The gluten-free diet is all the rage these days. It has got celebs and nutrition experts equally raving about its many health benefits. It has brought back the focus on forgotten food grains or ancient grains like millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. Everything from pasta to rotis is doing away with wheat and refined flour as their primary ingredient. Over the last 30 years, the demand for gluten-free foods has increased significantly. Many factors including aggressive marketing, media coverage and medical literature have contributed to this mania. But what does it mean to be gluten-free? What are its benefits? Is it only a fad or does it have science-backed benefits? We’re here to answer all your questions. Keep reading if you’ve been contemplating about going gluten-free.
What is Gluten?
Ever wondered what made aata or dough so stretchy? It’s the gluten content. Gluten is a mixture of two proteins – prolamins and glutemins – which give grains like wheat its elastic texture. It makes your cakes and bread chewy.
Grains such as wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. But even everyday items like cosmetics and medicines can sometimes have traces of the protein. Is Aashirvaad Atta Safe? It’s Not Plastic, But Gluten Says ITC, Files FIR against Malicious Videos.
But the protein is often named as a causative agent in diseases like celiac disease and gluten ataxia. But even those without these illnesses have been going gluten-free for health reasons.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity is the allergy to products that contain the protein. There’s a lot of clinical evidence that reveals the link between diet and irritable bowel syndrome. Diets low in fats, carbohydrates and gluten have been known to improve symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, bowel movements and fatigue.
According to Gluten Intolerance Group, gluten sensitivity is often poorly understood and no biomarkers have been identified so far. To diagnose whether one has gluten sensitivity, doctors will have to rule out both celiac disease and wheat allergy, because the symptoms can overlap.
What Are The Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet?
Improved Stomach Health
IBS or irritable bowel syndrome refers to a set of symptoms related to the gastrointestinal system – stomach ache, bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation and gas.
Studies have shown that going gluten-free helps ease some of these symptoms. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that gastric symptoms worsened when participants ate gluten daily for six weeks.
If you have stomach troubles, going gluten-free might help your gastric health.
Reduced Endometriosis Pain and Chronic Pelvic Pain
Endometriosis is a chronic uterine condition, which causes severe debilitating pain in women in the menstrual age. Since it’s an inflammatory condition, going off gluten will help reduce some of the inflammation in the body and reduce some of the pain.
Two studies have checked the effects of a gluten-free diet in women with endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain. Both the studies showed that the subjects experienced reduced pain after being on a gluten-free diet for 6 and 12 months respectively. High Gluten Diet During Pregnancy Increases Diabetes Risk in Children.
Improved Energy Levels
Being on a gluten-free diet can bring some improvements in your energy levels. People often report feeling sluggish and tired after eating gluten-rich foods like bread, cake, pancakes and other baked snacks.
Fatigue is one of the signs of gluten intolerance. Other digestive symptoms like diarrhoea only add to it. The mal-absorption caused by celiac diseases causes malnutrition and anaemia, which worsens the fatigue.
When gluten is eliminated from the diet, one can feel more energised than before.
Improved Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Fibromyalgia is a disorder which causes musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, memory and mood disorders. A 2011 study showed that the painful condition can be ameliorated to a great extent by going gluten-free. A recent 2017 study also concluded on the same lines, saying that the effects of a gluten-free diet lasted six months, making placebo effect less likely.
Reduced Autism Symptoms
Autism, a developmental disorder that impairs communication skills, could be one of the disorders that could benefit from a gluten-free diet. Research has proven that eliminating gluten helped in reducing symptoms of autism in children even when used alone.
A study in Nutritional Neuroscience showed that autism symptoms could be brought in control while following a gluten-free, casein-free diet. A 2016 study in the World Journal of Pediatrics showed that going off gluten could help control Autism Spectrum Behaviours.
Whether you are gluten sensitive or not, a little weight loss won’t harm. A 2014 study confirmed the weight-loss properties of a gluten-free diet. The study focused on the effects of the diet on obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk. Going gluten-free had an impact on the subjects’ weight and waist size.
While there are benefits galore, it’s important to look at some of the disadvantages of going gluten-free. Studies have found that many gluten-free foods may be deficient in many nutrients like fibre, folate, iron, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Other studies have also found that gluten-free foods may also have higher levels of lipids, trans fat, protein and salt compared to foods containing gluten.
It’s also expensive to follow a gluten-free diet since most products may charge a premium. A 2008 study by Stevens and Rashid revealed that gluten-containing foods were 242 percent more expensive than regular ones!
Social and psychological impact of going gluten-free is also a reality. A gluten-free diet requires utmost persistence and dedication. It asks for a complete change in diet and lifestyle, which could trigger social isolation and negative psychological impacts. Dining out with friends and family will become more stressful.
Studies have found that if a person is reluctant to comply with a gluten-free diet for health purposes, he or she may be resentful.