One buzzword that keeps popping up in grocery stores, restaurants and even churches is gluten-free.
Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye, is difficult for some people’s bodies to process, resulting in an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients. This genetic disease is known as celiac disease.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, about 83 percent of Americans who have celiac disease are misdiagnosed or still not diagnosed. A gluten-free diet is essential for those with celiac disease, and May is Celiac Awareness Month.
While about 1 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, many others are joining the gluten-free movement for various health reasons.
Christin Bell, a Dallas-based registered dietician who works with LifeTime Fitness health club, says that while a gluten-free diet may not be for everyone, the gluten-free lifestyle is beneficial.
“Everyone would benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle,” Bell said. “Those with celiac disease have no choice but to avoid gluten; however, many other conditions benefit from following a gluten-free diet. For example, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, certain cancers, and the list goes on.”
Bell isn’t alone in her assessment. Restaurants continue to expand their menu offerings for people with celiac or a gluten sensitivity, too.
According to research from Mintel Menu Insights, gluten-free instances are appearing more frequently on restaurant menus, posting a 200 percent increase between the fourth quarter of 2010 to 2013, and it accounts for 40 percent of the total growth in ingredient nutritional claims on menus during the same time period.
Betsy Craig, founder/CEO of MenuTrinfo and Kitchens with Confidence said the trend isn’t going anywhere.
“For decades, the FDA has had definitions for sodium and heart-healthy, etc.,” Craig said. “There are 17 different designations based on nutritional content. Adding gluten-free as the 18th shows how important it is now to make sure if you’re serving something — and making money on something — gluten-free, that it’s verified all the way down to the subparticles.”
Likewise, grocery aisles are filled with gluten-free offerings, such as King Soba’s buckwheat ramen, Ronzoni’s gluten-free spaghetti and Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free muesli. Nationally, many grocery stores — from Kroger to Publix to Wegmans — publish their gluten-free products online, so those looking for them can tell at a glance whether it’s worth the drive.
And at least one church, St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, Texas, is offering a “low gluten” communion wafer. According to the church bulletin, “low-gluten hosts are less than 0.01 percent gluten.” Communicants just request the low-gluten alternative from a church usher.
Even though the trend seems to have a societal foothold, not everyone thinks a gluten-free lifestyle should be embraced by all.
Dr. Lydia Kaume, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, says if people unnecessarily — and without a medical reason — choose to be on gluten-free diets, they could miss vital nutrients and benefits that come with consumption of gluten-containing products, such as baked goods, bread, beers, ales, gravies, pretzels, crackers, chips, candies, chocolates, cereals and more.
“If consumed in their whole forms, gluten-containing grain products are generally rich in mainly fiber and B vitamins and enriched or fortified with many B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium and calcium,” Kaume said.
In addition, gluten-containing foods have sterols and stanols that contribute to decreasing the risk of heart disease.
For those who suspect they may have a sensitivity to gluten, Bell suggests altering carb consumption.
“Remove all wheat, barley and rye from the diet,” Bell said. “Lean on rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes and steel cut oats for your starchy carbohydrates. Gluten-free items are also available, however this does not mean it is a ‘cleaner’ product nor will it have less carbohydrates.”
Bell continues: “Research has shown it takes two weeks to fully rid our bodies of gluten. If someone is wanting to experiment to see how their body feels without gluten, I recommend they at least give it two to four weeks. My clients have all noticed improved energy, less aches and pains, better sleeping and overall better digestion from removing gluten from their diets.”
About the Author
Katy Bynum is a journalist with 15 years of experience in media, and she is currently a content editor at MultiBriefs. Katy has worked for daily, weekly and monthly publications and is also the former co-owner of The Courier newspaper in Colleyville, Texas.