Are you (b)ready to be gluten-free?
Ditching gluten might help you cut the bloat, banish bad skin and even ease that recurrent migraine
“Is this gluten-free?” often pushes me over the edge. Not because I hate people being responsible about what they eat, but because it’s unfathomable to me how a dietary restriction became a trend.
A decade or so ago, we found ‘gluten-free’ competing to dethrone organic food as the new cool kid on the wellness block. Gluten became a buzz word on social media, gluten-free foods got their very own aisles in supermarkets, and the fad even caused quite a stir in the fashion world when Zara launched (and later discontinued) t-shirts with “Are you gluten free?” plastered across it.
But why the sudden surge in the number of people being diagnosed as gluten intolerant?
“Gluten that we consume today is not the same as the gluten our grandparents were consuming. Its genetic composition has been modified, due to industrialisation. And this evolution has become a common cause for intolerances, allergies or sensitivities,” says Janvi Chitalia, integrative gut microbiome health coach and founder of Body Cocoon. This processing has caused the number of chromosomes found in gluten’s genetic make-up to almost triple in number, causing our systems to react differently to it over time.
One out of every hundred people are either allergic to gluten or gluten intolerant, which means that about two to three people on your flight from Mumbai to Goa really shouldn’t be scarfing down the complementary croissants.
Before you start writing heartfelt farewell notes to all your beloved baked goods, scroll down to find answers to all the questions that have sprung up in your head in the last 15 seconds, barring “Why meeeee???”.
What even is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye and many other grains.
Gluten has glue-like properties that provide elasticity to the dough you make, using these grains. It is the reason why you can stretch a ball of dough to form a round roti (yes, unlike unicorns, round rotis do actually exist) without it tearing.
Gluten is found in grains and also in seasonings, sauces, soups, and canned or processed foods. Don’t ever forget to read the label.
Is gluten intolerance the same as gluten allergy?
The logic that applies to “I like you” and “I love you” in romantic relationships, should be applied to gluten allergy and gluten intolerance when talking about gut health – they must never be used interchangeably.
“Awareness is your biggest ally in dealing with intolerances,” says Chitalia, explaining that it’s important to distinguish between different conditions to get the right treatment.
Gluten intolerance is more of an umbrella term that is often used (but shouldn’t be) to refer to three different conditions.
Celiac disease: This is a severe form of gluten intolerance that has symptoms like cramping, diarrhoea, and motion urgency that show up fairly quickly. Celiac disease can also prevent the absorption of nutrients and in severe cases cause malnutrition.
“Consuming gluten if you have celiac disease can damage the intestines,” explains Chitalia. Your genetic make-up determines how susceptible you are to the disease, and it’s best to see a doctor for treatment.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): This is a milder version of gluten intolerance that does not require emergency care.
The symptoms are similar to those of celiac disease. In addition, a person suffering from NCGS is more likely to experience gas, bloating, stomach ache, headaches, anxiety, lethargy, mental fatigue, and brain fog. Also, these symptoms may surface even as late as about three to five hours after consuming gluten.
And even though NCGS is often referred to as a milder version of celiac disease, everyone’s threshold for discomfort varies. “When symptoms arise, it’s best to consult an expert, as in case of celiac disease, late diagnosis can cause physiological damage,” explains Chitalia.
Wheat allergy: Commonly referred to as gluten allergy, it can send the patient into anaphylactic shock.
The main difference between gluten intolerance and gluten allergy is that an intolerance will usually surface in the form of digestion-related complications, while symptoms for allergy include severe cases of migraines, diarrhoea, rashes like hives and anxiety, which need immediate attention.
A major distinguishing factor is that an allergy attacks the respiratory system, leading to wheezing, breathlessness, and in some cases, swelling of the face – symptoms that are not linked to intolerance. In cases of wheat allergy, a course of treatment must be prescribed by a doctor.
The reaction caused due to a wheat allergy can be almost immediate — within fifteen minutes to an hour.
How do I combat symptoms?
Chitalia suggests you adopt a five-step protocol to combat any of the three conditions – remove, replace, re-inoculate, repair and rebalance.
Remove: The first step of the gut healing process or five-step protocol is to remove the triggers that irritate the immune system. Irritants cause further inflammation and do not let the gut heal.
“Completely avoid gluten for two to four weeks. This is called the elimination diet,” advises Chitalia.
Replace: Replace the nutrients eaten in regular food with nutrients which cause the replenishment of the gut cells for microbial balance. If you’re eliminating gluten, incorporate more prebiotics in your diet.
Re-inoculate: Once the terrain of the gut is ready to heal, reintroduce the gut to good bacteria or probiotics to prevent dysbiosis (occurs when the bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract become unbalanced). Eating fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kimchi or miso can help you do that.
Repair: The gut lining needs to be repaired to prevent intestinal permeability, that essentially means preventing bacteria and toxins from passing from the gut to the blood stream. Consuming glutamine, bone broth or collagen can help with gut repair.
Rebalance: This involves slowly reintroducing the offending food to test the immune response. Always consult a doctor before doing this. Be extra careful if you are suffering from celiac disease because in this case, gluten intake is completely banned.
What are some gluten-free substitutes that are safe to include in my diet?
Atta and maida are every Indian kitchen’s staples, so eliminating them from your diet means bye-bye bhatura and other comfort foods you turn to after watching a tear-jerker that left you feeling vulnerable. Rye, barley, spelt, and kamut are also no longer an option.
“Bajra, jowar, nachni, buckwheat, rajgeera, quinoa, brown and red rice, millets, pulses, fruits and vegetables are food groups you can still consume,” explains Chitalia. Breathe, you still have hope.
Why do people usually eliminate dairy from their diets when they have gluten-related conditions?
