No other trend in recent times has managed to gain as much attention and patronage as a gluten-free diet. But before we jump onto that bandwagon and adopt or try to adopt a gluten-free diet, let us know what gluten is and whether it really is as bad for you as it is hyped up to be.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite found in some types of grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. It acts as a glue, holding the foods together and helping them maintain their shape. It is basically made up of two proteins—gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the one that causes adverse reactions in people who are sensitive to gluten.
Is the Gluten-Free Diet for You?
Well, that is a loaded question. First, let us understand the repercussions of a gluten-free diet. If you do want to go gluten-free, you would have to give up most breads, breakfast cereals, pastas, pastries, and all processed foods that contain even small amounts of gluten. When we say gluten-free we are talking about not just a change in your diet, but about adopting a whole new lifestyle. You won’t be able to eat out at all, as most restaurants and cafes do not offer gluten-free items on their menu. Let’s say you manage to find a restaurant that does offer gluten-free food, chances are that you’re options will be extremely limited and extremely expensive as well. Eating out at friends’ places is also out, unless you don’t mind giving them specific instructions on what to cook and they don’t mind following them.
Every food that you look at, you need to know if it is gluten-free before you can even take a bite. So why go to such extremes? Why not find a middle-ground and try to have mostly gluten-free food with occasional exceptions? Well, the thing is, it doesn’t work that way. If your body is sensitive to gluten, then even a trace of gluten in some food item is enough to trigger an adverse reaction.
So since so many nutritious foods that we consume on a daily basis also happen to contain gluten, when you opt for a gluten-free diet, you are actually eliminating many nutrients along with the gluten. So think if you really need to go gluten- free.
Who Should Go Gluten-Free?
People who have Celiac disease should totally keep away from gluten, as should those with gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease; when a person who has Celiac eats food with gluten, their immune system attacks the gluten and the intestinal wall. This causes severe complications and hence Celiac follow a strict no-gluten lifestyle. Admittedly, Celiac disease affects only a very minor portion of the population. Maybe this is why it mostly goes undetected, with over eighty percent of the people with Celiac are not even aware of the fact.
Gluten intolerance is when people have some kind of adverse reactions if they eat anything with gluten in it. These reactions subside and they feel much better once they go on a gluten-free diet.
Another set of people who would benefit greatly from a gluten-free diet are those with irritable bowel syndrome. A study found that gluten could either cause irritable bowel syndrome or could worsen it in people who already have it.
How to Find out if You’re Gluten Intolerant
So you should only give up gluten if you know that you’re body reacts badly to it. So how do you find that out? To know if you have celiac disease the only test to be done is a blood test. To know if you’re intolerant to gluten, try going on a complete gluten-free diet for a couple of weeks to see how you feel. If your body feels better, your digestion issues subside, then you may be allergic to gluten and should eliminate it from your diet. But this is not a reliable test as you may sometimes psychologically feel as if your body is miraculously better. So go see a doctor and get you’re doubts cleared.
So instead of looking at a gluten-free diet as a fad or as a healthy eating habit, we should look at it as a component that leads to dangerous consequences for those who are allergic to it. But for those of us who are not sensitive to gluten, a gluten-free diet does not make much sense as a desirable course of action.