Rumour has it, kiwifruit is the miracle food that’ll combat gluten intolerances. But, is it just internet hearsay or does it have scientific relevance? Dietitian, and coeliac herself, Melissa Meier unpacks the fact from fiction.
Going gluten-free has been a popular health trend for years now. The story goes like this: remove gluten from your life and you’ll instantly be healthier. You’ll lose weight, your skin will improve and your gut woes will disappear. But brace yourself: as I dietitian, I can tell you that for most people, that’s just not true.
The health halo of gluten-free diets along with the never-ending barrage of magical cures for gluten intolerance (this time, it’s kiwifruit) makes the world of gluten super-confusing. To set the record straight, here’s what you need to know.
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Gluten is a naturally occurring group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and oats (read: it’s not the venom it’s made out to be). It’s incredibly widespread throughout the food supply, found in everything from bread, pasta and breakfast cereals to cakes, pastries and even confectionary.
People with coeliac disease have an autoimmune reaction to gluten. For these people, gluten causes inflammation of the lining of the bowel, which reduces nutrient absorption. Yep, it’s just as unpleasant as it sounds, and can cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms (think: diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, mouth ulcers, joint pain).
The only treatment for people with coeliac disease is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. As someone with coeliac disease, I can tell you it’s not as bad as it sounds – but it does mean a whole lot of the usual favourites are off the menu (goodbye pizza, pastry, red frogs…).
Is kiwifruit the answer we’ve been looking for?
In recent times, there’s been reports that kiwifruit could be a promising solution for managing coeliac disease. The idea is that certain enzymes in the fruit breakdown the gluten protein structure, meaning that in those with coeliac disease, there is no inflammatory response after ingesting gluten.
As promising as this sounds, there’s no solid scientific evidence to back up the theory. Sticking to a strict 100 per cent gluten-free diet is still absolutely essential in managing coeliac disease – but watch this space. I have my fingers crossed there may be more promising news on the horizon, kiwifruit or otherwise…
A note on gluten…
Before you self-diagnose yourself as intolerant to gluten, remember this: only one per cent of the population have coeliac disease. While gluten usually gets the blame for a long list of health issues, in many cases, it’s not actually the culprit.
If you’ve wiped gluten off your menu because you just ‘feel better’ without it in your diet, I’d encourage you to visit your doctor and dietitian to get the bottom of your symptoms. Although it seems trivial, going gluten-free isn’t a decision you should take lightly – there’s a huge range of health-giving foods you’d have to cut out of your diet (think: wholegrain bread, rolled oats, wholemeal pasta), and unless you absolutely have to, it’s not worth going without.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. Connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.