When to go Gluten-free? Do not just go Gluten-free just because!
We just enjoyed our Independence Day this weekend. Let us see how we can take charge of our health and take charge of our health independently when we are suffering from either Celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten.
Let us first understand what gluten is and who needs to and would benefit from going gluten-free. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, faro, kamut, spelt, semolina, to name just a few important ones. On the other hand, there are lots of grains and beans that are gluten-free, vegetarian as well as vegan friendly and rich in plant-based proteins. For example grains like quinoa, millet, mung beans, soy, lentils, rice, sorghum, which are gaining a lot of popularity because of being gluten-free and high in plant-based proteins. They are an integral part of our products too.
People can be mildly or moderately sensitive to gluten or could have a celiac disease where they are unable to tolerate gluten even in the smallest amount. It could create an auto-immune response that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. This would lead to malabsorption of nutrients from the food, and other symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating, weight-loss, osteoporosis, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting, and in some cases also nerve damage.
People with mild or moderate sensitivity to gluten may have similar symptoms, but it would not cause damage to the intestinal lining. By going gluten-free these people could benefit to a certain extent. However, they would be able to tolerate a small amount of gluten.
There is another set of people who have started switching to gluten-free diets for no reason! These are the people who are influenced by the marketing media and have no real basis for the switch. They feel going gluten-free would help them lose weight, increase their energy levels, improve their skin, or just make them healthier. This is nothing but a myth and can eventually cause more harm than really any benefit.
It is a good idea to get yourself tested before making such a switch. A simple blood test can indicate if there are any antibodies present against the gluten protein. If antibodies are present in the blood a further test is suggested which is the biopsy of the intestine and that would confirm the diagnosis.
Once this test is confirmed and celiac or high sensitivity to gluten is confirmed, it would require a lifestyle change. You would have to get used to reading and understanding labels because a lot of food products available in the market contain gluten as an ingredient, for e.g. soy sauce, barley malt, some salad dressings, ready mixes of seasonings and spices, and some condiments to name just a few.
On the other hand, once you get used to reading and understanding the labels, it becomes easy to shop. According to the National Institute of Diabetes, 1 out of every 141 Americans suffering from celiac disease. The number of people having gluten intolerance is even higher. Therefore there more and more companies coming out with gluten-free products and hence there are a lot of options available. However, shopping for gluten-free products can get a little expensive.
Few things to keep in mind when going gluten-free:
- Going gluten-free would mean that you would be giving up on a lot of your favorite everyday foods like pasta, pizzas, bread, bagels, beer, and some foods that contain soy sauce, and certain seasonings.
- Most of the wheat products and breads available in the market that we are so used to consuming are fortified with iron, folic acid, and B vitamins. Americans have gotten used to this fact and rely on that dose of fortified vitamins and minerals. Most of the gluten-free breads and products available in the market are not fortified with these vitamins. Hence one would need to supplement their diets with these vitamins, especially folic acid.
- When going gluten-free, may also cause constipation in the beginning because your body is used to getting the fiber from whole wheat. it would be a good idea to get your proteins from plant-based sources like grains like quinoa, mung beans, millet, rice, and lentils. They are not only great choices but mixing them with rice makes them a complete protein and rich in dietary fiber and which is also very easy to digest.
- Going gluten-free will not necessarily help you lose weight. So that should not be the reason for switching. The only reason you may lose a few pounds is that you started avoiding the bagels and breads that contain made from refined flour.
- Lastly, but most importantly, you must consult your doctor before going gluten-free, and not just become gluten-free just because everyone around you is!