These days, I often come across people who say ‘I am off gluten’ or ‘I am on a gluten-free diet’. It has kind of become a fad. Let us try to understand what gluten is and whether one should stop having gluten.
Firstly, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein which is present in foods such as wheat, barley, rye and to some extent in oats. When you make a dough of wheat flour, the particles stick to each other, create a mesh-like network and give elasticity to the dough. When you roll the dough to make roti, paratha, naan or kulcha, it stretches due to the elasticity. This elasticity is a unique property of gluten. When you knead the dough, the mesh-like network traps air inside it. This air is released with the help of leavening agents such as yeast, baking soda or powder during baking. This gives a soft and spongy texture to breads, buns and cakes. This again is a property of gluten.
Coming to the second and most important question – should I give up gluten-containing foods? There are certain specific conditions where people may experience problem with the consumption of gluten. These conditions include –
- Celiac disease or Gluten-sensitive enteropathy
- Gluten allergy or wheat allergy
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease or ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
In the first two conditions i.e. celiac disease and gluten or wheat allergy, gluten consumption is completely contraindicated. In simple words, in these conditions, patients should completely avoid gluten-containing foods. Celiac diseases (CD) is an autoimmune disease (a condition where body cells start recognising themselves as foreign bodies or antigens and start attacking themselves). In CD, when a person consumes gluten, the body cells trigger the immune system that produces antibodies against the body’s own cells. These cells target the intestine and damage the intestinal cells resulting in diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and gas. They can affect other organs too leading to bone pain, muscle cramps, fatigue, seizures, skin rash and so on. Once the patients complete avoid gluten, the signs and symptoms subside and vanish. The second condition is wheresome people may have an allergy to gluten or wheat. They may also experience similar symptoms as by patients of CD; though the two conditions differ in their pathology.
Disorders of the intestine such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s diseases patients may have symptomatic relief after going on a gluten-free diet.Patients with these intestinal conditions experience abdominal pain, irregular bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps and bloating. In addition to this, patients with inflammatory bowel disease may also develop ulcers and have intestinal bleeding. Some patients may be relieved from these symptoms when they exclude gluten from their diet. Whether exclusion from gluten benefits them or not differs from individual to individual. There is no general rule.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a group of neurological disorders which is diagnosed in early childhood. Children with ASD or autism have issues with social interaction, communication and behaviour. Recent research studies support the use of gluten-free casein-free diet(GFCF) for children with autism. This type of a diet may help in improving communication, attention, social interaction, motor co-ordination and hyperactivity behaviour. Casein is a protein present in dairy foods. These children often suffer from certain digestive issues such as reflux or regurgitation, constipation and infections. GFCF diet is seen to improve the bacterial environment in the intestine by promoting the growth of friendly bacteria which aids in reducing the digestive tract issues.
There is some scientific evidence that suggests that rice was better in reducing the blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes as compared to chapati. However, this area of research is in a nascent stage. Further research is needed to ascertain this finding.
Besides, the above discussed conditions, there is no scientific evidence to support that a gluten-free diet may help in any other disease condition.
Paharia, N.V. and Ray, K.S., 2017. Glycaemic and Insulin Response to Equi-Quantity of Selected Common Indian Staples in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 11(3), p.OC47.
Authors Bio – Mitravinda is a Nutritionist at DietChart with a doctoral degree in Food Science and Nutrition. She is a teacher, researcher and an author. Her passion for the subject prompted her to start writing blogs on various nutrition-related topics such as diet chart for weight loss, How to control hair fall, How to get rid of pimple marks etc. Through her blogs, she wishes to help people gain a deeper understanding about the relationship between food, nutrition, lifestyle and health.