Sometimes it’s difficult to separate hype from reality but gluten free is the real deal. It's estimated that 1 in 130 people have celiac disease (CD), an inherited disorder that interferes with the way the body metabolizes certain proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. For many it goes undiagnosed or is labeled as irritable bowel syndrome. Diagnosis by a medical doctor is necessary and often begins with a blood test. Eliminating all gluten-containing ingredients from food and health and beauty care products (HBC) makes life tolerable.
• Cross contact is a major issue. Any amount of an offending ingredient can result in discomfort for the person and less nutrients from food.
• Gluten-free bread can’t be toasted or grilled on equipment used for other grain foods without thorough cleaning. This applies to other equipment like knives, cutting boards and mixers. For the retailer it means a dedicated slicer in the deli, gluten-free packaging and bakery areas and trained employees. Even airborne grain dust raises the potential of turning a gluten-free product into a problem for a customer.
• In HBC the issue can be coatings and thickeners.
• Quality gluten-free labeling is still being developed! Gluten is not an allergen, only wheat is mandated on the label. And remember the potential of casual cross contact!
Finally, there are other reasons people are going gluten free, including unproven research studies showing such diets can help control autism and diabetes. Dietary guidance from a registered dietitian is imperative, because understanding ingredients takes education (malt syrup is made from barley; oats are sometimes an issue due to cross contact with other grains).
Fitting gluten free foods into meal plans, substituting for favorites and meeting total nutrient needs requires more than a pamphlet and some recipes! But for the person with CD, gluten-free is a lifestyle worth adopting.