The gluten controversy has taken the world of the health industry by storm. It has harbored a thousand questions, created a market of variant grains while constructing a million opportunities for various gluten free products.
Why is it, that wheat is considered the enemy as much as sugar and salt? Doctors, researchers all over the world continue to dissect this phenomena in an on-going process. The advertisers for health products go overboard in their displays proudly fixing the “Gluten-free” tag. Has wheat suddenly become unhealthy? People barely knew about gluten a few years ago and now suddenly half the populace claims to be gluten intolerant! A lot has to do with internet knowledge playing havoc in people’s minds and of course fad diets prescribed and followed by internet sensations.
We in India, have to understand the ancestry of it all if we are to get to the roots of what works for whom with respect to our daily food requirement. Up North where wheat grows in plentiful, the climatic conditions are also much more extreme and back in time that is also, where the most wars were fought. Sustainability of energy came through food that would last longer in the stomach, make it possible for long hours of work, to have energy that lasts through the day till the next meal was possible. These parameters would still hold in good stead when we see farmers, labourers, sportsmen, army personnel or any job requirement that require physical hard work.
The processing of wheat in our digestive system is slower than because of a mixture of 2 proteins (glutenin and gliadin) called gluten. It is a binder. It also helps you feel fuller for longer as it absorbs a lot of water. To efficiently digest this gluten without raising the stomach’s acidity water intake would have to be upped, without which dehydration would occur faster. So unless this food is converted into energy and used up as fuel for work, it stays in your body. So the real reason for wheat being a factor for acidity and putting on weight is not its content of gluten but the fact that it isn’t used as energy.
When you knead the dough, the stickiness that holds the “Atta” together for a roti to be made, is the gluten. The finer the wheat is ground, the fiber and nutrients get reduced as in “maida” and then what you have is gluten. Whether it is bread or cakes or pastries, the binding as well as the expanding factor is gluten. So when companies claim a gluten free product they have to add artificial binders for their products which may not necessarily be healthy.
A meal of roti/chappati/paratha will make you fill fuller for a longer period than if you were to eat rice. The whole funda of losing weight eating 6 meals a day cannot be achieved if your meals are all full of this binder. It also means that you will have to literally be on your feet, sweating out all that build up energy(burning carbs) inside of you unless you want it stored (carb overload).
At a time when rice is regarded as fat and a sugar enhancer for the new age health obsessed and certain diets claim that it cannot replace wheat for weight reduction, the only alternative seems the other grains which companies then decide to market at their own terms and prices. Thus giving a push start to a whole new market.
Though the consumption of other grains/millets in smaller villages and interiors was always there, now with ragi, nachni, quinoa, amaranth etc. highlighted as the new age food, the packaging and marketing of all these have sky rocketed their prices. We will realize that the shift over from wheat to these is mainly due to sedentary lifestyles as compared to earlier daily routines. The onus however is pushed over to gluten and its intolerance.
So while I am not implying that this gluten may be the devil for some, we really need to take a look at our lifestyle and if you do want to enjoy that paratha…do your own housework, walk to your work, paly a sport or hit the gym!