Dr. Moyna Vakil



“Gluten-free” is one of the increasingly popular food trends in recent times. More and more food packets at a grocery store feature a “gluten-free” label and so do food items on a restaurant menu. Now, the essential question here is – is it rightly so? And why is it necessary?
Firstly, let us understand what gluten is and how it affects our health. 
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. It is also used as an additive in a wide range of packaged and prepared foods since it works as a filler and also helps food adhere and retain its shape, acting as glue. Gluten is present in a large variety of foods, most of them being a common part of the diet like roti, bread, pasta, cereals, sauces, dressings, semolina to name a few.
Gluten intolerance:
Recent studies lay emphasis on gut health as the most important aspect which affects almost everything from mental health to hair health. “You are what you can digest” is the new health norm. So now the question is can you digest gluten? 
While a gluten intolerance is seen in a number of people, it is undiagnosed in most. This is because it can range from very mild to severe and therefore becomes difficult to diagnose in very mild cases. Immediately noticeable symptoms are indigestion, bloating, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, and constipation or diarrhoea. There is not much medicine can do to rectify gluten intolerance, but it’s mainly about correcting your diet and nutrition. Gluten-free diets have shown to benefit a large number of people reversing smaller digestive issues to major issues like hair loss.
One of the most important autoimmune disorders associated with gluten intolerance is Celiac disease. Let us understand what is Celiac disease :
Celiac Disease: Gluten intolerance causes the body to react to gluten with an immune response, triggering widespread inflammation and severe damage to the villi (finger-like projections) found in the lining of the small intestine. Damage to the villi limits the small intestine’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Malabsorption leading to a deficiency in these nutrients can cause many health problems. Celiac disease or gluten intolerance goes undiagnosed for years in some people, leading to overgrowth of harmful bacteria and damage to the intestine, which also causes malabsorption and deficiencies leading to signs like unexplained weight loss, hair loss and poor immunity.
Gluten intolerance is usually undiagnosed in most. When all remedies for indigestion fail, people tend to switch to a gluten-free diet only to see magical results in their general health. This is the most common way people tend to find out about gluten intolerance. For a confirmed diagnosis of tTG-IgA, a blood test can be done.
If not gluten, then what? Options for a gluten-free diet:
These days more and more people are opting to go for a gluten-free diet regardless of proven gluten intolerance simply because the benefits of a gluten-free diet for your general health are wonderful. Going on a gluten-free diet may sound simple but can be challenging considering the presence of gluten in a number of food items that we eat daily and in a lot of packaged and prepared foods too. The good news is, though difficult, following a gluten-free diet can help heal your intestine in weeks and eventually with time you will see your hair starting to grow back.
A gluten-free diet means avoiding any foods that contain wheat, rye or barley. This means removing a number of basic daily food items like roti, bread, pasta, semolina and durum to name a few. What we tend to miss is the gluten in packaged and processed foods like soy, sauces, dressings, biscuits, pastries and other baked goods. Gluten is found in so many items that we would be surprised to know about it. This is where reading labels on food items come into play. Now don’t be fooled by phrases like “gluten-free”, “low gluten” or “not made with not made with gluten-containing ingredients” written in bold or flashed across the packet. Read the labels carefully to make sure that there is no gluten or cross-contact with gluten in any ingredients.
Though a gluten-free diet may put a stop to many of your favourite and easily available items, there is still a wide range of options available like whole grains and their flours (like quinoa, rice, jowar, bajra, corn, amaranth, arrowroot, gluten-free oats),  meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts and seeds.
The benefits of a gluten-free diet are that it makes you include options like various millets- foxtail millet, pearl millet, finger millet, little millet to name a few. 
A gluten-free diet that includes a variety of millets helps:
  • Helps in weight loss
  • Controls blood sugar levels
  • Is good for the heart
  • Battles cancer cells
  • Improves digestion and makes you free from symptoms of gluten intolerance like bloating, flatulence, indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea.
 So to conclude: Weigh your pros and cons. Gluten intolerance is not proven in all. If you are one of those people who feels full or uneasy after a basic roti subzi meal, then try eliminating gluten from your diet and see the change. Also, if you are trying to lose weight or recover from any illness, reducing gluten and adding millets to your diet is a good idea. If wheat or gluten suits you, you can have it. The thing to remember here is that though gluten works for you, do not forget to include other grains like rice, barley, jowar, ragi and others in your diet as they have so many benefits and they add diversity to the diet. A healthy, wholesome well-balanced diet and a good lifestyle is the key to great health.



Dr. Moyna Vakil (Nutritionist and Dietician)

(B.H.M.S, Diploma in Nutrition & Dietetics)

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