Read this if you are planning to go on a gluten-free diet during pregnancy

Read this if you are planning to go on a gluten-free diet during pregnancy

If you are reading this, you already know that gluten refers to the proteins present in wheat, barley, rye, and the products made of them. Several health-conscious women today are considering following a gluten-free diet to boost their digestive health, control cholesterol levels, and feel more energetic. And this doesn’t mean that they are allergic to gluten. It is simply a kind of diet that they choose to embrace for better health. However, whether you can follow a gluten-free diet during pregnancy is dependent on several factors. Remember that, during this phase, your baby will depend on you completely, for his or her growth and development. Hence, weighing the pros and cons of such a diet is crucial.

Who can usually follow a gluten-free diet?

Individuals suffering from celiac disease, i.e., acute gluten intolerance, should naturally go for a gluten-free diet. But, as mentioned before, many Indians, who don’t have any intolerance, are shifting towards a "gluten-free diet", as it is considered to be a healthy choice.

However, before you start following this diet, it is important to know a bit more about gluten. Gluten is a protein that provides structure and texture to the food, and is majorly found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is present in products such as bread, wheat rotis, parathas, pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, and cereals. In case you are restricting the intake of gluten-rich foods, you have to go for foods that are fibre-rich, such as pulses, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and grains free from gluten, such as quinoa and millets.

What should celiac disease patients know?

Individuals with celiac disease need to stay away from gluten-containing products. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition wherein gluten consumption can cause harm to the small intestine. In this condition, the immune system attacks the villi of the small intestine. It results in malabsorption of the nutrients. Therefore, health and bodily functions are affected, causing severe issues like malnutrition, bone diseases, and more.

Is it wise to follow a gluten-free diet during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, doctors emphasise that the mother and baby should get all the necessary nutrients. Pregnant women, who have celiac disease, naturally need to continue a gluten-free diet, to maintain their own and the baby's health. However, this can pose other problems for those who don’t have celiac disease and still follow a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free food during pregnancy is usually deficient in nutrients like calcium, iron, folic acid, zinc, vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, B-vitamins, protein, and fibre. All these nutrients are essential for the baby’s growth and development, and a healthy pregnancy. So, pregnant women with celiac disease need to make sure they get a complete balance of nutrients for the infant. If required, supplements have to be given to such women.

Some pregnant women might want to remove gluten from their diet without any medical reason, allergy or intolerance. They might do so to simply feel good, to keep bloating under control, or for weight loss.

However, there is a downside to this. Limiting the intake of grains, i.e. gluten, can result in significant vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Also, being pregnant means obtaining enough nutrition for two, and this can become tricky if you are following a gluten-free diet. So, if you do not have any medical condition or emergency, it’s important to consult a physician before going for a gluten-free diet during pregnancy.

The pros and cons of a gluten-free diet

Pros

  • For individuals suffering from celiac disease, eliminating gluten from the diet can make them feel immediately better. This will allow better absorption of nutrients too.
  • For those who do not have celiac disease, removing gluten may help with weight loss and offer other health benefits. It might create awareness about different foods and encourage the reading of labels.
  • You can start consuming good-quality grains or cereals like quinoa, if you choose to go gluten-free.
  • Removing gluten from the diet can reduce bloating and sluggish feelings.

Cons

  • You will have to give up on many tasty foods if you eliminate gluten from your diet.
  • Some people mistakenly end up eliminating all carbohydrates from their diet, causing more harm than good. You should know that not all carbs contain gluten.
  • If you consume foods rich in sugars and fats after going gluten-free, your weight might increase.
  • Digestive issues might crop up if you follow a gluten-free diet but don’t consume substitutes with high fibre content.

So, all in all, eliminating gluten completely from the diet during pregnancy is not a wise move, unless you suffer from celiac disease or the doctor has advised you. This can have a negative impact on the balanced intake of nutrients. It is preferable to stick to traditional foods that a mother must consume for the smooth development of the foetus.