Gluten free used to be a choice that was put upon patients who had been diagnosed with celiac disease. Today the food choices are not only about an allergy to certain grain products, but also a lifestyle that appears to have a certain allure about it. However, the choice to refrain from eating gluten based food items should come from an educated awareness not only about the disease, but about the benefits and potential side effects of eating gluten-free.
What is celiac disease?
Wheat, barley, rye and other grains are composed of a protein which, in some people, is intolerable once in the small intestine. This gluten sensitivity, termed celiac disease, is believed to be genetic. Of some concern to the medical field is that most people are not aware of the disease or have any idea they have it, although a simple blood test will reveal the health problems people tend to ignore
Gluten actually causes injury to the lining of the small intestine, representing in patients as severely uncomfortable abdominal cramps, diarrhea and bloating. Other implications include mineral and vitamin deficiencies which, when left unchecked, cause further medical problems.
Wheat and barley in particular contain the disease causing gluten, but they are also necessary plant fibers (prebiotics) that are converted to the nourishment necessary to maintain a type of bacteria required for healthy body balance. Fortunately, these prebiotics can also be found in other foods such as asparagus, artichokes, leeks, and chicory root.
Are we being served?
People are being educated not only by their attending physicians, but also by a plethora of news posts, blogs, articles and books. Restaurants are modifying menus to cater more to the gluten-free crowd, and cooking schools are preparing their students to accept this challenge to prepare alternative grains as foundational to their culinary skills.
Since gluten is found in many foods, and labeled under terms most people wouldn’t recognize, it is a difficult task at best to eat gluten free. Once diagnosed with gluten intolerance, the task becomes a life-long responsibility to manage a restricted diet.
Fortunately, a new generation of more taste satisfying products is being developed to make eating gluten-free more appealing. Most people who are open-minded enough to try the culinary delights of gluten-free recipes are pleasantly surprised. Medical labs continue to test, define and label alternatives and manufacturing companies are providing that information on their labels.
The Internet is a wealth of information regarding gluten-free dieting, health benefits and potential side effects; it is almost overwhelming to sort through it all. One great resource for quickly referencing which foods do and do not contain gluten is Jackson-Siegelbaum’s site on gastroenterology (http://www.gicare.com/diets/gluten-free.aspx). If you are serious about understanding the effects of gluten in the body, subscribe to the RSS feed and take advantage of new posts designed to enlighten you.