For those with celiac disease, reducing gluten is part of the treatment. But for others, it could mean less bloatedness and cramps.
BY: Jaime Yeo
Connie Leong did not know much about gluten, much less how it could have such a negative effect on her body. She shared: “I am not sensitive to gluten. However, as I am getting older, my metabolism rate has slowed down considerably.” She started noticing that she felt bloated and lethargic in the morning if she had a late night or a big dinner.
In May 2007, when she went on holiday to Europe with her daughter, her meals there mainly consisted of meat and vegetables, and not much bread, rice or noodles. As a result, she discovered she did not suffer the feeling of bloatedness or got hunger pangs, which she would normally experience after an intake of rice or noodles.
The 60-year-old then decided to try to reduce her gluten intake. “Initially, it was a little confusing and difficult because gluten can be found in almost everything we eat. Reducing gluten, such as bread and noodles from my diet, has been my main focus. For example, I will have oats with milk and honey instead of bread for breakfast in the morning, and halve the amount of noodles or bread in the afternoon for lunch and/or for dinner,” she said.
Though her craving for rice and noodles continued, she dealt with it by opting for fruit, which helped to minimise the cravings. Now several years of reducing gluten, she doesn’t feel bloated or lethargic. And most importantly, she has more energy and has been able to maintain her weight.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Most of us love it, because gluten gives our foods that special touch – it makes noodles/pasta dough stretchy, gives bread its spongy texture, and it is used to thicken sauces and soups. Gluten is used to bind foods together, but without it, most food manufacturers would opt for fat and sugar to make food more palatable.
A gluten-free diet is often a recommendation to treat those with celiac disease as gluten causes inflammation in their small intestines. Eating a gluten-free diet can help them control their signs and symptoms, and prevent complications. And for those who do not have celiac disease, reducing gluten is said to reduce a number of symptoms such as belly bloating, gas, painful cramps, heartburn and irregular bowel movements. You also may experience an improved well-being and avoid missing out on important nutrients such as iron, vitamin B and fibre.
Lauren Ho, a dietitian/nutritionist from the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF), advised: “A gluten-free diet is not necessary for everyone. However, if you suspect that you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, due to some signs and symptoms discussed earlier on, then, avoiding gluten-containing foods may alleviate the symptoms and possibly correct some nutritional deficiencies. Consult a doctor for a diagnosis and a dietitian for advice on a gluten-free diet.” However, keep in mind, a gluten-free diet does not mean fat-free or calorie-free.
What is there to eat?
For those who want to reduce their gluten or go totally gluten-free, you can consider foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, rice, wild rice, buckwheat, soy, tapioca, amaranth, nuts, legumes, quinoa, cassava, corn, millet, buckwheat, uncontaminated oats and bean flour. It is recommended that you eat a balanced and varied diet that is nutrient-dense, comprising lean meats, fish, eggs, low-fat milk and dairy products, beans, seeds and nuts, fruits and vegetables, in the number of servings recommended for good health.
“Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they may become cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains like wheat during the manufacturing process. They are thus best avoided unless specifically labelled to be gluten-free,” added Ho.
She said that in recent years, there have become more and more gluten-free products on the shelves of supermarkets in Singapore. These include gluten-free bread, gluten-free baking flour mix, gluten-free pasta, and gluten-free sauces. “However, many of these products contain refined grains, which provide much less of the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and phytochemicals that are found naturally in whole-grains. It is important that people on gluten-free diets include some gluten-free whole-grains in their diets – examples are amaranth, quinoa, millet, unpolished rice, wild rice, sorghum, corn, buckwheat, and uncontaminated oats,” advised Ho.
Be sure to read the food labels carefully before buying the product. When going out to eat, some restaurants also may be able to cater to your special food allergy. However at times, it may be a challenge so you might need to come to some compromise.
Connie explained, “I look for dishes that are sautéed, steamed or grilled with light marinades or sauces added. For example, I will have my vegetables sautéed with garlic instead of having them stir-fried with oyster sauce as most oyster sauces contain thicken agents/ingredients made from wheat.”