Photo: Nandita Iyer
Photo: Nandita Iyer

Going gluten-free

What would eliminating gluten from your Indian-diet mean?

Have you been to the supermarket recently? You will see an array of products meant to satisfy every food lover’s dream—including those of the vegan and the gluten-free. For the gluten-free way of life has caught on internationally and health-conscious Indians too are waking up to it.

Gluten, a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye, is known to cause irritation in people who suffer from Celiac disease as it triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. Many people, however, are also choosing to go “gluten-free" to become fitter and thinner.

It is certainly a healthier option than processed foods but leaving out gluten completely may not be advisable.

You would, of course, be eliminating many food products that are unhealthy, such as processed and refined food. You would be consuming more vegetables, fruits and salads. “Going gluten-free means cutting down on cakes, pastries, cookies, fried snacks and breaded fried meats, thus also cutting back on the unhealthy fat intake. Gluten is pro-inflammatory. When you eliminate it, the levels of inflammation drop and this causes a slump in cortisol levels, which are also a cause of weight gain in most people," explains Delnaaz T. Chanduwadia, chief dietitian at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai.

“Gluten can cause inflammation in the system. With our current stress levels and unhealthy lifestyle, it is easy enough to gain weight. Keeping that in view, if you replace some of your gluten meals with more millets, you can feel full but not put on the calories at the same level," says Chanduwadia. But Chanduwadia adds that you don’t need to switch to a completely gluten-free diet if you’re not suffering from Celiac disease.

Rajeshwari Shetty, head of dietetics at the SL Raheja Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, agrees. “Leaving out gluten completely from your diet can lead to certain nutritional deficiencies. For example, oats and dalia (porridge) also have a lot of fibre. If you are replacing it, you will have to make sure that you are still getting enough nutrition."

Shetty, recommending a balanced diet, warns against buying “gluten-free" products unless you are sure about the genuineness of the brand or seller. “A lot of products can actually have hidden gluten," she says.

It’s important to have snacking options ready before you make the switch from processed foods, says Chanduwadia. “Our snacking options with gluten are far and wide. You need to prepare well in advance if you plan to actually leave out gluten from your diet completely. If you are going to avoid the 6pm tea biscuit, what do you replace it with? Planning ahead is crucial here."

That said, India does offer a variety of options. Nandita Iyer, a home chef, explains in her recently published cookbook, The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian: Delicious Meals From The Indian Kitchen, that it’s not so difficult to go “gluten-free". “Especially as someone who has grown up on Tamil cuisine, I have always been more comfortable with rice. And when it comes to replacing wheat rotis, you can always choose to make something like moong dal ka chilla (moong dal pancakes)."

So weigh your options carefully.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Nandita Iyer shares some easy gluten-free recipes

Green pancakes (‘chilla’)
Makes 4-5

Ingredients

1 cup gram flour (‘besan’)

2 tbsp yogurt

K tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coriander powder

N tsp baking soda

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt

2 cups mixed greens (spring onions, ‘bathua’, spinach), etc., or ‘bathua’ and spinach, finely chopped

2 tbsp oil

Method

Combine the ingredients for the ‘chilla’ batter in a large bowl. Add one cup of water and mix well, till you get a smooth, light and pourable batter. Cover and keep aside for 30 minutes. Place a non-stick ‘tava’ (griddle) over moderate heat. Grease it uniformly with N tsp oil using kitchen paper. Pour K cup of batter in the centre. Using the back of the ladle, quickly spread the batter to cover the entire ‘tava’, roughly 8cm in diameter. Pour around K tsp oil around the ‘chilla’ and allow it to cook for 2–3 minutes, till golden and lightly crisp. Gently turn over and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove from the pan and place on a dish. Serve warm with any chutney.

Millet Fenugreek Salad

Photo: Nandita Iyer
Photo: Nandita Iyer

Serves 3-4

For the salad
Ingredients

1 large carrot

1K cups cooked foxtail millet (‘kangni’)

1 cup cooked chickpeas (‘kabuli chana’)

O cup tender fenugreek leaves (‘methi’), without stems

K cup fresh pomegranate arils

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp ‘panch phoron’ powder

1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp honey

Method

Scrub and peel the carrot. Grate it coarsely using a box grater. Mix the grated carrot with the remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together all the dressing ingredients till thick and creamy. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. The millet and chickpeas absorb the flavours better if you refrigerate the salad for an hour.

The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian—Delicious Meals from the Indian Kitchen: By Nandita Iyer, 247 pages, Rs599.
The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian—Delicious Meals from the Indian Kitchen: By Nandita Iyer, 247 pages, Rs599.
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