There’s no end to these diet fads and superfood hacks when it comes to weight loss. And, going gluten-free has been in fashion for some time now as people believe it to aid in weight loss efforts. A diet that was available only by prescription sometime back has now become a global health fad. OK, firstly gluten is a protein commonly present in wheat, rye and processed foods such as breads and pasta. Going gluten-free was introduced for the sake of those individuals suffering from Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder where the body mistakes gluten to be threat to health) or gluten intolerance. Even until a decade back, the term ‘gluten’ was something foreign but now it has become a household name in most of our houses. Thanks to celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Victoria Beckham who are very much responsible for popularizing this diet.
Do you remember an entire section of the supermarket dedicated to ‘free-from’ foods a couple of years back? Definitely not! But now, the market in gluten-free products is booming and supermarket aisles are stocked with umpteen such products whose labels boast of being free from lactose, dairy and most importantly gluten. We are sure to come across gluten-free breads, cakes, sauces and even Easter eggs. Marketing is an art and producers utilize the goodness of any product to capture the interest of the audience. These people have gone to such an extent that those foods that have never contained gluten are marketed to be ‘naturally gluten-free’! There are cookbooks with gluten-free recipes, promotions encouraging the consumption of a gluten-free diet for sorting out Alzheimer’s and even sports personalities like Novak Djokovic crediting a gluten-free diet for the positive change in his health. But for those actually suffering from celiac disease and gluten sensitivity It must indeed be frustrating and irritating to see their illness and dietary needs marketed as a trend and hyped about!
Isn’t Our Body Trained to Accept these Grains?
Humans have been consuming gluten in some form or the other since thousands of years. On the other hand, celiac disease too has a detailed past dating back to the first-century physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia who gave the first known description of celiac disease terming it the disease of the abdomen- koiliakos. While the grains we eat remain the same the food system has taken a drastic overturn. Our forefathers did not eat grains that were sprayed with pesticides, bread-making process involves use of more chemicals and industrial bakeries are adding more gluten to their products. Many enzymes added to the bread have been identified to cause hazard to bakery factory workers which makes us wonder if it could also affect the consumer’s health. Researchers have also found that emulsifiers, food additives found in industrial bread and baked goods, increases intestinal inflammation. The bread making process has also changes-a food item that took close to 16 hours to prepare with natural fermentation hardly takes more than 2 hours these days. This might disrupt the way in which grains start breaking down and some people can’t digest such grains properly to absorb the micronutrient contents (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/aug/07/not-just-a-fad-the-surprising-gut-wrenching-truth-about-gluten). Maybe that’s also one of the reasons for a steady rise in the number of people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Though vital for people with celiac disease to avoid gluten (otherwise small intestine lining is damaged and nutrients are not absorbed) it is seen that almost three-quarters of individuals with celiac disease remain undiagnosed of the problem. Only 1 % of the world’s population suffers from this disease and while many of them remain unaware of it too there are millions out there who pursue a gluten-free diet in their daily routine! So, who are these people and what is their ultimate motive? Last year in UK sales of gluten-free products was up by 15%, in the US nearly a quarter of the products launched have gluten-free claims and there are exclusive gluten-free restaurants trending now. This might come both as a boon and a bane to the gluten-sensitive and celiac-disease having individuals.
Though the need for a gluten-free meal is important for some people there are some others who pursue such diets for the sole purpose of weight loss or simply because they consider it to be healthier. Sadly, there are not any evidences showing that avoiding gluten helps to promote weight loss in any individual. But, based on logic we clearly understand that eating a gluten-free diet encourages the consumption of unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, millets and brown rice. Reading nutrition facts and food labels becomes the second nature of such people and this makes them avoid high-calorie foods and switch to something healthier. Maybe, this is how weight loss is achievable with a gluten-free diet but there is nothing magical in itself that can enable weight reduction in such individuals. In fact, we have evidence showing that decreased intake of gluten foods limits intake of whole grains and increases risk of heart disease, reduces the presence of good bacteria and sometimes, increases weight gain as these individuals experience reduced stomach pain which makes them increase their intake of gluten-free foods that are quite high on calories. That’s because these products are made with rice flour and other starches and contain more of fats and sugar that increase calorie value tremendously. So, when you don’t suffer from gluten-related problems why take upon a diet that’s gluten-free? Besides all these the latest research shows that people who eliminate gluten from their lives on their own without any sensitivity or allergy are bound to suffer more problems than goodness.
More Pain with No Gain
A research was conducted on 2,00,000 people for over 30 years on gluten intake and results showed that 20% of the participants who consumed more gluten had a 13% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed minimal gluten. The Harvard research team behind the study comments that there is an inverse association between gluten intake and risk of type 2 diabetes-those with highest gluten intake are at a minimum risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes. By indulging in a diet trend that seems to be good presently, there are ample chances that some individuals are unknowingly increasing their risk for diabetes in the future.
Rather than spending more money on gluten-free products (some of them are 3-4 times costlier than regular ones) and wasting time choosing them carefully divert your money, time and energy on buying more fruits and vegetables, working out more, staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle. These changes are all that are needed to lose weight and keep off the lost weight.
Gluten-free Diets Linked to Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/gluten-free-diets-type-2-diabetes-reduced-risk-health-harvard-university-bread-pasta-a7623451.html
Gluten-free Diet not Healthy for Everyone: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/13/health/gluten-free-good-food-drayer/index.html
Gluten-free: Health Fad or Life-saving Diet? https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/25/gluten-free-diet-life-saving-fad
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.