Unless you've been living on Mars for the last few years, chances are you've heard all about gluten free diets. But health professionals argue that even as gluten intolerance is a real medical condition, it is important to separate the wheat from the chaff—literally and figuratively—as the debate with regards to its pros and cons rages on.
The good news? We finally have more information and research into a previously little known and largely underestimated condition. The not so good news: everyone and their uncle suddenly seems to be gluten intolerant. More often than not, the gluten intolerant are not really so—confusing another condition with gluten intolerance. And thereby hangs a tale.
To narrate a long story in short: gluten is a protein primarily found in wheat, barley and rye. If you have gluten allergy, the symptoms include gassiness, diarrhea, abdominal pain and more. A related, albeit distinct condition is celiac disease—a lifelong, serious autoimmune disease caused by an immune system that can't tolerate wheat or wheat products in any form.
Pune-based nutritonist Sujata Gohil points out: "Gluten intolerance can often manifest itself through chronic conditions like celiac disease which leads to malabsorption of minerals and nutrients. In such cases, a gluten free diet is imperative. A combination of naturally gluten free fresh fruit and veggies, meat, poultry, cheese and fish provides sufficient nutrition. Also, gluten free alternatives of your favourite foods like pasta, bread and crackers are now available. Millets like ragi and jowar are a tasty and intelligent choice—not only do they provide you with the essentials, but also fill you up."
However, you’re not gluten intolerant, until medically diagnosed to be so, cautions dietician Ameeta Thakur. "Also, if you are looking to lose weight—which is a different ball game altogether from not being able to tolerate wheat and wheat products, going gluten free will not necessarily help. Complex carbohydrates are an integral aspect of a balanced and nutritious meal. Sure, we might substitute the unhealthier derivatives of wheat like maida for healthier options like whole wheat flour or other millet flour, but eliminating wheat from the diet is really not necessary. At the end of the day, what you need is a diet replete with whole foods.”
For some others, going off gluten has been a lifestyle choice. Pooja Kumar, a Delhi-based entrepreneur, cut down on gluten products, along with other lifestyle changes, to deal with her irritable bowel syndrome. She has replaced wheat flour with rice flour, picks millet breads, lentils and more fresh veggies. “My health and energy levels have drastically improved,” says Kumar. Nutritionists also speak of a condition termed non-celiac gluten sensitivity—these people don’t test positive for celiac disease, but when they eat gluten, they experience bloating and gastrointestinal distress, and in some cases, it could even set off depression.
Finding the right food for you comes with plenty of trial and error. So pick what’s best for you.