The word ‘gluten’ is the literal meaning of glue in Latin. During the 16th Century, the word was picked by the French, and via French, it came to English.(gluten-free diet)
“A mixture of two proteins present in cereal grains, especially wheat” — Dictionary
“Gluten is a composite of storage proteins termed prolamins and glutelins and stored together with starch in the endosperm (which nourishes the embryonic plant during germination) of various grass-related grains” — Wikipedia
In a nutshell, gluten is a composition, or say a mixture of two proteins. By gluten, we mean the following class of proteins:
Gliadins — wheat prolamins
Hordeins — barley prolamins
Avenins — oats prolamins
Secalins — rye prolamins
Gluten is a collective term for these prolamins.
The appearance of elastic texture in cereal doughs is caused by gluten. In fact, gluten is responsible for the elasticity in the dough because of its viscoelastic properties.
[Viscoelasticity is a property by the virtue of which a substance shows a balanced effect of both viscosity and elasticity while undergoing deformation as a reaction against applied force]
While the existence of gluten is important in many ways, it is also harmful and bad for health for some reasons. That is why Gluten Free Diet (GFD) is appreciated all over the world.
Sources of Gluten
The primary sources of Gluten are wheat, barley, oats, rye etc. Gluten can also be found in hybrids like — Khorasan, spelled, emmer, einkorn, Kamut, triticale, einkorn, etc., and the products made out of them.
Generally, gluten is found in ‘chewy’ foods like Pizza. As we have already mentioned above, gluten is rich in viscoelastic property, hence it is responsible for chewiness. It is also found in bread. Many of the baked products are also rich in gluten (it can be detected by the presence of texture in the toasted or baked products).
Reasons Why You Should Avoid The Consumption of Gluten
1. Adverse Reactions in the Body —
Gluten Intolerance or Gluten Sensitivity
Most of the people (maybe unknowingly) have gluten intolerance. It is a kind of disease due to which consumption of gluten leads to adverse reactions in the body.
However, there is not any straightforward method of diagnosing Gluten Intolerance, yet its presence can be detected if the following signs are visible in an individual’s body:
a. Diarrhoea and Constipation
People suffering from gluten intolerance are unable to digest and absorb the nutrients in the food. Hence, this may lead to swallowing of the stomach. Consequently, the individual may experience diarrhea or constipation on a regular basis.
Over time, poor nutrient absorption (and eventually diarrhea) leads to dehydration and loss of electrolytes.
However, occasional diarrhea or constipation should not be considered as a symptom of gluten intolerance.
Again, occasional headaches can be as normal as not having a headache. However, frequent headaches and pain may be a clear result of gluten intolerance.
c. Feeling Tired And Fatigue
Not everyone who feels tired is affected by gluten intolerance, but if you always feel tired, it means that your body is unable to absorb the nutrients from the intake of food. Hence, a constant fatigue is a clear sign of gluten intolerance.
2. Skin Problems
As a result of gluten intolerance, the several cases of skin problems have been found. Generally, a chronic skin condition of blistering is found in gluten sensitive people called as Dermatitis herpetiformis, Duhring’s disease, or simply DH. It can be diagnosed by blistering skin associated with a watery fluid.
Conversely, every person affected by the Duhring’s disease (DH), is sensitive towards gluten for sure.
Apart from Dermatitis Herpetiformis, there are many other skin problems that may be seen in a gluten insensitive person, like:
Alopecia areata: Commonly known as spot baldness, alopecia areata is a condition responsible for massive hair loss or complete baldness in a few or most parts of the body. There have been reported many improvements after the intake of gluten-free food by the infected person.
Hives: It is an another skin condition in which the person suffering from gluten intolerance could see rashes on their body. Often these rashes are itchy and red, and most of the times they burn. The generic forms of hives can be seen fading in a few days but a person who is sensitive towards gluten may also develop these hives chronically. Hence, it becomes a case of chronic urticaria.
Psoriasis: Psoriasis is quite a common skin problem seen in a gluten sensitive person. It is a skin condition that results in inflammation of the skin of the infected person.
