Gluten Free Diet: Identify Fad, Facts and Myths

May 02, 2019

People with signs and symptoms of gluten-related medical conditions, intolerance or sensitivity towards gluten should switch to gluten-free diets after assurance from doctors.

The 21st century has become the era of food movements more than anything else. Although most of these are health fads, particularly diet fads that pass by with time. Nonetheless, there seems no end to these trending wellness topics with millennials click-baiting the most on these over the internet. The recent in the list is the gluten-free diet. Getting gluten-free (g-free) is surely trendy right now and feels like a healthier option but health experts say it is certainly worth a second thought.

As each individual is different so is each person’s ‘ideal diet’, intolerances, sensitivities, etc. and it is pivotal to be mindful of them. Just a few years ago, hardly anyone would have heard the term gluten and now it is suddenly turning into a diet villain that everyone wants to get rid of from their meals. Gluten to this decade has become what fat probably was to the ’80s and ’90s – the bad boy that needs to be eradicated.

But is gluten really that harmful or is this just another momentary fad? Firstly, it is very important to understand the difference between a medical issue and a fad, and then to analyses one’s body. And for that let’s understand a gluten diet. But before that…

What is gluten?

Gluten belongs to the family of proteins which is found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between rye and wheat). It gets its name from the Latin word ‘glue’ owing to the sticky consistency that it gives to the grain flour when mixed with water. The chewy and satisfying texture to bread is also due to the presence of gluten.

A gluten-free diet hence, simply implies removing products containing wheat, rye, barley and other gluten-containing ingredients from your diet. We certainly are in the heightened gluten awareness times, and while that is a boon for people who genuinely need to avoid gluten. But for others, this diet restriction without a medically satisfactory reason might become critical.

Loss of weight, increase in energy and improvement in health have been some of the claims of those on the side of gluten-free diets without specific evidence. There has also been some evidence suggesting that a gluten-free diet is likely to improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems. But labelling something gluten-free doesn’t necessarily label them more natural, healthier and better weight loss options. There are reasons to avoid gluten and there are reasons to not, what’s important is for you to examine your body and make your choice in consultation with your doctor.

Who should go gluten-free diet?

People with signs and symptoms of celiac disease or gluten-related medical conditions, intolerance or sensitivity towards gluten should switch to gluten-free diets after assurance about their body reactions with their doctors or dieticians. Ingestion of gluten in these individuals leads to an adverse reaction which damages intestinal cells and can cause serious health problems.

However, removing gluten from the diet alters the fibre intake, as well as vitamins and other nutrients’ consumption. Most of the studies around a gluten-free diet have been done on people with celiac disease so before following, consult an expert and do what balances the overall nutritional needs of your body. Hence, if you are intolerant to gluten, then you need to avoid it completely.

But if you are not then you might invite discomfort and adverse health effects for yourself. Also remember, gluten-free diets eliminate many popular sources of fibre like bread, bran and other wheat-based products and eating a fibre-rich diet is important for the nutritional needs of the body and to promote healthy bowel movements. (The author is the chief dietician, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital Yeshwanthpur)

How to identify one’s gluten sensitivity?

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have similar kind of symptoms that may involve: recurring abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea/constipation, tingling/numbness in hands and feet, chronic fatigue, joint pain, unexplained infertility and low bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis). However, there are several potential symptoms, a lot of which could also be signs for other ailments as well.

Gluten Free Diet Facts and Myths

  • Everyone needs to go gluten-free
  • Going gluten-free will lead to weight loss
  • Gluten is only in grains
  • Gluten-containing foods are bad for you
  • There’s a diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity

Author:

Pavithra N Raj (Chief Dietician)

Columbia Asia Referral Hospital Yeshwanthpur