Is Gluten Bad for You?

No, Going gluten-free may be the biggest health trend of the past decade, but there’s confusion over whether gluten is problematic for everyone or just those with certain medical conditions. First, let us understand what is gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein, made from a mixture of various proteins that are mainly found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and hybrid grains It is the substance that allows flour dough to become sticky and stretchy when pulled, and to rise when baked, and the reason behind the spongy, chewy texture of the bread.

So, where do things go wrong, then? Generally, they don’t. However, people who are sensitive to gluten experience an immune response to it, where their immune system does not recognize it as a protein but instead sees it as a foreign invader – which is why it’s also considered an allergen.

What happens to people who are sensitive to gluten?

Gluten can be broken down in the gut of healthy individuals. However, digesting it is far more difficult for people who have gluten intolerance. In the latter case, certain amino acids (proline and glutamine, specifically) and even peptides (short chains of amino acids) in gluten don’t get broken down in the small intestine, but instead, pass through it. In doing so, these comparatively large particles damage the intestinal lining.

This intestinal lining is meant to act as a barrier against the bacteria and toxins that come through our food (and only allow water and nutrients to enter the rest of the body). When damaged, though, it is unable to do so, in a condition often known as a ‘leaky gut’.

In a leaky gut, the foreign invaders entering our body end up activating our immune system, which triggers a variety of symptoms (like bloating, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain) that result in gluten-related conditions like a wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

So, should everyone go gluten-free?

Although a gluten-free diet is recommended for people with Celiac disease and certain digestive conditions (like non-celiac gluten sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), wheat allergy, and gluten ataxia), it definitely is not for everyone. It’s highly unlikely that gluten-tolerant individuals would benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Eliminating gluten from our diets may also eliminate some foods that are great for our health, like whole grains and soy, which provide us with essential vitamins and minerals. Additionally, pursuing a gluten-free diet often reduces calcium, B-vitamins, and fiber from our overall diet. In short, if you’re healthy, there is no benefit to excluding gluten from your diet.

Still, if you choose to adopt a gluten-free diet, you should talk to a doctor or dietitian about how to boost your intake of nutrients such as calcium, iron as well as vitamins B6, B12, and D. Many people who adopt a gluten-free diet but still eat processed foods find they continue to have weight gain, blood sugar swings, and other health issues. So it’s not the gluten in foods that are causing their health issues, but the sodium, sugar, and other additives in processed foods.

Healthy individuals who can tolerate and digest gluten should continue with their gluten-containing, normal diet. Those who have a gluten intolerance or allergy should avoid gluten in their diet while making sure that they add some extra protein and micronutrients to their diet from other sources. Like we always say, understanding our body and its signals is the first step towards making healthy lifestyle choices, including our diet.

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