Gluten and dairy often get a bad rap in the media and with the amount of misinformation available at our fingertips it’s no wonder we are often left confused. So is dairy really bad for you? And should we all be avoiding gluten? Our Dietitians are here to clear things up for you, for good.
First, let’s explore what gluten is and where it’s found.
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. A similar protein is also found in oats which can impact those with coeliac disease. Gluten acts like a binder in food products helping to create texture and elasticity and is found in items such as breads, pastries, pizza, pasta, baked goods, crackers and beer.
For years now, people have been told to avoid gluten and dairy in the pursuit of a ‘healthier’ diet. On top of this, several myths can be found circulating on the internet making it difficult to determine fact from fiction. So let’s tackle this together.
Myth: A gluten free diet is healthier
Contrary to popular belief this is definitely not true. In fact, it is often even MORE difficult to consume a healthy, balanced diet when avoiding gluten. As gluten is found in many whole grains, eliminating these can result in a lower fibre intake and a reduction in the number of plant varieties consumed. This spells bad news for our digestive system and gut microbiome, who LOVE these things. Only those with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid gluten containing foods - the rest of us can absolutely benefit from consuming our delicious breads!
Myth: Gluten causes bloating and fatigue
Unless you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity gluten will not likely be responsible for your bloating. As discussed in our blog Beat The Bloat some bloating is a very normal part of digestion, but if you do experience severe or quick onset bloating we would encourage you to look at your diet as a whole to try and pinpoint which food (or combination of foods) may be impacting your digestion. Don’t be too quick to blame the gluten here! It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor if your reactions are regular to rule out anything more serious.
Myth: Gluten & dairy cause weight gain
The only thing that can cause weight gain is a sustained calorie surplus over time. Gluten and dairy alone cannot contribute to weight gain any more than the energy content of the foods in which they are found. So while foods containing gluten and dairy are often blamed (think cakes, ice cream, cookies, pastries, cream) this has a lot more to do with their high energy content and palatability than the involvement of gluten or dairy.
Myth: Dairy is inflammatory
Good news here - unless you have a dairy allergy or intolerance, dairy is actually not inflammatory! In fact, several studies have shown that dairy products may have a neutral or even an anti-inflammatory effect in healthy individuals. So enjoy that milk and yoghurt, girl!
Myth: Dairy causes skin breakouts and acne
Research suggests that while there may be a correlation between certain dairy products and acne in some individuals, the evidence is quite inconclusive and does vary significantly person to person. This means that for some, they may notice an improvement in their skin after reducing their dairy intake while others may see no change at all. It’s important to note that dairy products are an excellent source of protein and calcium, which are essential in our diet, so unnecessarily removing dairy (or any other) food item is definitely not recommended.
Myth: Those with lactose intolerance can’t eat dairy
This may come as a surprise, but there are actually several dairy products that contain very little to no lactose and are completely fine for those with lactose intolerance to consume. This includes things like parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and butter. Further to this, many yoghurts on the market now contain the lactase enzyme, which is basically responsible for breaking lactose down into a simpler form within the product before it is consumed (so your body doesn’t have to do it for you). This makes these particular yoghurts completely fine to consume even for those with lactose intolerance.
FUN FACT: The lactose content in fermented dairy products (such as yoghurt) decreases over time even while sitting in your fridge! This is due to the degradation of lactose by live bacteria.
Even though the internet may try and convince you otherwise, gluten and dairy can definitely belong in a healthy, balanced diet. In fact, removing them may leave you with gaps and inadequacies in your nutritional intake, which is certainly not ideal!
When it comes to your diet, we like to think about what we can ADD to our meals, rather than thinking of what we can remove. So please enjoy your dairy and gluten containing products and continue to reap their health benefits.
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