Going Gluten-Free: More Than Just a Trend
The term “gluten free” seems to be cropping up everywhere these days, from stickers next to cereals and protein bars at the grocery store to celebrities praising it as the secret to their health. While eating gluten free may be a bandwagon trend for some, it shouldn’t be written off as merely that: gluten sensitivities are on the rise, and it isn’t just that people are becoming more aware and accepting of them. A study done a few years back has indicated that these sensitivities are four times more common today than they were in 1950. People have different theories on why this is, but for whatever reason, these intolerances have become drastically more common in recent years.
Since gluten sensitivity is still in the process of being studied and understood, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the words and what they actually mean. This is incredibly confusing if you suspect that you have an intolerance and are trying to see where you fall in the spectrum of it. When I was first learning about it a year ago, I spent a lot of time being incredibly frustrated. To save you cross referencing five different websites trying to figure it out, here is a (hopefully) unconfusing, quick explanation. While the words ‘wheat’ and ‘gluten’ are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Wheat is a grain. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, and also in rye, barley, and some oats. Essentially, you can have a wheat allergy and not be allergic to gluten, or you can have a gluten intolerance which means you can’t eat wheat or any of the other grains that gluten is an ingredient in. These types of intolerances and sensitivities are different from Celiac disease, which is a permanent condition in which intake of gluten actually damages the intestine. Celiac is a serious condition that can and should be diagnosed by a doctor. I don’t have any experience with or personal knowledge of Celiac other than what I read about online when I was trying to figure out if I had a gluten sensitivity.
Courtesy of Flickr user cellejay
Non-Celiac gluten intolerances are not very easily diagnosed as they are still in the relatively early stages of being studied. Until recently, it was thought that all gluten intolerances were Celiac, and it’s only in the past few years that they are being considered as two different things. When it comes to non-Celiac gluten intolerances, people have different degrees of sensitivity, so it often comes down to if eating gluten makes you feel rotten enough that you want to change your diet. Some people might have such a mild reaction that they barely notice, some might feel okay eating it in moderation, and some might have a severe enough reaction that they cut it out of their diet completely. There are many different symptoms that someone intolerant to gluten might have, but those symptoms can mean a wide range of different things, making gluten intolerance hard to pinpoint as the cause. I’ve seen doctors and nutritionists but in the end it was all rather un-scientific: I got tired of feeling sick constantly, stopped eating gluten products cold turkey, and started to see a change in how I felt in a matter of days. Essentially what I’ve learned is that none of it is black and white. People don’t either have a gluten sensitivity or not, there is a wide range of levels of intolerance and different people react to it differently. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet where getting information about these things is just a quick click away. If information about gluten intolerances hadn’t been readily available to me I might still be grasping at straws, trying to figure out why I was so ill all the time.
Gluten is a major staple in the average American diet, so if you live in the United States and have discovered you have a gluten intolerance, you might be wondering if you’re going to have to say goodbye to eating delicious food. Going gluten-free is definitely a difficult transition, but thankfully there are lots of options when it comes to gluten substitutes.
For bread products my favorite is Udi’s. I can only personally vouch for the regular bread, hamburger buns, bagels, and granola but they have a huge variety of products from muffins to pizza crust. Their website also has tons of great gluten free recipe ideas for you to try out.
Annie’s makes gluten free macaroni & cheese in all it’s cheesy delicious goodness. Mac and cheese was definitely one of the things I missed most when I stopped eating gluten, so I was really happy to find out I didn’t have to give it up!
Several fast food restaurants have begun introducing gluten free options as well. Subway now has gluten free sandwiches in some cities across the country. If you live in Dallas or Tyler, Texas; Tacoma, Washington; Duluth, Minnesota; Superior, Wisconsin, or anywhere in Oregon, your local Subway should be selling gluten free sandwiches as well as dessert brownies!
Many fast food restaurants, while they don’t have specific gluten free versions of their food, list which items on their menu are suitable for gluten intolerant people. Chick-Fil-A, for example, has a page on their website addressing gluten sensitivity.
Gluten free food is becoming more and more common place, so even though it’s a hard lifestyle change, it isn’t impossible. There are tons of resources online that you can use to learn more about gluten intolerance and help your friends and family understand and support you in it. Gluten.net and Celiac.com are great sites for getting a comprehensive understanding of gluten intolerances. For me, any inconvenience it might add to my life is outweighed by how much happier and healthier I feel now. It is an ongoing learning experience for me figuring out how to keep myself as healthy as possible, and I definitely don’t pretend to know all there is to know about these sensitivities. I just know what has worked for me and hope that in sharing my experiences I can help someone else.
Are you gluten intolerant, or do you follow a gluten-free diet? Have any favorite gluten-free foods? Share with us in the comments!
Written by Cleo McClintock