Visiting with Chef Bryan at Potenza got us thinking more about gluten-free products, but also about the misunderstandings related to gluten – what is it, who needs to avoid it, and why? We also stay on top of trends and news, and have noticed the increase in celebrities touting the supposed benefits of gluten-free diets. It’s time to tackle these questions and offer information about gluten.
What is gluten, anyway? In basic terms, it is a specific protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s found in a wide range of products, and not just the obvious ones such as cereal, bread, and pasta, but also salad dressings, sauces and mixes, and some types of flavorings. If we haven’t mentioned it before, this highlights one of the many reasons to carefully read a food label.
Individuals with celiac disease are unable to tolerate gluten, and therefore require a gluten-free diet – for life. No wheat, rye, barley or other offenders. Following such a strict regimen is not always easy, and requires diligence with each meal. But the potential consequences of consuming gluten are not only uncomfortable – bloating, cramping, diarrhea, weight loss, but also serious – osteoporosis, nutrient deficiencies, increased risk of stomach cancer. Intake of gluten leads to an autoimmune reaction that can cause serious and lasting damage to the intestinal tract. This is different from a wheat allergy, which is rare and typically occurs only in childhood.
Celiac disease can be diagnosed through a blood test, and is usually followed by a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm diagnosis. Of important note however, is that the blood test results will be inaccurate in one has already started to eliminate gluten. Risk for celiac disease is higher in those with other autoimmune conditions, type 1 diabetes, and Down Syndrome. There is also a genetic link, so having a relative with celiac also increases risk.
Following diagnosis, it is highly recommended that celiac sufferers seek the counsel of a registered dietitian (RD) for an in-depth nutrition assessment and meal planning.
Fortunately, for those with celiac disease and those who are interested to learn more about the condition and the gluten free lifestyle, there are countless resources available. Gone are the days when only specialty stores or catalogs offered gluten free products. Mainstream grocery store chains carry far more options than in years past. And as Stacey’s recent visit to Potenza indicates, gluten free options in restaurants represent the growing trend of offerings when dining out. Thanks to all those creative, progressive chefs!
For our gluten-sensitive readers, we found a gluten free pancake recipe. Do you have one of your own?
For more information on the various topics related to gluten free living, and celiac disease, please see the links below.
What’s your experience with celiac disease and gluten-free foods?