Anaemia is nothing but the lack of iron in an individual’s body. Apart from iron, the lack of vitamin B 12, is also potent enough to cause Anaemia. Basically, the presence of gluten in your diet prevents the small intestine from extracting out iron from it. This leads to Anaemia, and consequently, there is a deficiency of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the individual’s body. However, the gluten is not the sole reason of Anaemia. Anaemia is just the lack of iron (or B 12 vitamins), it can hit the body through of a lot of ways. When a gluten intolerant person shifts towards the gluten-free diet (GFD), major improvements can be seen, and they get rid of Anaemia. However, depending upon many factors it can take from 2 months to someone and half year to correct the deficiencies cause during Anaemia.
Meanwhile, a person is advised to intake food materials rich in iron and vitamin B 12.
4. Mental Problems
It may not be correct to say that the mental problems are caused due to gluten or gluten sensitivity. But for several many times, it has been observed that people with brain disorders have improved their mental status after following a gluten-free diet (GFD).
Conversely, many mentally ill patients happen to have gluten antibodies according to various tests performed on them.
Following are the neurological disorders that can be improved after following a gluten-free diet (GFD).
Autism: It has been proved by several reports that improvements are observed in autistic people when they removed gluten-free diet. Yet, a lot of experts say that there is no evidence to prove this fact.
Schizophrenia: A large part of number of people infected with this disease have been seen to improve after adopting a Gluten Free Diet (GFD)
Apart from these two mental disorders, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Epilepsy are also known for getting improved after eliminating gluten from the regular food intake.
5. Immune Reactions Towards Gluten — Celiac Disease
More than a million cases of Celiac Disease are reported in India. Often chronic, Celiac Disease is no treatable. However, improvements can be seen and the treatment can help in a way or two, but the condition can not be cured. Celiac Disease can last for years and years, and sometimes it even lasts lifelong.
The individual suffering from this disease can have their small intestine’s linings damaged. It is due to the inflammation gluten causes after the intake of a gluten-rich food, like wheat, barley, rye, oats, etc. Consequently, the individual suffers from abdominal pain. Due to malnutrition (even after a nutrition rich food intake, the digestive system remains unable to absorb the nutrients, causing malnutrition), the individual suffers from joint pains.
Even though Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance have a lot of symptoms common, they are different from each other. On one hand, the Celiac Disease is a genetic disease, which means that a person suffers from Celiac Disease only when he inherits this disease from the family history, while on the other hand Gluten Intolerance has not been defined yet and is believed to hit the body without any proper reason.
6. Unexplained Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss is another common side effect of Celiac Disease and other gluten-related problems. The reason is believed to be malabsorption, i.e. the inability of the digestive system to absorb the nutrients during food intake. An unexplained weight loss is a matter of concern for sure. It is advised to see a doctor or a dietician.
7. Gastrointestinal Problems
Even the people who are not sensitive or intolerant to gluten can be hit by gastrointestinal problem due to consumption of gluten.
Most of the damage caused by this is to the gut and abdominal parts. While consumption of gluten shows immediate harms in the body of a person suffering from celiac disease or (bloating, diarrhea, pain, smelly feces, vomiting, inflammation, etc.), it takes time to outgrow in a person not suffering from gluten intolerance (or sensitivity), celiac disease, etc.
8. Body Pain
The over-consumption of gluten (especially by gluten sensitive people) also leads to body pain. Specifically, an individual feels pain in joints, frequent headache, feels tired, etc.
9. Juvenile Diabetes
The consumption of gluten may lead to Juvenile Diabetes (also known as Type 1 Diabetes). It is a chronic disease in which the pancreatic cells are destroyed and become unable to produce insulin. This kind of diabetes often evolves during the puberty ages. It is characterized by frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss, sleepiness, etc. Type 1 Diabetes can also lead to the blurring of vision.
As of India, nearly 10,00,000 cases are reported every year.
10. Vulnerability Towards Gluten Intolerance (GI)
As we have already said that celiac disease only exists due to inheritance, there is no such constraint to the development of gluten intolerance in an individual’s body. Consumption of gluten can result in the development of gluten intolerance in your body.
What is a Gluten Free Diet (GFD)?
Given that there are many problems associated with Gluten and so are certain side effects, many dieticians recommend a Gluten Free Diet, commonly known as GFD. As the name suggests, a Gluten Free Diet (GFD) is one that strictly eliminates all the gluten substances in an individual’s diet. As we have already mentioned above, gluten is a composite mixture of two proteins that harm the digestions due to its viscoelastic properties. Gluten is found in the cereals like wheat, barley, rye, etc.
