Is Wheat the Enemy? Should We All Go Gluten Free?

Published on www.ndtvfood.com

Since this is my first column on a wider news platform, I think it would be only appropriate to start by addressing some fundamental issues surrounding Gluten-free cooking and baking. I’ve struggled with them myself, and amidst all the noise surrounding this issue, I can only imagine the confusion others must face!

First: Wheat is not your enemy. Humans have eaten wheat and similar grains for thousands of years. (Whether a grain-focused diet is preferable vis-à-vis other healthier alternatives is a subject matter for another column!) However, what is without doubt is that the occurrence of Celiac, as well as other gluten-based digestive disorders has increased dramatically over the last several decades.

To be fair, the jury is still out as to its reasons. It is true that our bodies do not have the proper enzymes to break down the complex proteins found in gluten. The immune system spots gluten as an invader and goes into battle mode to get rid of it. But here’s the key: In most people, the immune system is able to “clean up” the gluten invasion, and then it’s back to business as usual.

But still, why the rapid increase in the last several decades? Is it the manner in which the modern food industry grows grains? Is it environmental? Is it on account of processed foods? Is it related to birth-related issues?

I have not come across a single answer as of date. But as and when a scientific consensus takes shape, I’d wager that the answer will be simultaneously multi-faceted, and as most things in life, at its core, simple and intuitively obvious.

Wheat may not be your enemy, but yet, there will be a simple truth that we already know today: avoiding a gluten-focused diet (as opposed to a grain-focused diet; there are many grains that don’t have gluten) have conclusive health benefits. (I will highlight these in my columns in the coming months.)

I remember when older son was diagnosed with Celiac a few years ago. Some well-wishers suggested I may have been feeding him too many Rotis (well, not really), too much processed food (not at all), or that I could have avoided this by only using the so-called ‘Organic Atta’ then available in the market.

The truth is I didn’t think that the so called ‘Organic Atta’s’ I was buying were any good. Given the certification and quality standards in India, I had my own doubts about what that stamp of organic production really meant apart from a clever marketing ploy.

And yet, I now believe simple things can begin to create a positive and healthy ecosystem for our families and kids: Improve the quality of grain used in your cooking. For those who don’t have digestive disorders related to gluten, seek to avoid – but not to exclude completely - gluten from your diet. Avoid processed foods, sugar, fatty foods….all the things we already know but find hard to follow. Increase the concentration of nutrition coming from fresh vegetables and fruits.

Remember your lean proteins (chicken and fish), but don’t go overboard in your search for protein either. Load up on nuts and fruits…some fish…a lot of greens. Remember the cliché “Everything in moderation…” There’s one rather simple rule I follow and recommend, you should know the nutritional value of everything you put in your mouth; if you don’t, why in the world would you put junk in your body!

Some of the subjects I’ll write on in the coming columns will talk about contemporary studies on healthier lifestyles: how to have a low-glycemic Indian diets, the benefits of exercise, what creates long-term happiness for humans (I bet you’ll be surprised at the answer!) and most importantly, how to create a common code for a healthier life.

And on the subject at hand, yes: avoid eating gluten-based diets. You’ll feel better within a week. That I guarantee. You’ll be more energetic and feel lighter. Being gluten free is a very healthy way of living as you will eat a lot of vegetables, proteins and the happy grains.

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