These days, the world of dieting and eating healthy seems to have been taken over by the term “Gluten-free”. With the bad press that gluten has got, people have jumped on the bandwagon against gluten. But what is gluten? Is it really that bad?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein commonly found in grains. It holds food together and adds a stretchy quality to it. The best example of this is in pizza dough. Without gluten, the dough will easily be torn by the stress it needs to be properly kneaded.
Gluten is often associated with wheat and wheat-containing foods. Despite the negative connotations placed upon it, published research suggests the opposite.
In the US, a 2017 study of over 100,000 subjects without Celiac Disease has shown no links between long-term dietary gluten consumption and the risk of heart disease. Conversely, findings suggested that non-celiac individuals who exclude gluten from their diet may increase the risk of heart disease because of the potentially reduced consumption of whole grains.
Other studies have connected whole grain consumption with improved health outcomes.
In addition to these, gluten acts as a prebiotic, sustaining the good bacteria in the body. A prebiotic carbohydrate called Arabinoxylan Oligosaccharide derived from wheat bran has been shown to improve the activity of bifidobacteria, a bacteria normally found in a healthy human gut, in the colon. Changes in their amount in the body have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Gluten Becoming a Problem
There are certain conditions where gluten causes serious side effects in certain individuals. Listed below are certain conditions that require the reduction or elimination of gluten in the diet:
Celiac disease, also known as Celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune and digestive disorder caused by both genetic and environmental factors. It impacts 1% of the world’s population. Intake of gluten triggers an immune response that will damage the intestinal lining, which may lead to nutrient malabsorption.
- Weight loss
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Joint/bone pain
- Tingling sensation in the legs
- Oral sores
- Growth problems and failure to thrive because of the inability to absorb nutrients
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Gluten Sensitive Enteropathy (GSE), or gluten intolerance, is a disorder that shares similar symptoms with celiac disease except it is without elevated levels of antibodies and intestinal damage. There are no current diagnostic tests for GSE but it is determined by persisting symptoms and a negative celiac test.
Wheat allergy is a severe reaction to one of the proteins commonly found in wheat. A condition often seen in children, wheat allergy is usually outgrown by adulthood. Symptoms may range from mild nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and itchy eyes, mouth, and throat to severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis (allergic reaction with accompanying difficulty of breathing).
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH)
An autoimmune response presents itself as clusters of small bumps and blisters on the skin after the intake of gluten. Symptoms typically start at age 30 to 40 years old but can happen at any age.
Profile: Nutty and malty flavor
Widely grown in the Philippines but known for its green, leafy form (kulitis), it is rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, iron, calcium, phosphorous, manganese, selenium, and magnesium. Amaranth is rich in antioxidants, including gallic and vanillic acid. These help fight free radicals, which damage byproducts of normal cell activity. It helps reduce cardiovascular & hepatic diseases and provides therapeutic activities in gastrointestinal, neuropsychological, and metabolic disorders.
Profile: Chewy texture, nutty flavor
Black rice is not only a widely accessible gluten-free grain option, its nutrient makeup is also great for optic health. Minimally processed to retain its outer layers, brown rice retains the bran and germ layers intact thus retaining its fiber content. Additionally, black rice has a potent antioxidant (anthocyanin), which helps protect cells from damage. It also helps in reducing inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular conditions. Black rice also has a positive influence on a person’s blood sugar levels and diabetes as it improves insulin sensitivity and lowers sugar levels in the blood.
Profile: Chewy texture, nutty flavor
Few differences exist between white and brown rice. White rice is further stripped down of its bran components compared to brown rice, therefore, the latter is often thought to be the better option. Brown rice is a rich source of phenols and flavonoids (antioxidants that help reduce damage to cells and premature aging) while also giving the body stronger bones (calcium), better blood circulation (iron), and maintaining the health of the nervous system (vitamin b6). Brown rice also has a low glycemic index, meaning it does not cause your blood sugar to spike up after eating.
Corn is one of the most popular and accessible grain alternatives available. Corn is popular as it has been introduced in multiple forms. It is known to be eaten on the cob, as popcorn, as chips, and even as oil. Considered rich in fiber and highly nutritious corn is taught in primary education as part of a balanced diet, with benefits to the eyes courtesy of carotenoid contents (lutein and zeaxanthin), maintains nerve health by a dose of vitamin E, with the phytochemicals aid the immune system.
Profile: Mild nutty flavor, fluffy texture
Perhaps the most fashionable dietary replacement out there, Quinoa is as good as advertised. The magnesium content of Quinoa helps cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrate metabolisms, while phosphorus helps the maintenance and repair of cells. It is also a good source of fiber helping prevent or treat constipation and may lower one’s risk of intestinal cancer. Though technically a seed, quinoa is classified as a whole grain, packing a great package of nutrients.
An often-preached alternative to its white variant, red rice is enriched with antioxidants and magnesium. It helps control diabetes by regulating insulin levels, and its low glycemic index helps control sugar levels. The magnesium in red rice also helps regulate oxygen circulation in the body, while its fiber content helps flush out toxins and eases bowel movements.
It always pays to be informed.
Dieting is not just one decision. It is a series of decisions you make daily from planning what you eat to sticking to it. Now that you are aware of what gluten does to the body, consult your doctor to see if it will bring you to a better state of health or the opposite. Medgate’s team of medical experts is only a ring away.
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