People prefer a gluten-free diet (GFD) in order to avoid any kind of digestion problems. Pizza or any such chewy food is rich in gluten.
Gluten-Free Diet (GFD) is the best diet for people suffering from gluten intolerance (or sensitivity), Celiac Disease (CD), or wheat allergy.
The following list depicts several contents of gluten-free diet:
Milk — Milk and other dairy products do not contain any kind of gluten. Also, pastry and similar bakery products (that are non-chewy) are part of a gluten-free diet.
Egg — Egg is also a major part of a gluten-free diet.
Cereals — Rice and maize are two kinds of cereal that are free of gluten. Since potato is also rich in carbohydrate, they also happen to be gluten-free. Hence, rice, maize, potato, nuts, legumes, etc. are all constituents of a gluten-free diet.
Pseudocereals — They have their own significance in GFDs. Pseudocereals like buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth are a very good replacement of cereals like wheat, barley, etc.
Oats — Even though oats are known to have gluten in them, some people believe that oats can be a part of a gluten-free diet. It is yet a controversial inclusion that needs to be studied more.
Why is a Gluten Free Diet (GFD) preferred?
As we have already seen how gluten harms the individual’s suffering from gluten ataxia like gluten intolerance or celiac disease. It is also responsible for the development of cross-links. These are the reasons to follow a strict gluten-free diet (GFD).
However, in the recent times, following a gluten-free diet has evolved as a trend and a fad in the youth. The reason being the endorsements by several celebrities and sportsmen.
Risks Associated With Gluten-Free Diet (GFD)
On one hand, where a Gluten Free Diet (GFD) is highly appreciated and recommended all over the world, there are a certain number of risks associated with the complete elimination of gluten from your diet.
The commercial products that promise to replace the need of gluten in your diet, often are rich in carbohydrates. For example cookies and snacks are rich in lipid and carbohydrates which are very bad for an individual’s health at some point in time. People tend to over-eat such kind of substances, which leads to major health problems.
Gluten is a part of a balanced diet and its elimination can sometimes lead to nutritional deficiencies. Hence, if you are practicing a Gluten Free Diet (GFD) make sure that you are getting calcium, iron, fiber, etc. in proper amounts.
SUMMARY — Take Home Message
Gluten is a composite mixture of two proteins. It is the responsible substance for the fluffiness, chewiness, or viscoelastic properties of dough, pizza, etc. It can be characterized by the special texture it provides the dough. In general, gluten is bad for health. Gluten is mainly found in cereals like wheat, maize, barley, rye, oats, etc. In fact, gluten is a collective term coined to depict the prolamins of the mentioned cereals. However, a person suffering from gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, wheat allergy, etc is more affected by the intake of gluten. The effects can sometimes be very severe.
Upon consumption of gluten, the body of a gluten intolerant, a sensitive person shows symptoms like vomiting, heartburn, inflammation, gut pain, headache, fatigue, smelly feces, etc. Apart from these immediate symptoms, consumption of gluten also shows long-term symptoms like skin problems (alopecia areata, chronic hives, psoriasis), mental disorders (autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. etc.), anaemia (lack of iron and vitamin B 12 in the body), unexplained weight loss, etc. Basically, these side effects basically prevail due to the inability of the digestive system to absorb the nutrients, i.e. malabsorption.
Keeping the deleterious effects of gluten in mind, people all over the world prefer a gluten-free diet. Gluten Free Diet, abbreviated as GFD is a diet that consists of substances that are free from gluten. The constituents of a gluten-free diet are milk, eggs, fish, meat, seafood, nuts, fruits, potatoes, rice, maize, etc. Many people also include oats as a constituent of a gluten-free diet. However, the inclusion of oats as a gluten-free diet is still a matter of study.
In the recent few times, after the endorsements of gluten-free diets (GFD) by numerous celebrities and world-class sportsmen, it has evolved as a trend. A lot of people are following gluten-free diet out of this fad. Many people who are free of any gluten sensitivity have also started believing that they are suffering from Celiac Disease. However, in general, it is a good thing to avoid gluten-rich foods, it must be kept in a note that a complete avoidance of gluten may lead to many nutrition deficiencies. The commercial gluten-free diets available in the market are often very, very rich in substances like lipid and carbohydrates. Hence, a wise balance must be made between both the avoidance and intake of gluten.