Is a Gluten Free diet helpful for your health?
Gluten-free diets have gained tremendous popularity worldwide in the past few years. Avoiding gluten has become a kind of a fad and gluten-free foods have become synonymous with healthy eating. This article discusses what gluten is, why it could be harmful to some people and whether or not you should go gluten-free.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley. It is also added to other foods such as salad dressings, sauces and condiments. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most commonly consumed.
What does Gluten free mean?
Going gluten-free does not mean going carb-free or grain-free. There are plenty of whole grains that contain carbs but not gluten, for example, quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice. Also, gluten can show up in pretty unexpected places such as soy sauce, candy bars, salad dressings etc. Oats, if not labelled gluten-free, might contain some gluten because of cross-contamination.
I recommend sticking to naturally gluten-free foods—fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. And when buying packaged gluten-free foods, double-check the label for sugar content, additives and sodium as sometimes these could be very high in such foods.
What does gluten do to your body?
Even if you do not have celiac disease, you might have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. This is known as Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and for those suffering from it, consuming gluten can cause a slew of negative effects including:
- Abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, ulcerative colitis, acid reflux, abdominal stress, constipation or diarrhoea
- Brain fog
- Mood changes including anxiety, anger prangs and feeling low
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Frequent headaches
- Skin allergy issues including eczema, rashes, dermatitis
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Autism and ADHD
- Possibly a higher risk for neurological and psychiatric diseases, including Alzheimer’s, dementia and schizophrenia
Former world number 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic suffered regular mid-match collapses, including breathing difficulties and lack of strength and was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. His symptoms were a result of an imbalance in his digestive system which was triggered by the ingestion of gluten.
Some people, on the other hand, have celiac disease which is the most serious form of allergy to gluten. This is an autoimmune condition and consuming gluten for such people can be dangerous. Gluten can damage the lining of the intestine, causing malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies and other symptoms like weight loss, malnutrition, fatigue and rashes. One in 100 people suffer from celiac disease and most of them are unaware of it as sometimes they can be asymptomatic.
Gluten and modern diet
There is a slow increase in awareness in the medical profession of the symptoms, advances in diagnostic techniques, and an understanding throughout the healthcare sector of the remedial value of a gluten-free diet in various chronic health issues.
Once considered rare, gluten intolerance is becoming more prevalent today. In the same period, we have moved away from a fresh and natural diet to a genetically modified and heavily processed one. Modern wheat is the product of genetic manipulations by geneticists and agribusiness through the green revolution and is not well tolerated by many people.
How to test for gluten intolerance?
One way to test for NCGS is to remove it from your diet for a week or two and note how you feel. When Djokovic tried a new gluten-free diet on the recommendation of his doctor, he immediately felt more energetic and slept better than before. After reintroducing gluten, he felt sluggish and dizzy and could feel the negative impact. He then switched permanently to a gluten-free diet and it produced amazing results in his fitness, energy levels and health and his mental clarity and focus. He went on to become one of the best athletes in the game of tennis.
There are gluten allergy/celiac disease tests that are available which help identify various forms of allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat. Drop us an email if you suspect that you might be gluten sensitive and want to learn more.
Benefits of a gluten-free diet
Gluten sensitivity creates inflammation in the human body and has wide-ranging health consequences affecting your gut, brain, heart, joints, digestive system and more. This can cause several health issues listed above. A gluten-free diet is a great way to reduce inflammation, improve gut function, lose weight, and improve mood and energy.
Amaranth, Arrowroot, Bean flours, Buckwheat, Corn, Fava beans, Flaxseed, Millet and Quinoa are some of the gluten-free grains, flours and starches. For a comprehensive list of gluten-free and gluten-containing foods, get in touch with us.
Can gluten-free diet be unhealthy?
As gluten-free diets gain popularity, you have to be conscious of your choices when embarking on this diet. Several gluten-free foods sold in supermarkets are highly processed, with high sugar content. They also raise blood sugar levels and contribute to inflammation, which is the root cause of many chronic health diseases.
Some gluten-free foods are also cooked in processed vegetable oils and trans-fats, which also contribute to inflammation. Also, since people consider these foods as healthy, they end up eating more of it piling on extra calories.
A Gluten-Free Recipe
Gluten free cookies
- ½ cup tahini ( or nut butter)
- ¼ cup raw honey (to taste)
- ½ cup rice flour
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- ½ cup dried coconut
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Pinch of salt
- In a bowl add the dry ingredients and mix well.
- Add the wet ingredients and combine together to form the dough.
- Scoop into small balls and place on a lined baking tray.
- Flatten each ball slightly to form a cookie. Allow space as they will spread out a little when cooking.
- Bake at 160-180 deg C for Approx. 15 minutes.
Remove from the tray when cool.
I would love to hear from you about your favorite gluten-free recipes. Email us or post on my Facebook page. If you think others might benefit from this article, please share it on social media.
You can also watch my interview on Channel News Asia discussing gluten in detail.
If you suspect you are gluten intolerant and want to learn more about symptoms of gluten allergy, how to test, you can contact us below:
Dr Menka Gupta
IFMCP, MSc, MBBS
Share this post