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Gluten is a mix of proteins - gliadin and glutenin - found in wheat, barley, rye and related cereals. In Latin, the term refers to 'glue' thereby suggesting its inherent quality the ability to act as a binding agent. Gluten is responsible for the elastic texture of dough, helping it rise and keep its shape. It is one of the most heavily consumed proteins in the world.
A gluten-free diet involves eliminating all possible sources of gluten, and substituting them with other food items. The diet is primarily recommended for people suffering from Celiac disease, wherein the intestinal lining gets damaged due to chronic inflammation caused by gluten consumption.
Some people may also be sensitive to gluten, as a result of which, the body may become incapable of breaking down or digesting the gluten protein. Such a condition is often known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity may include:
3. Diarrhoea on consuming gluten
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder (where a person's immune system starts acting against it, accidently destroying healthy tissues). The condition usually occurs in genetically predisposed people where gluten ingestion leads to damage to the small intestine. It is hereditary in nature and can develop at any age after people start consuming foods that contain gluten. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body produces an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks damage the intestinal villi - small finger-like projections that line the small intestine - that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients absorption in the body gets difficult. Just eating a crumb of bread can trigger such damage.
Symptoms include bloating, cramping, gastric reflux, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain. Unfortunately, most people with celiac disease do not know that they have it since the symptoms can often be vague and difficult to diagnose. If left untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to additional serious health problems such as Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), depression, dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), asthma, anaemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers. Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.
In order to go gluten-free, you need to be extremely careful. You must start reading labels on everything you eat, and may also need to make significant changes to the foods you eat daily. Though a lot of the foods we eat daily are naturally gluten-free. In India especially, it's easier than you think to go gluten-free, thanks to grains like bajra, jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet) and amaranth among many others.
Other foods that you can eat include fresh eggs especially omega-3 enriched eggs, meats (chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, pork, etc.), fruits (strawberry, apple, banana, orange, avocado, pear, blueberry), vegetables (carrots, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, tomato, onion), lentils, kidney beans, beans, chickpeas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, seafood (shrimp, salmon, trout, tuna, prawn, crab, etc.) unprocessed seeds and nuts such as chia seeds, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts and pistachios. Even grains and starches such as quinoa, buckwheat, potato, soy, arrowroot, polenta, tapioca, flax and corn are sans gluten. You can also consume healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, butter and coconut oil.
What to Avoid
There are several everyday foods which contain gluten and must be avoided. Steer clear of foods and drinks made from barley, wheat, rye or triticale. So, unless the products are labeled gluten free, you should avoid them. Wheat is commonly found in breads, baked goods, soups, pasta, and cereals. While barley is present in beer, soups, food colouring and malt; rye is found in rye bread, rye beer and cereals. Gluten can even hide in oats, and beauty products like lipsticks, makeup products and shampoos. A lot of processed food items are loaded with gluten.
Gluten Free Diet and Weight Loss
Gluten-free has also become a trendy change from your regular diet. Many people avoid gluten for a little while to shed a few pounds, since a gluten free diet is believed to help with weight loss. A gluten free diet can be a healthy alternative, as long as you consume real foods. Nutritionists suggest going gluten-free is a viable way to alternate your regular diet with something that will initiate weight-loss. It is alright to go gluten free for a short while and then revert to your normal diet. Rotating grains can even prevent chances of developing any kind of sensitivity along with diversifying your nutrient intake.
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