We live in a world of fad diets… It’s become like fashion, with black “in” this season and green “in” next season. One of the latest trends is “gluten-free”.
A client recently said to me, “I’m not really sure what gluten is, but it’s bad, right?”.
Really, before we pick up on trendy fads or the latest catch phrases and declare them to be good or bad, we must at least make an attempt to educate ourselves a little bit. Especially, when it comes to something as important as health.
Gluten, in simple terms, is a protein that naturally occurs in several grains, especially wheat and barley (jav), amongst others. Of course, that also means it is present in foods containing or processed from foods processed these grains. Gluten is responsible for giving elasticity, structure and texture to dough — while kneading the chapati dough, the stretchy texture is caused by gluten.
In addition to natural occurrence in these grains, gluten is also often added to many processed foods, used in cooking as an additive and even forms part of the recipe for cosmetics.
Lots of people are confused about how exactly gluten works and it surely is complicated.
Gluten-free diets were originally planned for people with celiac disease (it is an abnormal immune response to gluten, which can damage the lining of the small intestine, resulting in malabsorption of many nutrients). Unfortunately, there are many people who test negative for celiac disease but may experience a condition called gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. On consuming gluten they experience one or more signs such asbloating, indigestion, fatigue, flu-like symptoms and overall sluggishness. However, there is no real test for gluten sensitivity at this time, and the symptoms may be related to other issues, including stress (who doesn’t have that?!), making it more complicated.
Also, this is a genuine problem for an increasing number of people. It’s not a new-fangled western import of a disease. It’s always existed; it’s just increasingly recognised as a genuine medical problem in India, unlike in the past, where some of the explanations of the physical symptoms from gluten consumption included being possessed by an evil spirit!
Many people believe that a gluten-free diet is healthier and it also helps with substantial weight loss. That may or may not be true, depending on an individual’s metabolism. However, going gluten-free is a lot more than just giving up wheat. It means saying no to a whole lot of foods. That list includes the obvious temptations like chapatis, pasta, bread, biscuits, cakes, cookies and beer. Some not-so-obvious foods may also be on the “no” list, depending on how they’re made, including ketchup, ice cream, chocolates, noodles, etc.
So, giving up gluten may be a good thing, but it’s not going to be easy. Are you still up for it?
If so, technically, these forbidden foods will probably get replaced with more veggies, meat, eggs and other gluten-free grains, like rice, corn, soy, sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. All this increases fibre, satiety, energy levels, regulates blood sugar and insulin levels eventually helping in weight loss, so that’s good. Unfortunately, going gluten free can also increase cravings and consumption of junk such as starch, chips and corn which can result in weight gain and a reduced intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
Just like there is no one simple rule to weight loss and health, similarly, just going gluten free isn’t the answer either. Balance, quality and quantity are critical — that never changes. I’ve seen people trade white pasta for quinoa, but still eat portions that are far too large. Others believe its okay to eat unlimited amounts of food if it is gluten-free (like fruit and nuts and cheese). No surprises that neither group will see any positive results.
If you have celiac disease (if you suspect you should get tested) you absolutely must avoid gluten. Consult with an allergist for gluten allergy or a gastroenterologist for celiac disease. But if you think you may be gluten intolerant, discuss it with your nutritionist. Get yourself a plan with no gluten, and monitor how you feel. Sometimes, I challenge many of my clients to try and go gluten-free for few weeks, just to give them a glimpse of what it entails and observe symptoms of well-being and weight loss. But unless, they have celiac disease, I would only advise them to control their gluten intake and not eliminate it completely.
The single most important thing you can do is to strive for a healthy, balanced, whole food diet, the true keys to both optimal health and weight loss. Going gluten free is the current rage and I will not recommend it to anyone, unless they have a genuine medical problem with it. So, before you jump onto the latest health bandwagon, why not try something simple like exercise? If you don’t have to, you don’t need to live a life without pizza, beer and birthday cakes! Stay Healthy.