Food & Nutrition For You

The Gluten Talk: Fad or Fact?

In recent times, the term ‘Gluten free’ seems to have rapidly gained a lot of importance. The stores and online platforms are increasingly storing more and more ‘Gluten-free’ products. These products seem to be priced significantly higher than their conventional counterparts. What exactly are ‘gluten-free’ products? What is gluten, and how does it affect our health in general? Is it just a latest fad? Simply because celebrities vouch for it? Why was gluten not talked about earlier? Let us address these questions and much more and uncover some truths about gluten and more information about ‘gluten-free’ products.

What is Gluten?

Let us commence with the basic information about gluten. Firstly gluten is not something that has newly occurred in our foods. In fact, it has always existed in most of our grains like wheat, rye, barley etc. Gluten is a form of protein, that is mainly storage protein also known as ‘prolamins’ It exists naturally and gives the dough the binding factor. It is gluten that helps to give the dough the quality of stretching. This quality one sees commonly in pizza dough as opposed to doughs made out of millet like bajra, ragi or jowar that are tough to handle as they crack and do not stretch.

 Why is Gluten considered bad?

A small portion of the population suffers from Coeliac disease, where consumption of gluten in the diet leads to damage in the small intestine. Apart from this, a larger population has noticed what is known as ‘non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity’. In this case, they may not suffer from a definitive disease but have noticed uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, cramps in the stomach, gas formation, diarrhoea or even constipation after consuming foods that contain gluten like bread, pizza etc that are made from refined wheat which in turn contains gluten.

Many celebrities including sports personalities and health enthusiasts swear by gluten-free products. Many claim to have far better gut health after embarking on the ‘gluten-free’ journey. This is also why an increasing number of people are opting for gluten-free products over regular flour or bakery products.

Gluten in general has recently been noticed to cause unpleasant symptoms, however, it has always existed in grains like wheat, rye, barley etc. This means gluten has been consumed commonly for hundreds of years without any known diseases or sensitivities.

Why has gluten been known to be so harsh on the gut in the recent past?

The reason for this is the increased demand for grains like wheat for industrial purposes that tends to have stronger gluten in higher quantities. The grains are also sprayed with numerous pesticides and chemical agents. Also, to meet increased demands, the baking processes have been shortened by the addition of additives, synthesized enzymes and various processes that affect the nutritive quality of the finished products.

The products especially bread often mention ‘wheat protein’ as one of the ingredients, in reality, these are just higher quantities of gluten. Even emulsifiers that are added to the industrial bread-making process have been found to increase the chances of intestinal inflammation. Though most of these additions are generally considered safe, it has been noted that the consumer has been unknowingly consuming very high levels of gluten. This could probably be the reason why it has started causing sensitivity in people.

This was not the case earlier, as our ancestors consumed wheat and other products in far ‘unprocessed forms’, their wheat was not sprayed with chemicals, nor was it forced into growing in more quantity in lesser time. The traditional bread-making process also involved a far longer but natural process. This in turn was not just gut-friendly but more natural as well despite the gluten factor.

Then again the marketing strategies have also convinced the consumers that consuming wheat bran, brown bread and whole wheat products is better for you. But people that suffer from Coeliac disease, or even with gluten sensitivity are harmed by it. In their case, it isn’t the bran that is harmful but the sheer presence of gluten in wheat is what makes these products unfriendly for them.

Having said that gluten tends to be unsuitable for most and that a ‘gluten-free diet’ could promote better gut health, it does not mean one cannot still continue having a diet full of delicious foods. You can try out gluten-free flour like buckwheat flour, amaranth flour, oats flour, almond flour, and more.

Should people with healthy guts also opt for a gluten-free lifestyle?

Why not? Choosing a gluten-free diet will most certainly not harm your health. Besides, going overboard with the consumption of refined flour is known to be unhealthy not just for your gut but also for your overall health. One can prioritize eliminating refined flour and processed foods and including more fiber and whole fruits and vegetables before.

Having said that, banking on gluten-free food products to help a person lose weight is a common misunderstanding. A gluten-free diet will certainly help people suffering from Coeliac disease or people with gluten sensitivities, with their digestive difficulties and helps to ease the intestines. However, there is no known evidence that it will help a person lose weight.

Feel like indulging in a pizza? Treat yourself without worrying about your tummy going for a toss with a gluten-free pizza base.

No one needs to refrain from enjoying delicious snacks just because of the fear of gluten, simply choose from an array of gluten-free snacks.

If you are more health conscious you can choose the option of preparing gluten-free items at home too! Simply pick from a choice of organic millets and their corresponding recipes. You’ll soon realize delicious meals don’t have to hurt the gut!

Slowly shifting to a healthier diet Lifestyle changes take time, but taking baby steps in the right direction is always definitely one of the best decisions you will take.

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