Gluten And The Myths Around It

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
July 15, 2020

In recent years, there has been a popular discussion about whether a gluten-free diet is a healthy choice or not? Will avoiding gluten help in losing weight, boosting energy levels and making one healthy? Let’s try understanding it a little better.

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye etc. It acts as a binder to keep certain foods together. Oats in itself doesn’t contain gluten, although it may be added while processing. Certain medications contain gluten as well. The grains and other gluten-containing foods provide essential nutrients, such as vitamin B, folic acid, zinc, iron and fibre. One needs a properly balanced diet to replace these nutrients if on a gluten-free diet. 

There are people for whom a gluten-free diet is not an option but mandatory. Like people suffering from Celiac disease, an inflammatory autoimmune disease, in which consumption of gluten-containing foods can cause inflammation of the intestines. Similarly, for non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) cases where people don’t have celiac disease but are intolerant towards gluten-containing foods. 

But other than people with such medical conditions, is a gluten-free diet a healthier option for everyone? Is gluten harmful to the body? This article will tell you more about it.

There are many gluten-free foods such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Unprocessed beans, peas, lentils
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fresh meats
  • Fish and poultry
  • Millet
  • Gluten-free flours 
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Most dairy products
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Flax
  • Soy
  • Potato and sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • Tapioca

Apart from these foods, there are many products available in the market labelling as ‘gluten-free’ foods and containing more vitamins and minerals than conventional foods. But the opposite could be true! One must be aware that they may not always be a healthier option than the ones with the gluten. Apart from being more expensive, they may contain added sugar and fat. Gluten-free foods are commonly less fortified with folic acid, fibre, iron and other nutrients than regular, gluten-containing foods. This is the reason that several studies showed a trend of increasing weight and obesity among those who were on a gluten-free diet. 

50-60% of your diet should constitute carbohydrates, and that is where gluten is found. Cutting out grains in gluten-free diet can eliminate some of the key sources of complex carbohydrates needed in a balanced diet.

There is no strong evidence yet that proves that a gluten-free diet will improve health and prevent disease if you don’t have celiac disease and can consume gluten without any complications.

Then why the gluten-free diet is so popular?

The probable science behind why people feel better with avoiding gluten can be it restricts many highly processed foods such as bakery items, baked foods and sugary cereals. All of these are high in sugar, fats and calories. And replacing them with healthier options like vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthier proteins can promote health, help in losing weight and increasing energy. Hence, it would be best to say that a gluten-free diet may help to improve your health, but some of the reasons may not be related to gluten.

To conclude, it is best to say if you are healthy with no medical conditions that require gluten avoidance, and there are no other symptoms relating to gluten intolerance, it is best to stop worrying about gluten. Always opt for healthy foods and not to be carried away by marketing strategies to promote gluten-free products.