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health 1Not very often does a serious medical condition spark a dieting fad – but such is the case with the new ‘gluten-free’ craze.

So what is gluten and why is the world going gaga over going ‘gluten-free’?

Gluten is a composite protein found in cereal products, such as barley, bleached flour, bran, couscous, rye, wheat bran and wheat starch. For people suffering from celiac disease (an autoimmune digestive condition), gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines, destroying the villi and this can lead to low bone density, neurological problems, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies and stunted growth.

Gluten-free diets are primarily prescribed for people suffering from celiac disease in order to control their symptoms and prevent complications. In this diet one has to eliminate gluten, which is found mostly in wheat products.

There has also been much talk about its weight loss benefits, even for people who do not suffer from celiac disease. Although the jury is out on the general weight loss benefits of a gluten-free diet for celiac and even non-celiac suffers, one research study did find that obese celiacs lost significant amounts of weight on a gluten-free diet. In another study, the results suggested that a gluten-free diet helped normalise weight – obese subjects lost weight, while underweight ones gained weight.

However, cardiologist Dr William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, believes that whether one suffers from celiac disease or not, going gluten-free will lead to shedding weight. People who choose to be gluten-free by dropping all grain and processed foods (even ones labelled  glutenfree), are most likely to experience significant weight loss.

There are several other benefits of going gluten-free; these include improved cholesterol levels, better digestive health, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and increased energy levels. A gluten-free diet encourages the intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, and  allows the consumption of arrowroot, beans, corn, millet, potato, pure buckwheat, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy, tapioca and nut and gram flours derived from chickpeas.

– Samia Babar
The writer is Director, Health Awareness Society.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on November 24, 2013.