What can you eat in a gluten-free diet? Does a gluten-free diet offer health benefits? – The Indian Express

What can you eat in a gluten-free diet? Does a gluten-free diet offer health benefits? - The Indian Express

Everybody wants to switch over to a gluten-free diet, thinking it is the magic formula to self-correct lifestyle diseases like diabetes and manage body weight. With celebrities and Instagram influencers legitimising gluten-free diets as the next big thing, there is a lot of misconception as to when one should go gluten-free, who needs such a diet and what one should have. Please understand that gluten-free diets are not for everyone and don’t necessarily mean a no-carbohydrate meal plan. And presumptions may do you more harm than good.

What is a gluten-free diet and who should have them?

Basically, this means eliminating any food that contains gluten, the protein usually found in wheat, semolina, cereals and several other grains. Gluten is also often used as a binding agent and flavouring, so you can find it in certain other food items too, like soy sauce and processed foods, for example. “It should be had in very specific cases, for example those with Celiac Disease. These patients develop an autoimmune response to gluten that causes the body to attack the small intestine, leading to stomach ache, gas, indigestion and in cases even diarrhoea. The other category of people are called the gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive. And this is where most people make the classic mistake of attributing their stomach problems or bowel irritability to gluten. There isn’t one test for gluten intolerance, so tracing stomach allergies means you have to report symptoms to your nutritionist and dietician, who will then try to zero in on the cause by eliminating several gut-inflaming components of your regular diet through a series of tests and observations. Only when all the markers point to a consistent wheat allergy, should you go for a gluten-free diet. Just because you have symptoms mimicking Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), doesn’t mean you are gluten-intolerant. It’s a long process of elimination,” says Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Nutritionist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.

Not all gluten is in wheat

“Those with a high probability of gluten allergy should realise that gluten is present in many foods and not just wheat. Also what many Indians do not realise is that genetically, they had been quite used to wheat. So why do they report wheat intolerance now? That’s because before the revolution of genetically modified crops, we consumed a two-DNA wheat which had lower amounts of gluten. Now we have six-DNA wheat, which has a higher amount of gluten. That’s the reason you report more cases of sensitivity now. Also consider our eating habits. Traditionally, we have always had paratha with a neutralising buttermilk or curd. Over time, people coupled parathas with pickles and butter, which are enemies of gut health and compound the calorific load,” explains Dr Rohatgi. “Besides, much of the sensitivity is because of processed wheat and not whole wheat. So we need to analyse the degree of intolerance from the perspective of exactly what causes the triggers than castigating wheat as the enemy. This leads to a whole series of misconceptions. Often a balanced diet, changing and redistributing the ratio of nutrients take care of half your problems.”

Arbitrary switchovers to gluten-free diet can be damaging

Cutting out gluten indiscriminately can actually lead to insulin resistance and even if you register some weight loss, you do not realise that zero-wheat can damage your gut health. “Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that we are seeing a rise in incidents of colon cancer. A lot of misconceptions are industry-driven,” says Dr Rohatgi. Eliminating gluten also means you are denying yourself essential fibres, micronutrients, vitamins, iron and magnesium. “Whole grains actually help lower cholesterol and bust blood sugar,” she adds. Besides, gluten-free foods also come processed and could contain undesirable elements like salt, sugar and fat, she warns.

If diagnosed, what are my gluten-free options?

Actually, India’s great millet heritage presents us with a whole series of options. “There are amaranth, buckwheat, bajra, jowar and a whole lot of unprocessed whole grains that can act as a substitute either for flour or snacks. Do focus on proteins because of their satiety value. Vary your breakfast between poha (flattened rice), rice sewaiyan (thread noodles), millet upma, moong dal and besan pancakes, idli and dosa. There are quite a few options available for your breakfast routine. Instead of looking at millet cookies all the time, I would advise that you go for peanut chikkis (brittle candies bound with jaggery or honey), fruit bowls, boiled eggs, besan dhoklas and buttermilk.

Are millets the healthy answer for the gluten-intolerant? Not instantaneously

Understand that pearl or foxtail millet and sorghum are very high in fibres. “If as a child, you have not had them as one of your meal staples, then your whole body could go for a toss if you suddenly include them in your diet. Each of our bodies is used to a certain biodiversity of food, so do not attempt anything overnight. Ensure a slow progression, maybe replace half a portion of your meal. Your gut has to be primed to absorb them better. During the changeover, add more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread or pasta and lean proteins,” advises Dr Rohatgi. “Also, you must wait for 21 days after your diet change to ease the symptoms of gluten intolerance.”

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