Getting Along with Gluten
Few issues come along in the nutrition world that truly change the landscape of food. But in the past 10 years, gluten (a type of protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt and others) has done just that. Who has trouble with gluten? Is gluten-free for you? Read on to find out.
Who has trouble with gluten?
Times have changed. Fifty years ago, 1 in 10,000 people were diagnosed with celiac disease. Some researchers estimate that today at least 1 in 100 Americans have celiac disease and 1 in 20 may have some type of gluten intolerance. For those affected, eating foods with gluten can prove harmful and sometimes painful, as their immune systems attack their intestines, making it difficult to absorb the nutrition in food. Thirty percent of people have a version of the gene for celiac disease, which means a predisposition for gluten issues. Infections, illnesses, surgeries or drugs may trigger trouble for these folks. Beyond this, some experts suspect the rapid rise in incidence may be due to environmental and personal health issues, such as:
- Grain changes. The wheat we eat today is different than the wheat we ate years ago. Newer breeding and growing processes and disease-resistant crops may cause greater sensitivity for some, too.
- Chronic inflammation. Many of us have constant inflammation in our bodies caused by diet, stress and illness. That kind of environment may heighten gluten sensitivity.
- Bacteria imbalance in the intestines. A powerful balance of bacteria in our intestines influences many aspects of health. Overuse of antibiotics plus a diet high in fat, meats and highly processed foods upsets the balance and may affect gluten sensitivity.
Is gluten-free for you?
If you have gluten sensitivities, the answer is yes. If you don't, eating gluten-free doesn't necessarily offer often-advertised yet unproven health benefits and can mean potential nutrient shortfalls in calcium, iron, fiber, magnesium and B vitamins. Keep in mind that most people with celiac disease don't know they have it. If you have symptoms, a family history of celiac disease, type-1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or premature bone loss, a simple blood test can determine if further testing is needed.
People with celiac disease are at greater risk for other health concerns, so get tested if you have symptoms and talk with a dietitian to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need from food. If you're looking for gluten-free choices, keep shopping. Kowalski's is constantly bringing in more gluten-free options and creating new salads and prepared foods with non-gluten containing ingredients. And if there are products you'd like to find in your market, let us know.
Entertaining guests who are gluten-free?
Tips for Cooking for the Gluten-Free Guest
- Check with your guest. Some people are very sensitive to gluten, while others have more wiggle room. Ask your guest what he or she would like to eat instead of scrambling to find something you hope will work.
- Choose wholesome, simple foods. It cuts down on the risk for cross-contamination and extra work. Meat or fish seasoned with herbs, spices or gluten-free marinades cooked on a clean grill or grill pan work great. Fresh fruits and vegetables, a green salad with oil and balsamic vinegar, and a non-gluten starch (like potatoes, quinoa or rice) round out the meal.
- Read labels on packaged foods. Confirm (never assume) they're gluten-free, and note that wheat-free is not the same as gluten-free.
- Watch for cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards, utensils and dishes if you're preparing both foods that contain gluten and foods that don't.
- Pick up our Gluten-Free Diets Brochure. It contains loads more helpful facts, tips and product information.