World-over, almost 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where the body isn’t able to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat (also in rye and barley). When people with this condition eat wheat, the body responds by attacking its own intestinal lining. Over a period this causes long-term damage to the intestine, greatly hampering absorption of nutrients, creates digestive problems, can stunt growth and if left untreated, can also lead to intestinal cancer.
While there is much awareness about celiac disease in developed nations, in India, people are only just beginning to understand this condition. Also called as gluten-sensitivity or gluten-intolerance, a growing number of people are being diagnosed in India, particularly among communities that have a heavy dependence on wheat. In such cases the only permanent cure is to avoid wheat and wheat products altogether, since it is no lesser than toxic for those who are allergic to gluten.
Gluten is the protein that binds wheat. It is what gives wheat preparations like naan, pasta, noodles or bread a chewy, elastic texture. Many people are genetically indisposed to digesting this particular protein, much in the same way that some people are unable to digest milk and milk products. Mostly, gluten-intolerance is hereditary, that is, it runs in families. So if you suffer from the condition, it is best to take preventive measures for the entire family.
Eating a gluten-free diet can be a great challenge for many, because wheat products are ubiquitous in our meals. However India is one of the largest producers and exporters of rice – which is a great substitute for wheat in almost every way. If you’re gluten-allergic, here’s how rice can satiate your taste buds, give your culinary variety while keeping you healthy. And not just that; cooking with rice can actually be much easier than wheat in many cases!
- Rice is available in many different varieties. India alone produces over 100 different varieties of rice, each with different taste, aroma, length and shape. Focus on trying out different varieties – whether it’s Ponni or Rajabhogam, varieties of Basmati, the Ambemohar from Maharashtra or Kolam and Dubraj from Gujarat. Visit your nearest villages to see what farmers are growing locally. Include different types of rice in your meals and surprise your friends and family.
- Rice pairs well with almost any type of curry or gravy. Even simple dal and sambhar taste better with rice than with chapattis. Not only that, you can cook up an assortment of pulavs, biryanis, and other savoury dishes by adding different vegetables and spices to rice. From the humble lemon rice to the decadent mughlai biryani – there is no dearth of exotic ice dishes for you to try.
- Rice is great for any kind of one-pot meal – so if you’re hard-pressed for time, or have a hectic schedule, one-pot rice meals – like lemon rice, masale bhaath, curd rice, bisibele bhaath are super-easy and quick to make and delicious to eat.
- Rice offers a variety of breakfast items – steaming hot idlis, crisp dosai, idiyappams, appams, rice sevai, puttu, rice upma and rice sheera – these are just some in a long list of rice-based breakfasts that are extremely healthy, easy to digest and very light on the stomach. Paired with different types of chutneys, sauces or gravies – they can any day beat toast and wheat-based parathas.
- One of the biggest complaints of gluten-sensitive people is the inability to eat baked goodies like cakes and biscuits that are made of refined wheat flour. However, when it comes to desserts too, rice is extremely versatile. Rice, milk and sugar can be combined in infinite ways to create lip-smacking payasams, kheers and rice puddings that are not only tasty, but also very low in calories and can be enjoyed without guilt!
- What about snacks? Well, puffed rice or flattened rice are your saviours here. Both are easily available and can be used to make delicious chivdas as well as other sweet snacks to munch on, whenever hunger pangs strike!
For those dealing with gluten allergies, Rice is indeed a saviour. It provides ample nutrition, is easy to digest and can be cooked in endless variety to keep your palate satisfied. If you’re suffering from celiac disease, start incorporating rice in the ways mentioned in this post to reduce your dependency and intake of wheat.