It’s simply a case of mistaken identity.
Dairy is known to have a similar protein molecular structure as gluten, which often leads to the immune system getting aggravated and subsequently causing inflammation. The immune system confuses dairy for gluten. For people with increased sensitivity, it’s best to maintain low or no dairy intake and switch over to dairy-free substitutes.
Another food group that might not instantly come to mind when striking off gluten-rich food items is oats. Oats are often processed or milled at a facility where wheat or barley or rye are processed, leading to high probability of “cross reactivity contamination,” which can be dangerous for a person who has celiac disease or gluten or wheat allergy. When consuming oats, keep your eyes open for any symptoms that might surface.
Can cutting out gluten from my diet lead to any nutritional deficiencies?
Wheat covers 70% to 75% of our prebiotic intake.
Prebiotics are like food for gut microbes or probiotics in our intestines. And probiotics are essential to help maintain gut balance.
Onions, garlic, plantain, and chicory root are some foods you can include in your gluten-free diet to ensure that you are consuming the adequate amount of prebiotics.
Gluten-free recipes so you don’t have to wave goodbye to your favourites
Parathas with dollops of makkhan, pizza to make rom-com nights even cheesier, and snacks that make for the perfect dessert for breakfast – we have a little something for all your gluten-free cravings.
Gluten-free aloo ka paratha from yesiamvegan
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour
- 2 potatoes, boiled
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp oil
- Salt as per taste
- 1/3 cup hot water
- Grate potatoes and add them to a bowl.
- Add buckwheat flour, chickpea flour, turmeric, cumin seeds and salt to the potatoes and mix them all very well.
- Now add warm water (one tablespoon at a time), and mix until it reaches a consistency similar to that of roti dough. Add oil at the end and this should make the dough less sticky.
- Using a rolling pin, make parathas the same way you’d roll out rotis and throw them on a griddle, one at a time.
Polenta, cheese and mushroom pizza from Taste
- 400g field mushrooms or flat mushrooms
- 1 1/2 tbsp small fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 tbsp lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 1/2 cups instant polenta, plus 3 tsp
- 2 cups reduced-fat milk
- 2 cups water
- 20g butter, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated fresh mozzarella
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, finely grated
- 60g soft blue cheese, crumbled
- Baby kale leaves, to serve
- Preheat oven to 200° C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place mushrooms on tray. Top with thyme. Mix oil and garlic in a bowl. Drizzle mushrooms with one and a half tablespoons of the oil mixture. Season and bake for 10 minutes or until tender.
- Meanwhile, grease two baking trays with oil. Sprinkle with extra polenta. Bring milk and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Add polenta in a thin, steady stream, stirring until combined. Cook, stirring, for three minutes or until soft. Stir in butter. Season and divide among prepared trays. Spread to make a 24cm circle on each tray.
- Brush remaining oil mixture over polenta bases. Bake for five minutes. Combine cheeses. Reserve one-fourth of a cup and divide remaining cheese mixture among polenta bases. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until cheese melts.
- Top polenta bases with mushroom. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Bake for five minutes or until golden. Let it rest for five minutes. Use an egg slice to transfer to a board. Sprinkle with kale.
Gluten-free croissants from Taste
- 250 g gluten-free flour
- 30 g cubed butter
- 10 g yeast
- 30 g sugar
- 70 ml full fat milk
- 50 ml water
- 125 g chilled butter
- 1 tsp Xanthan gum
- A sprinkle of castor sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- Sieve the Xanthan gum and sugar together with the gluten-free flour. Rub in the cubed butter. Mix the yeast with the water. When dissolved, add the milk and combine with the rest of the mixture. Bring together to make a soft dough, knead for two minutes then cover with cling film and leave to rest for 60 minutes at room temperature. Knead again for two minutes and then chill for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, flatten the remaining chilled butter to a 25cm rectangle between two pieces of parchment. Remove the butter from the parchment. Roll out the chilled dough to around the same size as the butter, place on the flattened butter and with the shortest side towards you, fold the top third down, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out again to roughly a 25 cm rectangle. Cover with the parchment and chill for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat the same four more times.
- Roll out the dough to around the thickness of one-fourth of a centimetre, cut the edges of the dough to make a square, cut out four long triangle shapes. Starting at the wide end, roll the dough to make the croissant shapes. Place on parchment, cover in oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for one to one and a half hours. Brush with egg and a little caster sugar, bake in a pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until they turn a deep golden brown colour.
Carrot cake pop tarts from Delicious
- 1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75 g cream cheese
- 2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts, plus extra to serve
- 1 tbsp rapadura sugar
- 2 tbsp rice malt syrup, warmed
- Thick Greek-style yoghurt and chopped pumpkin seeds, to serve
Gluten-free pumpkin seed pastry
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 75 g rice flour
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1 tbsp rapadura sugar
- 1 tsp Xanthan gum
- 80 g cold unsalted butter, chopped
- 1 egg
- For the pastry, place walnuts and pumpkin seeds in a food processor and whiz until finely chopped. Add flours, almond meal, sugar and Xanthan gum, and whiz to combine. With motor running, add butter, one piece at a time, whizzing until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add egg and pulse until mixture just comes together. Enclose in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, to make the filling, combine carrot, cinnamon, cream cheese, walnut and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a large baking tray and line with baking paper.
- Roll out pastry between two sheets of baking paper to 3mm thick. Cut into twelve 8cm x 11cm rectangles, re-rolling pastry as required. Transfer half the pastry pieces to the prepared tray. Top with filling, then place the remaining pastry pieces on top of the filling. Use a fork to press the edges together to seal.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Brush pop tarts with rice malt syrup and scatter with extra walnut and pepita(pumpkin seed). Serve warm with yoghurt