I almost never used to hear the word 'gluten-free' but lately I hear it quite often from friends and acquaintances in the context of living healthier lifestyles. Incase you're also considering giving up on all things chapati or bread, let's take a beat to understand what gluten is.

Gluten- A type of protein found in most grains, the most consumed of these grains being wheat. It’s what gives dough its elasticity and bread the ability to rise when baked. If you’re a fan of chapati, mandazi or bread, gluten is what gives them their chewy, delicious texture and makes them so damn tasty!!

Some people have a severe intolerance towards gluten. A condition known as celiac disease. For those with this condition, foods with gluten - like bread and chapati - cause inflammation (an auto-immune disorder where the body attacks itself). The body treats gluten as a foreign invader causing the immune system to attack the gluten, as well as the small intestine. With time this interferes with digestion and makes the gut more permeable, allowing in toxins, undigested food, and bacteria that would never normally make it through. Celiac can cause diarrhoea, nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis (a condition that weakens bones and makes them break easily) and even cancer. The only treatment for celiac is a gluten-free diet.

BUT, what a larger number of people suffer from are less severe gluten intolerances like pain, bloating and gas after seemingly consuming wheat products. Research now shows that these symptoms may be due to “FODMAPs”; The un-abbreviated version being Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-sAccharides and Polyols)! I know, it’s quite a mouthful!

FODMAPs- Carbohydrates that are found in some wheat products but are also found in dairy, vegetables, fruits, and many other foods. Some people don’t break them down or absorb them properly in the small or large intestine which leads to pain, bloating and gas.

Food allergies and intolerances can be a real pain but before making assumptions or blaming in on particular foods the best way to uncover what foods make you feel crappy is an elimination process. This entails systematically removing and then reintroducing foods in your diet all the while making note of any changes in symptoms.

Verdict? Is it healthier to go gluten-free?

Unless you have a confirmed intolerance, it’s not necessarily healthier to eliminate gluten from your diet. Many packaged gluten-free products are packed with extra sugar and fat to make up for the palatability that’s lost when gluten is removed. A better approach would be to focus on a variety of whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods and building your diet around plenty of lean proteins and plants.

Eat better. Live better.