What is Gluten and why is it bad?
Gluten is the new chatter in the food world. Sometime back I wrote about the controversy around Gluten. While some are saying gluten is bad, others want to know why it is so, when we have been eating gluten for ages. Why has it suddenly become the devil? Let us first understand what gluten is and where it comes from.
Food has been the basis of humanity since time immemorial. While initial humans could only hunt, the science of cultivation brought about a change in the lifestyle of this species. Organized cultivation of food called agriculture lays the foundation for settlement and colonization.
Geographical aspects of the Earth also play a pivotal role in determining the type of food that can grow and flourish in a specific place. For example, rice needs wet moist fields whereas wheat needs a relatively cooler climate to thrive. This variation leads to the formulation of various diets across the globe. Over centuries human digestion has also evolved and adjusted to one or more types of food.
In the modern world, a diet is a restrictive intake of food that would result in weight loss. However, this isn’t the case. A diet is the combination of food consumed over a fixed period. It could be both good and bad.
You eat for energy, and this comes from various elements in the diet. Depending on where you were born, your system adjusts to the food as you consume it since birth. With exposure, one’s palate also changes, and our bodies learn to process different things.
People living in the east are habitual to eating seaweed as it gets cultivated and is widely consumed there. However, someone from central Europe may not understand its taste as they have no exposure to it.
Over time a pattern has emerged in the world depending on the cultivation in the region. Let’s consider India, for example. While people from the western part of the country eat more rice, the northern Indian segment finds its staple in wheat. Also, the variety of rice differs across the country owing to its soil and water supply.
The world has two divisions; cereal and rice eaters. Out of the cereals, Wheat is an integral part of every diet, and Indians consume it in many forms. Atta, Maida, Suji, or Dahlia; this grain is everywhere. It could take the form of bread and bagels, or roti and paratha. It comes with nutrients, and when consumed in the appropriate form, provides fiber to the body.
All these are necessary for the proper functioning of the gut and energy. Gluten is a component of some of these cereal grains.
You are aware that to make roti or bread, the grain of the cereal gets ground. Whether you use rye, barley, or wheat, all these undergo this process to come out as the Atta, we are familiar with.
Like humans need proteins to grow, plant seeds also require this nutrient. Every grain has stored food that it consumes when growing. Some grains have their protein stored in the form of Gluten. The plant makes it during its photosynthesis cycle and stores it for future saplings.
During germination, the seed consumes this for energy to grow. But, when the plant undergoes harvesting, this protein remains intact and gets crushed using the grinding process. It is a rich source of protein for plant seeds. This protein is further broken down into two components.
What is Gluten made of and its source?
Wheat gluten has two proteins, glutenins, and gliadins. The one in Rye grain is scalene, and Barley has hordeins. Though oats are generally made free of gluten, they too have a protein called avenins, but they are non-gluten-containing.
When Gluten gets warm and moist, it forms an elastic network that absorbs moisture and gives bread the spongy, chewiness texture. To activate Gluten, one must knead the dough thoroughly if you want spongy cakes.
List of food containing Gluten
Out in the world, many processed and unprocessed foods contain gluten. Grains like Barley, Rye, and Wheat contain gluten. To make sure you avoid gluten, stay away from a product made with these. All their forms contain gluten. Especially with wheat, these could include Couscous, semolina, wheat bran, Seitan.
Even Graham Flour, Emmer, Bulgur, wheat berries, Spelt, farro, einkorn, durum, and farina have Gluten. Any product made with these is best avoided. Bread, rolls, pittas, noodles, pasta, crackers, cakes, and pies. The list is endless. Anything made with triticale or the meat substitute seitan also has gluten.
Some other items that you may not know contain gluten indirectly are below:
- Brewer’s yeast
- French Fries
- Sauces and gravies
- Processed meat (Seitan)
- Salad dressing
- Soy sauce
- Granola and cereals
- Alcoholic beverages (Wheat-based)
What is important to note is that gluten is not only present in food, but also the below contain it, and you should stay away from them.
- Toy playdough
- Lip balms and lipstick
- Herbal supplements, herbal medicine, and medicines
Though oats proclaim to be gluten-free, one must be highly cautious. While the grain itself does not contain any gluten, but because they get refined in the same machines as wheat, contamination is possible.
Why is gluten bad for health?
A much-speculated question, gluten is a protein that may not work for everyone. It does not provide any benefits to humans. You may be from a wheat-eating family but face gut issues.
The majority of people can take it without any problems. However, a small percentage of the population faces mild to severe reactions to it. Let us understand what gluten intolerance is and why it happens.
