Today we cover one of very popular diets which is quickly becoming common in India too: The Gluten Free diet. So before going deep into its effectiveness let us first understand what is gluten? Well, Gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley and rye. Thus products made using these grains or their processed flours are not gluten free. So now hoping you will not behave like the guy in the pic, let us move on to why gluten free eating has emerged lately. In case you don’t want to get into scientific terms and research links, feel free to scroll directly to “How can you diagnose yourself” section.
Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy and Gluten Sensitivity:
Around 1% of the population suffers from Celiac disease and ingesting gluten on a regular basis perforates their intestines and triggers an autoimmune response. Wheat allergy (<1% of general population) can include other allergens contained in wheat grain which can cause nausea, skin issues etc. In case you’re wondering, you’d know by now if you have one of these medical conditions.
However what is hard to diagnose is Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) which was hardly researched upon till 2005. You may be having it and live your entire life without knowing it. It is hard to diagnose people with gluten sensitivity because it results in a mild inflammation in your mucosa (internal lining of intestines). In addition to causing gastrointestinal problems similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it is claimed to be related with sore joints, autism and schizophrenia. A detailed research review on correlations with various disorders can be read here.
Many nutritionists claimed that gluten sensitivity only exist in the minds of people following a gluten free diet but research does confirm its existence as a distinct clinical condition. Also, an Italian clinic survey involving more than 400 patients revealed that women, adults and people with relatives who have celiac disease are at greater risk.
Where the skepticism comes from for gluten sensitivity is its prevalence which is hard to measure and people who enthusiastically start following gluten free diet without diagnosing themselves. An Australian research review cites many studies which calculate prevalence among general population in the range of 3-6% on the basis of available data. A Neuropathy study related bio-markers similar to that in gluten sensitive people and found that prevalence to be in the range of 12% to 29% of general population. As you can see, there is no consensus on this topic as of now.
How can you diagnose yourself:
Regardless of the probability, all we know now is that you may be gluten sensitive and the best way to test it is to eat gluten free for 3-4 weeks. This is the standard time used in studies for differentiating. If you feel like you have better digestion or less constipated or less gassy then you may very well be gluten sensitive and it’s best to eliminate gluten completely in your diet (Eating products containing gluten once in a while will still trigger similar inflammatory response so Bye Bye Cupcakes!). A good time to initiate testing yourself is starting with Navratri vrat (you cannot eat any grain for 9 days anyway) and then just extend it for 2 more weeks to see if it brings a positive change.
Why it really works:
All studies and medical nomenclature aside, if you really want to know why gluten free diet works and why so many westerners swear by it then just think of all the food you need to eliminate, especially ones made from wheat. No Pizzas, no burgers, no kachoris, no paranthas. No vadapavs, cookies, muffins, biscuits, bread, maggie noodles, pasta or samosas. You are literally eliminating all the junk food prevalent in India. Dearth of options will lead you to eat veggies, fruits, dairy, eggs and meat; the basic pillars of clean eating. No wonder it works, right?
To conclude everything, gluten free diet is not just a fad and is a healthier option for a certain minor section of people sensitive to it. It need not be followed by everyone as whole grains are a good source of many nutrients but if you are replacing it as your first step towards clean eating by eliminating junk food, there’s no stopping you. Viva la Vida, Amigo!
In Lucem Scientiam