Unfolding the Gluten-free Diet

Gluten is a protein that you will find in grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. A gluten-free diet recommends avoiding these grains and suggests alternatives to make your diet healthier. Unlike other fad diets that aim for weight loss or weight gain, this diet is primarily designed for those who are highly sensitive to gluten or are suffering from celiac disease. But, the gluten-free diet has been gaining attention of many fitness enthusiasts in recent times. According to a 2015 survey by Gallup, 21 percent of Americans actively include gluten-free foods in their diet. So, what is it that is making the gluten-free diet so popular? Is this diet really beneficial even for those not suffering from any gluten sensitivity? Read on to know more about the gluten-free diet and find out if switching over to it would be advantageous. 

For whom is the gluten-free diet?

The gluten-free diet is predominantly for those suffering from – 

  • Celiac disease – An autoimmune disorder or a chronic digestive disorder that is caused due to an immune reaction to gluten which damages the inner lining of the small intestine and prevents the absorption of nutrients and minerals over a period of time.
  • Wheat allergy – A reaction caused as the immune system mistakes gluten to be a disease-causing virus or bacteria, forming an antibody in response that leads to breathing difficulties. 
  • Gluten Ataxia – Another autoimmune disorder, wherein your body’s immune system attacks the nervous system upon intake of gluten.   
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – You will not experience damage to the tissues of your small intestine, but you will have symptoms related to celiac disease such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.  

How to Follow the Gluten-free Diet?

Following the gluten-free diet is no rocket science, but if you are someone with gluten intolerance then you have to carefully pick your food. Avoiding gluten to the T can be a little challenging as this protein can be found in most of the foods of the modern diet. As mentioned earlier, wheat, rye, barley, and triticale are the main sources of gluten. Malt and brewer’s yeast are two other ingredients that carry the protein. 

An effective way of following the gluten-free diet is by knowing what foods to keep away from your plate. Here is a list for you to follow.

  • All wheat-based bread and pasta
  • Bakery products like cookies, cakes, muffins, bread crumbs, pastries and pizza
  • Snacks including packaged foods, flavored chips, popcorn, candy, roasted nuts and muesli bars
  • Flavored alcoholic drinks and beer
  • Sauces, salad dressings and vegetables in sauce
  • Some cereals
  • Over-the-counter medications and prescribed medicines

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but you may be advised to avoid having them, as many times, they might be contaminated by gluten, having been processed in wheat-based food factories. 

While you should always check the food label to know if the ingredient is gluten-free, one of the simplest ways to keep gluten at bay is by eating unprocessed foods. Here are the food items that should fill up your plate while following the gluten-free diet. 

  • Meats, eggs, and fish
  • Dairy products, except for flavored items that might contain gluten
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Vegetable oils and unprocessed butter
  • Starches including potatoes and corn
  • Different flours such as corn flour, soy flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour and almond flour
  • Grains like quinoa, rice, millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum, buckwheat and arrowroot
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices to add taste
  • Almost all beverages except for beer and flavored drinks

What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet?

A few advantages of following the gluten-free diet are as given below.

  • The gluten-free diet helps in dealing with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. According to a study, following a GFD also assists in reducing the antibody levels that cause chronic inflammation in celiac disease. 
  • People suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity with digestive symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain, usually experience relief after following the gluten-free diet.  
  • Today, many opt for the gluten-free diet, believing that it helps them with weight loss. But, it is important to note that you might lose weight while following the gluten-free diet because you eliminate most of the junk and packaged foods from your dietary plans.
  • It has been observed that people who suffer from celiac disease, usually feel very tired and worn out. But, by following the gluten-free diet, you might experience a boost in your energy levels. Although there is no hard evidence to support this claim, it can be assumed that the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, as against the reduced intake of junk and processed foods, might reduce the fatigue you generally experience. 

What are the drawbacks of gluten-free diet?

While the gluten-free diet may seem all advantageous, it does have some drawbacks as mentioned below. 

  • Whole wheat bread and barley are two food items that are primarily found in western diets but are restricted by the gluten-free diet. Since these are fiber-rich foods, there is a possibility of experiencing a shortage of fiber while following this diet which might further lead to constipation. To compensate this inadequacy, you must eat plenty o fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lentils that are a rich source of fiber. 
  • You may experience a few nutritional deficiencies while following the gluten-free diet. A study shows that this diet mainly causes a deficiency of B vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and folic acid. You might also have to keep a check on your vitamin D, iron, and calcium levels while sticking to the gluten-free diet.
  • Followers of the gluten-free diet usually fall prey to overeating “gluten-free” labeled cookies, pastries, and cakes which might cause weight gain. As these foods can add many calories to your diet, you should be cautious of avoiding them.

The gluten-free diet might be exclusively drafted for those suffering from celiac disease, but there is no harm for others to consider it as a healthy way of eating. But, it is equally important to consider the challenges that are a part and parcel of the diet. Following this diet while you are away from home, or the expenses that one might have to bear for this diet, are a few things to contemplate before deciding to opt for the gluten-free diet.      

About the Author : Ketki H is a wandering soul who loves travelling solo, and firmly believes in enjoying the journey rather than hurrying to the destination. Although a graduate in Mechanical Engineering, she took to writing for reaching the masses.

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