Gluten Specific Diseases
Let’s look at some of the Gluten Specific Diseases:
Some people have Gluten intolerance. One percent of the population suffers from this autoimmune disorder. The body of the individual treats gluten as an invader and attacks it. It causes inflammation of the intestines and unwanted erosion. It could even lead to severe anemia because the gut lining cannot absorb nutrients once damaged.
One symptom of this is gut discomfort. It may show as bloating, headache, diarrhea, depression, and foul-smelling feces. Never ignore these signs and see if they occur after eating a tandoor paratha or even a tiny bite of a cookie.
This is also a coeliac disease, but the target organ is the skin and not the gut. One gets painful, and similar rashes on both halves of the body. Continuing to eat gluten once DH starts could lead to cancer. It is extremely dangerous, and one must seek immediate help.
If you get rashes after eating even the smallest quantity of gluten you must visit your doctor and shift to a gluten-free diet.
This is different from Celiac, as no damage comes to the organs. The person has a problem digesting gluten, and it results in gas or bloating. This disease is not a life-threatening disease, but here as well, gluten is best avoided. Eating it will not cause hospitalization, but you will feel discomfort and may need to visit the washroom an extra time.
Like peanut allergy, some people are born with Gluten or wheat allergy. Their body treats this as a foreign component, like a virus. You could experience sneezing, coughing, and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. One must get themselves tested for wheat allergies.
Many people have irritable bowel syndrome. This one is a digestive disorder causing gas, bloating, cramps, or discomfort around the stomach region.
If you are suffering from any of these diseases, then you already have the answer to the question of why gluten is bad for health?. However, one must never self-diagnose and consult a doctor if one experiences any issues upon eating gluten.
Should you avoid Gluten if you have no Wheat allergies?
To answer in one word Yes! gluten is a food component of grains that does not provide the human body with any nutrients. But, eating wheat in any form does pump carbohydrates into the system.
Burning and calculating carbohydrates is essential when counting calories targeted for weight loss. Just a slice of bread could give as much as 76 calories and complex carbohydrates. These are difficult to break and manifest themselves into the body as visceral fat. Burning them off is time taking, and requires a lot of training and time.
So, gluten is bad for weight loss, and one should remove it from your diet. You will not only feel lighter but will also see a calorie deficit diet instantly.
Gluten and Lifestyle Diseases
Another aspect that controls one’s diet is lifestyle diseases. With more stress and work pressure, every other individual is falling into hypertension or diabetic category.
Whenever a diagnosis like this comes forward, the first line of treatment is diet control.
Why is gluten bad for diabetics? is often a question asked. It is not harmful, but it is a food to avoid. The grains that contain gluten increase the carbohydrate intake and thus result in more fat-tissue in the body. This tissue increases the insulin resistance of the body, which could lead to Type 2 diabetes. Those who have it should steer away from Gluten as it helps in preventing overall sugar taken.
A Gluten-Free Food
If you fall in the above category of people who suffer from gluten intolerance, you should consider following a gluten-free diet. Would that mean you cannot eat bread? The answer is yes and no. You cannot eat bread made with wheat.
However, there are endless options to what you can eat. Look on the brighter side of things and create your diet around the below food products. You could even make your own gluten-free bread by joining our Gluten-free bread baking course.
Here are a few gluten-free recipes for you:
It keeps a person light and less bloated. Gluten-free food is easy for the stomach to digest. It does not sit longer in the gut, thus prevents absorption of harmful chemicals. Gluten-rich food provides the body with calories and carbohydrates which are difficult to burn.
However, gluten-free food comes with additional minerals and vitamins. These provide a wholesome experience. If someone asks you why a gluten-free diet is good? explain the above to them, and it will surely change their perception.
Why is gluten-free good?
Gluten-free is an excellent option whether you want to follow the trend or have a health motive behind it.
In the Hindu culture, we already have days allotted in a year where no one eats grains. These fasts and all healthy individuals must undertake them. These are days that detoxify the body from impurities and allow the gut to rest.
So, it is safe to say that this fad is not new but a thought-out scientific method to keep one’s metabolism up and running. Owing to its multiple benefits a gluten-free food is healthy. It would save you from unnecessary bloating and embarrassing moments of gas.
With a healthy gut, absorption of nutrients is easier. You could experiment with different food and allow your body to gain some new vitamins. You could even stumble upon food products like amaranth, which are a superfood.
In the end
Though it has been a part of our diet for a long time, a change is now required. With activity levels decreasing as humans advance our diets must also work accordingly.
With the availability of so many other options as given above wheat needs to take a back seat. We deserve to feel lightweight and energetic.
Incorporate the new substitutes in your diet and free yourself from gut problems. If you have not already given it a try, do it not.
Go gluten-free for a week and explore a new you.