Does eliminating gluten in healthy individuals really help?

Does Eliminating gluten in healthy individuals really help?

Most North Indians cannot imagine a day without Roti or leavened bread.  The Roti has many variations such as chapatti, phulka, paratha, puri across different communities. But in the last decade, there is an emerging trend wherein people are eliminating wheat from the diet completely. Avoiding wheat and wheat products and also other grains containing gluten has shown promising health benefits for some individuals

What is gluten?

Gluten is the main structural protein complex of wheat consisting of glutenins and gliadins. When wheat flour is mixed with water to form dough, the gluten proteins form a continuous network which provides the cohesiveness and viscoelasticity that allows dough to be processed into bread, noodles and other foods.

Gluten proteins have been shown to react with certain antibodies in the body causing an allergic reaction in  susceptible people. Studies have shown that gluten proteins, due to their high proline content (approximately 15 %), are resistant to complete digestion by human digestive enzymes in the small intestine

In Celiac disease (inflammation of small intestine) and gluten-sensitive individuals, adverse reactions to the intake of wheat, rye and barley are seen. In people with celiac disease, gluten in the bloodstream triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. This can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food, cause a host of symptoms, and lead to other problems like osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures.

The effects of the withdrawal of cereal grain products from the diet of normal healthy subjects is yet not studied in detail to show any specific health benefits

Going gluten free

Avoiding gluten means more than giving up traditional breads, cereals, pasta, pizza, and beer. Gluten is found in many other products, including frozen vegetables in sauces, soy sauce, some foods made with “natural flavorings,” vitamin and mineral supplements, some medications, and even toothpaste. This makes following a gluten-free diet extremely challenging.

Going gluten free may put individuals at risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Avoiding grains on the gluten-free diet means that you are eating fewer products enriched with nutrients, which may lead to deficiencies in iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.

Fortified breads and cereals have become a major source of B vitamins. Although breads made with white rice, tapioca, and other gluten-free flours are becoming more common, they are generally not fortified with vitamins.

This can be a problem for anyone, but it’s especially worrisome for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. They need vitamin B9, more commonly known as folate or folic acid, to prevent birth defects.

Taking a gluten-free multivitamin-multimineral supplement is a good idea for anyone trying to avoid gluten.

Fiber: Whole wheat is also a major source of dietary fiber, which the bowels need to work properly. Our diets are usually lacking in fiber and doing away with whole wheat reduces fiber intake further. Following a gluten-free diet may potentially cause a decrease in the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut (Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus), which can negatively impact the immune system.

Cost-effectiveness: Another negative aspect regarding the gluten-free diet is cost. Gluten-free products tend to be more expensive than gluten-containing products. Gluten-free products may be lacking in variety or may not be as accessible as gluten-containing products in some grocery stores. Gluten may also be found in cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, and medications.

Also, the current emphasis is on increasing intake of whole grains to prevent risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and even cancer.So if wheat is eliminated,  then a conscious effort has to be made to increase intake of other foods rich in fiber such as  brown rice or quinoa, or from fruits, vegetables, and beans.

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