healthy choice many people think it is, because gluten-free foods in supermarkets can be high in fat, salt and sugar.

“Gluten adds texture to foods to make it palatable, so gluten-free foods are high in salt, sugars and saturated fat to compensate for that,” says Aloysa.

“Gluten-free options are also often based on white rice and don’t have much fibre.

“When people try to lower gluten in their diet, they avoid grains and cereals and these are important for gut health. If you are not sensitive to gluten, there is no benefit in reducing it.”

If you experience bloating and cramping, see your GP to identify any underlying problems.

If diet is the issue, a dietitian can help identify if gluten or fibre is the problem.

low gluten diets

Low-gluten, high-fibre foods

  • Brown rice
  • Sweetcorn
  • Popcorn
  • Jacket potato
  • Peas
  • Baked beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Dried apricots
  • Mixed nuts
  • Red lentils
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Some gluten-free mueslis

Foods that may contain hidden gluten

  • Baking powder
  • Canned soups
  • Confectionery
  • Hot chips
  • Sausages and processed meats
  • Seasoning
  • Yeast extract spreads

Written by Sarah Marinos.