Wholegrains have been shown to be protective; but does that mean we need gluten?

There have been a couple of studies that have hit the headlines lately which have shown that wholegrains are protective against cancer and heart disease. Grains such as wheat, rye and barley are fibre dense and contribute to a large percentage of many people’s wholegrain intake, however they also contain the protein gluten. Therefore, some journalists have made the assumption that gluten free diets are bad for your health (see links below). The truth is that while wholegrains do have health benefits, gluten is a problem for many people. In this week’s blog we are going to take a look at both sides of the issue.

The benefits of wholegrains are not a surprise to the CAM community as they are high in fibre as well as many nutrients including some B vitamins (particularly thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and iron, magnesium and selenium all of which are important for maintaining health.

Dietary fibre has long been shown to have many protective benefits as:

  • Fibre adds bulk to meal so increases satiety and therefore reduces caloric intake: Fibre is carbohydrate that is too complex for us to breakdown therefore we cannot digest it, so it helps to fill the stomach and stimulate our stretch receptors, which make us feel satisfied following a meal. Therefore we can consume less calories, excess calorie intake is linked to obesity and diabetes both of which are risk factors for cancer and heart disease.
  • Fibre stabilises blood sugar levels by slowing the break-down of carbohydrate, this helps to reduce insulin levels and therefore reduce risk of diabetes and obesity.
  • Fibre adds bulk to the stool so helps to regulate bowel movements: Regular bowel movements and a healthy digestive tract are so important for overall health. If we suffer from constipation waste products sit in the colon for longer periods of time than they should and can be reabsorbed into the body.
  • Fibre will bind to molecules such as waste products as well as cholesterol and help remove them from the gut. This helps to excrete waste hormones such as oestrogen (high levels of which are linked to some cancers) as well maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Fibre increases the production of short chain fatty acids – this protects the bowel wall from abnormal cell change, a risk for colon cancer.

Wheat based products are high in dietary fibre, they are also a staple of many people’s diet as wheat is used in bread, pasta and many cereals. It should be noted though, just because something is made from wheat does not mean it is high in fibre, white bread and pasta for example have had the fibre removed during the milling of flour. Even brown bread will have some white flour in it, so when talking about benefits of wheat products they should be in the wholegrain form.

In the average US diet wheat based products make up 78% of dietary fibre, therefore very often, when a person removes gluten from their diet they also remove the fibre. Many gluten free products on the market are heavily processed, have a very high glycaemic load and are low in fibre. However it is more than possible to get a good intake of wholegrains from non-gluten sources such as brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat.

It should also be remembered that fruits and vegetables provide excellent sources of dietary fibre. Many studies have shown a direct relationship with the number of fruits and vegetables consumed and the reduction of risk for cancer. They are not only a great source of fibre but also high in many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants (you can optimise the intake of these by eating as many different colours of fruits and vegetables as possible).

Another gluten free source of fibre is pulses such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, these are high in many nutrients and are also a source of lean protein.

Why go gluten free?

Gluten is a protein in wheat flour. It is also found in barley and rye and although oats do not naturally contain gluten they are often contaminated with gluten during farming processes. The protein gluten cannot be digested by humans. If you suffer with Coeliac Disease (CD) gluten causes an autoimmune reaction where by the cells (enterocytes) lining the digestive tract are severely damaged and inflamed and digestion is significantly impaired, the only treatment for this is to completely avoid gluten.

Other conditions associated with CD include dermatitis herpetiformis, a violent, blistering rash, or gluten ataxia, which may lead to neurological problems and loss of coordination. For further information see Cytoplan Blog: Why gluten isn’t good for you.

There are also many people who do not have CD but still have a reaction to gluten – this is known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). In this case when gluten is consumed it can cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive system, leading to unpleasant digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, fullness and discomfort. Non coeliac gluten sensitivity can also cause or contribute to non gastrointestinal symptoms such as autoimmunity, allergic and atopic conditions such as hay fever, mental health disorders and other inflammatory conditions.

In addition during the digestion of gliadin (a component of gluten) substances called gluteomorphins are produced. These are opioid like substances that can impart an opioid effect on the brain as they have both sedating and addictive properties. Therefore they can contribute to food addictions, making it difficult to remove gluten from the diet, post meal slumps and some studies have linked them with conditions such as brain fog, depression and autism.

We know there is a link with inflammation and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease therefore it is important when looking at reducing the risk of these conditions to reduce inflammation. So although wholegrains may be protective for some people; for those who suffer with NCGS (there are probably many more then we currently realise) it would be more beneficial for long term health to avoid gluten and look for wholegrains and fibre from other sources.

See book Gluten Free Secrets (available from Cytoplan) for more detail on following a gluten free diet or the Coeliac Disease Foundation website for a full list of sources of gluten.

What to do now:

If you feel that gluten is causing you problems, and would like to remove it from your diet, it may also be a good idea to give your digestive system some support to help the body repair, reduce inflammation and to optimise digestive function by:

  • Following an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar with healthy fats and protein.
  • Getting 8-10 portions of vegetables and 1-2 fruit to obtain good levels of fibre
  • Consider prebiotic and fermented foods such as chicory, artichoke, apples, kimchi and sauerkraut

Finally if going gluten-free, avoid eating highly processed ‘gluten free’ foods that lack essential nutrients and fibre. These may be ok in small amounts on an occasional basis but should not form the basis of breakfast, lunch and supper. Choose foods that are naturally gluten free – for example, sweet potatoes, butternut squah, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and gluten-free oats.

For more information on supporting the gut see Cytoplan Blog: Nutritional support for irritable bowel syndrome

Relevant Cytoplan Products

Gluten Free Secrets by Anette Harbech Olesen and Lone Bendtsen

Live Native Bacteria:

Acidophilus Plus – 9 strains of live native bacteria with activity throughout the whole GI tract. Most suited to people under the age of 40 and ideal for long term. Comes in two sizes of 30 and 60 capsules.

Fos-a-dophilus – Ideal for those over the age of 40, this live native bacteria supplement is high in Bifidobacteria which colonise the large intestine and are most often less easily replenished in those over the age of 40. Comes in one size of 60 capsules.

Cyto-biotic Active – This is a 9 strain product with activity throughout the whole GI tract. Ideal for all ages. Comes in two sizes of 50g and 100g of powder.

Aloe Vera Inner Leaf – The inner leaf fillet contains higher levels of salicylates, and a small amount of aloin,

Slippery Elm – A traditional remedy. Slippery Elm produces a thick mucilage that coats the intestinal membranes.

L-Glutamine – an amino acid used as fuel by the intestinal cells

Phyte-Inflam contains curcuminoids, gingerols and piperine

Omega 3 fats in our High Potency Fish Oil, Krill oil or Omega 3 Vegan– all contain good levels of EPA which support production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Relevant links




If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

amanda@cytoplan.co.uk, 01684 310099

Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth, Emma Williams, Simon Holdcroft and Clare Daley

Related posts

Cytoplan Blog: Why gluten isn’t good for you.

Cytoplan Blog: Nutritional support for irritable bowel syndrome


Last updated on 29th June 2016 by cytoffice


2 thoughts on “Wholegrains have been shown to be protective; but does that mean we need gluten?

  1. Since the majority of people world wide use flour/ bread in some form why isn’t the gluten problem world wide? A reason for bad health finds a food to blame periodically instead of acknowledging it is a diet of dead food or pretend food that causes I’ll health.

  2. Thank you for your informative and educational articles. I really enjoy reading them and even though I already have quite a good base of knowledge I always find some new information and facts.

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