Gluten-free Living

Prachi Joshi

Do you need to go gluten-free? Here’s how to find out. And what to do next!

Gluten-free has been a buzzword these past few years, especially in the United States. The number of people being diagnosed as gluten-intolerant or as suffering from celiac disease is increasing and we are beginning to see the gluten-free phenomenon hitting the Indian shores as well. Whether you are going off gluten voluntarily or because of food allergies, here’s everything you need to know about gluten-free living.  

What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite found in several grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It is gluten that gives the bread dough or atta its elasticity and helps it rise – leading to breads and chapatis that retain their shape and have that satisfying, chewy texture.

Gluten Intolerance & Celiac Disease
Intolerance towards gluten could range from a mild reaction to a full-blown attack, the latter of which is experienced by people suffering from celiac disease. This is an autoimmune disorder that prevents the small intestine from breaking down gluten, more specifically the protein gliadin contained in gluten.

What To Avoid

If you chronically experience symptoms such as nausea, bloating, pain in the digestive tract and diarrhoea, there are chances that you may be gluten intolerant (remember that some food allergies may also have similar symptoms). Try cutting down your intake of wheat and maida in its various forms – breads, roti, upma/sheera, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pizza etc. Also avoid oats, which are naturally gluten-free, but may have been contaminated, since they are usually grown along with wheat. Diagnosis of gluten intolerance is usually by elimination, though there are tests to confirm celiac disease.

What You Can Eat
There are many foods that are naturally gluten-free. Rice is the staple in many Indian meals and there’s no gluten in there. Instead of wheat chapatis, try making bhakri with different types of flours, such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra) and red finger millet (ragi / nachni). It’s a myth that a gluten-free diet severely restricts your choices. Sure you can’t eat the regular bread or cake or pasta, but there are always ways of getting around that. Look for breads and cakes made from alternative flours such as amaranth or nut flours such as almond meal. Instead of pasta and egg noodles, go for Thai rice noodles or Japanese soba noodles (which are made from buckwheat).  

Eating Out
While it’s relatively easier to eat gluten-free at home, it may pose a challenge when you eat out. This is especially the case if you have celiac disease and even a small amount of gluten can trigger an adverse reaction. To minimise the chances of accidentally eating something that will not agree with you, it’s better to call the restaurant in advance and inform them about your allergies while making a reservation. Apart from the obvious precautions of avoiding wheat directly, it’s also important to find out about the ingredients. For example, a dish of Chinese mixed greens may sound like a safe option, but if the dish contains soy sauce, you’d be in trouble. Soy sauce usually contains some amount of wheat, though some brands have now started making tamari-style gluten-free soy sauces. Always check with the restaurant or your server before ordering.

Going gluten-free doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself. There are still a lot of foods that you can continue to eat and enjoy!