In the recent years, there has been increasing emphasis on gluten free diet for general improvement of health. The proponents of the gluten free diet say that this diet helps you to lose weight, make your digestive system work more efficiently which helps in overall improvement of your health. However, before you decide to switch to a gluten free diet, there are a number of things to consider.
Bear in mind that gluten is one of the most common substances found in food. If you are committed to giving up gluten, you will have to sacrifice a number of your favorite foods. This will not be worthwhile if you do not get significant benefit from the diet. So, you need to truly understand how much a gluten free diet is a fad or whether it actually has some health benefits.
The characteristics of a gluten free diet
Before analyzing the health benefits of gluten free diet, it is necessary to understand what a gluten free diet is. The characteristics are as follows:
- Gluten is a type of protein found in most cereals. Wheat, flour, oats etc naturally contain gluten. Hence, their products like spaghetti, pasta, biscuits, cookies etc also contain a high amount of gluten.
- Gluten makes the bread chewy and stretchy. It helps it to rise.
- Apart from these carbohydrates, gluten is used an as additive in many foods because it can act as a thickening agent. So, it is used in sauces, mustard, puddings, desserts, ice creams and many more.
If you are going to adopt a completely gluten free diet, here are the things that you can include in your menu:
- Non wheat cereals like rice, millets, quinoa, amaranth etc.
- All fresh fruits and vegetables.
- All lean protein provided they are not breaded or accompanied by curry.
- All legumes, nuts and berries.
- Recently launched gluten free alternatives like gluten free breads or gluten free ice creams.
As you see from the above list, in order to follow a gluten free diet, you will have to make considerable changes in your dietary habits. The change must start with a change in the shopping pattern itself. So, before you take such a drastic step, you should find out whether the health benefits of gluten make it worthwhile to completely change your food habits.
The health benefits of a gluten free diet
The health benefits of a gluten free diet vary in different situations. These are:
- If you are allergic or intolerant to gluten, a gluten free diet is going to improve your quality of life in a significant way. For this, in order to be on the safe side, you should not eat any food which contains even a very small proportion of gluten. You should also avoid as much as possible gluten free substitutes like gluten free breads, pasta or ice cream. If you switch to foods which naturally contain no gluten, you will find that all the symptoms of illness which were appearing in your body would gradually disappear.
- Headaches, tiredness and fatigue, nausea and vomiting etc will be reduced.
- Your digestive system will be able to function with greater efficiency. Hence, problems of bloating, gas, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea and fatty stool will be reduced.
- Eliminating gluten implies eliminating refined and processed foods because these contain gluten. This dietary change will help your body to obtain more nutrition and less useless calories. So, you can see a definite and quite marked change in your weight. According to the observations of a noted dietitian, you can lose between 15 and 20 pounds of weight in the first month if you truly follow a gluten free diet.
- For people with celiac disease, gluten free diet is the only option. Celiac disease is an immunity related condition where the body cannot absorb the necessary nutrients. When celiac adopt a gluten free diet, a definite health benefit is observed and the severity of the symptoms of the celiac disease begins to recede.
- What about people who do not have celiac disease or any symptoms of gluten allergy? Can a gluten free diet be beneficial for them? It is seen that even for non celiac, if you have neurological problems or autoimmune disorders like joint pain, loss of balance, brain fog etc, it is seen that a gluten free diet helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the discomfort. However, no well documented medical study has been conducted about this.
- If you are suffering from ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, seizures, multiple sclerosis, neuromylosis. Ataxia, anemia, diabetes, Down’s syndrome, Parkinson’s etc, a gluten free diet will help to keep the symptoms under control.
- Finally, what about the absolutely fit person who is free from any ailment? If you are such a person, you need to know whether a gluten free diet will help you maintain your health. There is probably no direct benefit that you will get if you eliminate all gluten from your diet. However, since the foods containing gluten also often contain lots of sugar, calories, preservatives and additive, doing without them is bound to improve your natural health.
So, is gluten free, actually healthier?
From the different viewpoints sited above, it can be concluded that gluten free is definitely healthier for people who suffer from gluten intolerance, gluten allergy and celiac disease. In these people, a gluten free diet helps in better absorption of nutrients and helps to maintain better health.
In case of fit individuals who do not suffer from any gluten related disorders, the impact of a gluten free diet is much more difficult to identify. Since gluten rich foods are also rich in calories, eliminating them naturally remove the calories and you are bound to maintain a healthy weight.
However, this benefit will be completely nullified if you load up on gluten free fat rich substitutes. So, it is not simply going gluten free but eating sensibly at the same time which will prove healthier in the long run.