The nutritional needs of individuals with gluten intolerance
With gluten intolerance on the rise, the need for healthy gluten free alternatives is also increasing. Going ‘gluten-free’ is not just a matter of avoiding gluten. It is also vital to consume a rich supply of nutrients to address significant nutritional deficiencies evident in those with gluten intolerance.
There are several reasons why individuals with gluten intolerance are prone to nutrient deficiencies. Firstly, damage to the intestinal walls from gluten can result in reduced absorptive capacity for nutrients. In particular, iron, folate and calcium are often lacking as these nutrients require absorption in the small bowel. Other deficiencies include protein, fibre, magnesium, vitamin D, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12.
While most would assume that these deficiencies disappear once gluten is avoided and the body can heal and function correctly again, this isn’t always the case. Inadequate levels of folate, niacin, vitamin B12 and fibre have been detected in patients even after long term consumption of a gluten free diet. These remaining deficiencies are thought to be due to the poor nutritional quality of many gluten free foods on the market. In particular, fibre is known to be lacking in most packaged gluten free foods, which are primarily made from starches and refined flours. This absence of whole grains can create several deficiencies as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
It has been reported in several studies that processed gluten free products are particularly high in sugars, fats and salt, leaving little room for proper nutrition. To make matters worse, research shows individuals with gluten intolerance tend to steer towards foods higher in calories, sugar and fats to compensate for restrictions on the gluten free diet. This may be due to lack of awareness of healthy, gluten free options as well as the poor choice of packaged gluten free foods on the market. This type of inflammatory diet will further deplete the nutritional status of gluten intolerant individuals, once again justifying the need for a significant nutritional boost for these particular consumers.
The combination of reduced absorptive capacity paired with an inflammatory, nutrient-hollow diet can leave gluten intolerant individuals severely malnourished. If you suffer from gluten intolerance, aim to avoid processed, sweetened and artificial ingredients and include plenty of gluten free whole grains, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. You can also incorporate probiotics, digestive enzymes and omega-3 fats to support the healing of the gut and improve nutrient absorption.