Many of us would have heard of the term “gluten-free” by now. But for some, the term is still as elusive, while there are others who are perplexed at why some people choose to give up on gluten. Here, we address all your questions on what is gluten-free and why some people have to follow such a diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in some grains, such as wheat and barley. There are 2 main types of gluten: glutenin and gliadin, and it is the latter which has been found to be cause negative health impacts.
Why do some people give up gluten?
People who go for a gluten-free diet often do not have a choice. They are most likely to be the ones who are gluten-intolerant or who suffers from celiac disease. As a result, their bodies will show negative reactions to gluten, such as vomiting, bowel movement issues, and abdominal pain.
What is celiac disease and gluten intolerance?
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that involves the gut and is triggered by gluten. The gut is filled with finger-like projections called the villi and they help to absorb digested food into the bloodstream. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, the gluten will trigger an immune response to attack the villi and this would adversely affect the person’s ability to absorb nutrients that are essential for survival.
On the other hand, gluten intolerance is similar to having an allergy towards gluten. That being said, allergies involve a range of severity, and so it is best for gluten-intolerant people to avoid consuming gluten.
While some symptoms of celiac disease and gluten intolerance are similar, there are also different ones. For example, dental defects are symptoms of celiac disease but not of gluten intolerance, and gluten-intolerant people may have hormonal imbalance but not celiac patients. Hence, to identify the root of the problem, it is more assuring to seek professional medical help whenever in doubt.
This why for this select group of people, going gluten-free can literally save their lives.
What does a gluten-free diet consist of?
As gluten is found in some grains, a gluten-free diet is usually free of any products that are made of these ingredients. Common food groups you will see in a gluten-free diet are fruits, vegetables, legumes, meats and dairy products.
Does that mean gluten-intolerant people and sufferers of celiac disease would never be able to experience the joy of grains?
The short answer is: no. While some grains contain gluten, there are also others that do not. Some of the common grains that are gluten-free are soy, millet, quinoa and arrowroot.
To allow people with gluten-free diet to have a wider selection and more choices and grains, there are some food products that have been engineered to be gluten-free, even though they use grains that supposedly contain gluten. It is then up to the consumer to be aware and informed about these food products, and be very careful and certain that they are gluten-free before purchase. After all, for some people, eating gluten may cause serious health problems.
What if a perfectly healthy person go on a gluten-free diet?
As of now, there is very little scientific literature on whether a gluten-free diet can be beneficial to people who are non-celiac and are tolerant to gluten, and even if there are, they are still inconclusive studies. Although more research would need to continue, it is absolutely acceptable for a healthy person to want to go on a specific diet to avoid any health problems. As long as you are getting all the macronutrients and micronutrients that your body needs, feel free to have a go at a gluten-free diet.
With many celebrities endorsing the gluten-free diet, many people have jumped onto the bandwagon. Such a diet is not harmful to your body as long as you continue to get the appropriate and sufficient nutrients that your body needs. That being said, it is always important to read up and research more on any diets that you wish to undertake. Having a widespread message on going gluten-free has also helped to raise awareness on celiac disease and as well as gluten intolerance, and that is a service to every individual.