The 411 on Living Gluten-Free
Almost a year ago, we invited some friends visiting from out of town over to our house for dinner. No biggie. Except, they live gluten-free. In other words, they eat no wheat or wheat-based products whatsoever.
At the time, gluten and gluten-free diets were still relatively new terms for me.
Turning to Wikipedia, I learned:
Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.
For people with the autoimmune condition celiac disease, foods that contain gluten trigger the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. The only treatment is a lifelong, gluten-free diet. Untreated, celiac disease raises the risk of life-threatening conditions, such as digestive tract cancers. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, about 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease.
Interesting, but what were we going to feed our friends?
Walking up and down the aisles of my favorite supermarket, I found very few gluten-free items on the shelves. After visiting four different stores, I finally found gluten-free pasta and we settled on a basic shrimp and pasta dish. They were thrilled.
Fast forward nine months later and gluten-free diets have become trendy, and dare I say fashionable, with celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Rachel Weisz and Gwyneth Paltrow publicly promoting gluten-free eating. Weight loss, better sleep and clearer skin are among the benefits proponents tout.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the co-hosts of The View, has written a book called The G-Free Diet. She has celiac disease. A gluten-free diet is not restrictive, she says, adding that popular foods like pizza and pasta have gluten-free versions.
And my supermarket shelves and most likely yours, too, are now stacked with gluten-free food with sales approaching $3 billion per year! Even brand name companies are offering gluten-free varieties. In early 2011, Kellogg’s launched Rice Krispies Gluten Free. It’s now one of the company’s top sellers.
Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore says, “I would say the occasional consumers are the ones who have no reason to be on a gluten-free diet.”
Gluten-free products can be several times more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. Part of the gluten-free fad comes from the misconception that the foods are healthier or more diet-friendly. The main health concern is that people cut out all gluten as a way to self-diagnose a sensitivity or celiac disease. But, Corazza notes, it’s impossible to diagnose celiac disease in someone who’s gone gluten-free before being evaluated.
If you are thinking of going gluten-free, a quick run down of a typical diet is nicely outlined on the Mayo Clinic web site.
As with all diets, there are risks of not getting enough vitamins. With a gluten-free lifestyle, those may include: iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, folate, niacin, and riboflavin.
Be sure to do your research and as always, please talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Photo credit: Robert Crouse-Baker