New food and diet trends keep popping up very often these days. And you might have definitely come across the term ‘gluten-free’ at least a few times. Have you wondered what it actually is? Usually, people follow a gluten-free diet when they have a celiac disease. Still, many people have taken up this trend even if they don’t have such issues. Consuming gluten-free foods is the fad now. But, what is this gluten? And, do we really need to not eat it?
Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. It is a composition of storage proteins called prolamins. Gluten provides the elasticity to hold the food products together. But, consumption of high amounts of gluten can lead to bloating, pain in the stomach and other digestive disorders. Thus, people are switching to gluten-free food. People also confuse the protein in oats, avenin, etc. as gluten; but, that is not so.
Here’s the basic thing that we need to get a clear idea about. Corn, rice, soy, buckwheat, millet, potato starch, plain spices, oat gum, vinegar, milk, butter, pure cheese, plain yoghurt, eggs – these are some basic food products that are assumed to contain gluten but actually don’t. Foods like barley, wheat (in all forms), rye, licorice, malt, breaded or floured meat are strictly placed under the gluten-containing food items.
The modern day diets have become very much refined and that has led to the increase in the intake of gluten. But the sensitivity to gluten varies from one individual to another. While some show minor side-effects like pain and cramps, others can develop a condition called celiac disease that prohibits consumption of gluten for life.
The celiac disease is an auto-immune disease that lasts a lifetime. The body is reactive to gluten and it causes an immune reaction to the lining of the small intestine which leads to diarrhea, nausea, headache, anemia, hair loss, bloating, wind and constipation. Since these symptoms are so common, the diagnosis of the disease becomes a tedious task.
Putting aside all the adverse effects it causes, it also has some very fine uses of its own. The softness and elasticity of the products increases with more gluten content that makes chewing easier. It improves the overall protein content of the food product. Gluten serves as “imitation meat” when dipped in water. It absorbs all the water and becomes soft to chew. The protein content of pet foods is also increased by adding gluten. Also, gluten is used in cosmetics and hair products.
Besides, if not cautious, a gluten-free diet can lack essential vitamins, minerals and fibre. Just perceiving gluten-free as healthy without any supporting evidence is not a good idea. It’s better to research well before taking up gluten-free lifestyle. On the other hand, people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or related allergies have no other choice, so it’s essential they go gluten-free.
Since wheat and its products are so widely used, making the diet completely gluten-free can be a very difficult task. But, one thing that can be done is checking the labels and the ingredient list to ensure there is no gluten – not even in disguise. Nowadays, there are so many available substitutes for gluten making it a bit easy for the dieters.
Being gluten-free can also mean that one might go low on various important nutrients. So, to ensure that doesn’t happen, foods that are high in fiber-content, vitamin B, iron and folic acid must be taken. Some of the best sources are beef, potato, quinoa, cauliflower, beans, lentils, yeast, broccoli, corn flour and fish.
Too much or too little of some things is always bad, and gluten is exactly one of those things. By maintaining a good diet-chart and following some safety measures, gluten can be perfectly avoided while getting balanced nutrition. So it’s up to you to decide what works best for you. What’s your take on ‘gluten-free’?
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