Gluten-free items seem to be a trend nowadays. From gluten-free products to entire gluten-free restaurants, gluten-free appears to be foods’ newest and hottest label.
But, does the general population even know what “gluten” is?
I’ll admit I had no idea until my nutritionist recommended I stay away from gluten products to help ease my persistent stomach pains.
I nodded my head, thanked her for her time and assured her my new gluten-free diet would be nothing less than successful. “This will be easy,” I thought to myself.
Then I went to lunch.
So, what is gluten?
Gluten is present in cereal grains, like wheat, and gives dough its elasticity. People with gluten sensitivities must be wary of ingredients such as barley, rye, wheat and triticale (a fancy blend of wheat and rye). Unless labeled otherwise, people with a gluten-intolerance cannot consume beer, pasta, cookies, cakes, bread or French Fries.
And looks can be deceiving. For example, protein like chicken is allowed, but fried chicken or chicken cover in any sort of batter isn’t. Also, soy sauces, whose name includes the word “soy” (a consumable ingredient for gluten-intolerant people) is misleading because the soy sauce actually contains wheat as a primary ingredient.
So late-night trips to Dough Co. are no more and consider your days drooling over croissants, bagels and most pastries a thing of the past. This dietary restriction leads to a lot of pre-planning and meditation of daily meals.
More than just a trend
Aside from learning what a person can and can not eat, delving through gluten-free diet’s other aliases such as “wheat allergy”, “gluten intolerance, sensitivity” and “Celiac Disease” are a stomachache in itself. And these terms often add more confusion for people just trying to comprehend what gluten is.
Let me try and put these in Laymen’s terms. Celiac Disease is a disease in the small intestine triggered by the intake of gluten; the term can be used interchangeably with the term gluten intolerance and sensitivity, but it generally does not lead to as much intestinal damage as with Celiac Disease.
How much intestinal damage occurs, the severity and pain varies from person to person. Some people can’t be exposed to even miniscule amounts of gluten, where others can eat gluten and only feel a slight amount of discomfort.
Another confusing term often associated with gluten is wheat allergy. Generally, a person with a wheat allergy will experience an allergic reaction after eating a wheat product. Yet a person with a wheat allergy is not necessarily gluten intolerant and someone who is gluten intolerant does not necessarily have a allergy to wheat.
Despite the confusing jargon, gluten-free diets are more than just the latest food trend; it is a lifestyle change many are undertaking to improve their health and wellbeing. And unlike many of Hollywood’s diets and crazes, for many people, this one is not optional.