When things around us seem gloomy and boring we seek to bring some life and spice into it, but when the same happens in the food industry, it gives rise to a series of fads and misconceptions. One amongst such devious marketing strategies of food manufacturers are demonizing Gluten.

We hear a lot about gluten-free food products and its unparalleled health benefits. But before we buy into that, let's dig deeper into the framework of gluten and gluten-free to get a better understanding of the relevance and workings of gluten.

What is Gluten? Where is it found?

It is a protein complex found in wheat, barley, and rye of the grain family. After kneading the refined wheat flour and keeping it aside for some time, the dough gets sticky and elastic. This is because of gluten.

There are two major components found in gluten – gliadin, and glutenin, which on hydrating makes the dough rubbery and elastic. This property has also built the foundation and the popularity of using refined flour in the baking industry.

Wheat is a staple food across many countries in the world. It is particularly popular in the Northern parts of India and has become an inevitable part of our diets. Wheat products like wheat bread, semolina, broken wheat (Dalia), vermicelli, spaghetti, biscuits, muesli, pancakes, pasta, noodles, pies, pastries, pizza, cakes, cookies, muffins, rolls, doughnuts, etc. are examples of various food items that have gluten as a major constituent.

Nutritionally speaking, wheat is a proteinaceous and energy-dense food, filled with micro-nutrients like niacin, choline, dietary folate, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium in high amounts. Wheat is rich in fiber and provides satiety, making it the best food type to share space with other food groups on our plate.

Gluten-free diet = weight loss?

Despite being a highly nutritious food, wheat and gluten found in it has become the most speculated aspect of the health industry. It has gained a bad-rap, blind-folding several of us to go on a gluten-free diet spree.

Marketing strategies by the Food & Beverages industry does not leave any stone unturned to launch and increase the demand for their product in the market. One such approach is the dubious linkage of gluten-free products to weight loss. Want to lose the extra kilos? Try our gluten-free diet and reach your dream weight! We often come across these kinds of statements, especially as a part of the slimming and weight loss programs.

High time this myth is busted and we get our facts right about gluten which is a protein and not a Carbohydrate (food group). Leaving no logical reason to blame gluten solely for weight gain. No scientific or clinical evidence conclusively proves consuming gluten-free foods results in permanent weight loss.

When our diet comprises primarily of processed foods and we binge on foods made with gluten-containing grains, for ex: wheat-pizza, burger, sandwich, pastries, cookies, etc., that also contain other ingredients that are high in fats, salt, simple carbohydrates added sugars, and preservatives, these in combination act as obstacles on your journey of going from fat to fit. These are the foods to avoid from our daily diet, and not just gluten, to help with weight loss and management.

On cheat days consuming freshly prepared gluten-containing products like roti, paratha, upma, dalia, Rawa dosa, wheat bread, etc. are way healthier options when compared to consuming pre-packaged foods made with additional ingredients that are a sure-fire way to undermine our efforts at weight loss.

Can eating gluten cause harm to our body?

For a limited group of the population consuming gluten may prove harmful. Our human body is a beautifully complex machine that functions in synchrony, and occasionally comes up with a process within, that does not synchronize with the normal bodily functions. One of such deviations from the normal is the Celiac disease that results from an immune reaction to consuming gluten.

In people managing the celiac condition, their immune cells consider gluten as a toxic invader and start battling against it, resulting in chronic diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, fatigue, low blood count, etc. that further leads to intestinal damage. This also causes malnutrition as there is a malabsorption of nutrients in the gut because it is severely inflamed. Thus, going gluten-free is the only option for Celiac patients, as consuming any kind of gluten-containing products may prove fatal.

There are several people who find themselves having allergic responses to gluten. They experience mild symptoms like a rash, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, etc. This condition is termed as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), which should not be misinterpreted as celiac disease. Unlike celiac disease, there is no inflammation of the immune system in NCGS. To treat NCGS, one can either restrict the consumption of gluten products or omit them completely based on the severity of their symptoms.

Gluten and inflammation

Remember the discomfort experienced when a splinter got stuck in your finger? The pain, redness, and swelling we experience until we pull it out are just painful. This uncomfortable experience is Inflammation. In the case of a splinter, it is the outer layer of the skin that gets inflamed.

Inflammation inside the body is caused by an unattended external wound, by a foreign particle, or by consumption of certain types of foods. Long-term unchecked inflammation within the body may result in chronic inflammatory conditions like Arthritis, PCOS, Celiac sprue, Hepatitis, kidney disorders, etc. In the case of the celiac disease, it is the geladin found in gluten that causes the inflammation of the gut.

Excessive consumption of table sugar and High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) used in sweetened beverages, chocolates, ice creams, etc., alcoholic beverages, refined and processed flours, trans fats are few of the culprits responsible for producing inflammation within the body.

Based on animal experimentation evidence, researchers have put forth the theory of gluten increasing the inflammation levels in people who are already prone to chronic inflammatory conditions. This does not conclude as a set rule for every individual and varies from person to person, depending on their health conditions.
Thus, people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions should try to reduce their gluten intake rather than completely avoiding it, to best manage their inflammatory conditions. What they should avoid eating are processed foods.

Food fads and Diet fads

‘We are what we eat’ - as our home kitchens are packed with anti-bacterial foods and immune boosters, which are capable of fighting dreadful diseases like malignant tumors, inflammation, and auto-immune disorders to name a few. Removing few ingredients from our diet and blaming one food group and/or its constituents for all our ailments is not a bright move.

The next time you come across a food fad, pause and question its relevance. Any types of crash diets, fad diets, or food group elimination strategies do not serve the purpose of weight management or loss. A holistic approach to balanced nutrition, physical exercise, and emotional well-being is the only way to attain and maintain a healthy body for a happy life.

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This article was written by the Fitday Nutrition team. For any questions, comments and clarifications please email us at care@fitday.in.

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