I am curious. With all of the gluten-free conversations going on and the many books saying that gluten is not our friend, should I be gluten-free? Are you?
Non-medically speaking, is this just the current trend or should gluten-free become part of our general lifestyle? My recent gluten-free experiment began with three questions:
- What is gluten?
- What are the health conditions associated with gluten consumption?
- Is it a hassle to dine out or grocery shop for the gluten-conscious consumer?
*Consult a medical professional or nutritionist before embarking on an extreme gluten-free lifestyle. While gluten is not an essential part of anyone’s diet, eliminating all carbohydrates, for example, in an effort to sabotage this one ingredient could result in a diet that is out of balance.
What is Gluten?
Gluten (from the Latin word glue) is a type of protein that is found in barley, wheat and rye. These proteins have different names depending on the grain they are found in. The ingredient gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture. Kneading promotes the formation of gluten strands and cross-links. Increased wetness of the dough also enhances gluten development. Gluten is also used to preserve food for a longer shelf life.
Historically, when we discovered the grinding of wheat into flour, bread soon became a staple food and it has grown to be a significant part of most people’s daily diet. Carbs are an obvious potential source of gluten, but many other foods and even non-food products such as lotion may contain this ingredient. One of the hardest steps in going gluten-free, it seems, is figuring out what foods contain this sneaky ingredient. For reliable gluten-free diet information and answers to questions about celiac disease, click here: www.celiac.com.
A wheat allergy is an adverse immunologic reaction to wheat proteins, a classic food allergy affecting the skin, gastrointestinal tract or respiratory tract.
Celiac disease is an immune-mediated enteropathy (intestinal disease) triggered in susceptible individuals by the ingestion of gluten. The onset of symptoms is usually gradual and characterized by a time lag of months or years after gluten introduction.
Gluten sensitivity is often a diagnosis for the individual who experiences distress when ingesting gluten, but doctors have ruled out the more serious health concerns of a wheat allergy and celiac disease.
The Mayo Clinic reports that about 1 percent of the population suffers from celiac, while about 10 percent have a less specific sensitivity.
What are the health conditions associated with gluten consumption?
By 2015, sales of gluten-free foods and beverages are expected to hit $5 billion, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm. Is this an overemphasized buzzword? Have I been brainwashed by clever marketing within the food industry, or is learning about gluten a wise use of my time?
In general, gluten promotes inflammation, which in turn has been associated with the pain expeienced from other health issues such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, asthma, ADD, autoimmune dysfunction, migraines and cancer. Dr. Stephen Wangen, author of Healthier Without Wheat, says that gluten intolerance includes the more serious condition of celiac disease as well as other forms of gluten intolerance such as fatigue, headaches, brain fog, weight gain, skin problems and autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Keep in mind, there are many experts who say that gluten-free is overemphasized. What is clear is that gluten-free is not a direct weight loss solution, but cutting out gluten can lead to weight loss since the plan forces dieters to shun high-calorie refined carbohydrates.
Is it difficult to grocery shop or dine out for the gluten-conscious consumer?
My first gluten-free outing in Memphis was also hassle-free. If your goal is to lower your intake of gluten for mild sensitivity or simply test out the ubiquitous claims about this ingredient, then going gluten-free is a piece of cake (whoops, gluten-free cake of course!). But if you are diagnosed with celiac disease, then you must consider the possibility of cross contamination in a commercial kitchen and examine further a multitude of products—lotions, toothpaste, shampoo and, for children, toys!—a much more serious endeavor.
Grocery shopping? If you go on a gluten-free diet, livestrong.com recommends avoiding too many commercial gluten-free foods and instead opt for plenty of nonstarchy vegetables, fresh fruits, tubers such as yams and sweet potatoes, plain yogurt, cheese, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, poultry, meat, fish and seafood as the foundation foods of your diets. These foods are naturally free of gluten, unless they are seasoned or breaded.
Take out? Our main attraction to quick, commercial foods is related to time. It is often hard to schedule making a tasty meal from scratch. Curb Side Casseroles was prepared to help me select menu items that were among the many gluten-free selections they offer, ready to take home and serve.
Dining out in Memphis? No problem. I started online with one of the many gluten-free guides, the Urban Spoon’s Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurants list.
Many of the restaurants label items on the menu with helpful symbols. For example, Cafe 1912 in Midtown puts a “g” next to gluten-free selections and a “+” next to items that can be made gluten-free upon request. The Booksellers Bistro in Laurelwood offers any ot their sandwiches gluten-free upon request. They switch out the bread with Rudi’s Original Gluten-Free Bread for an additional $.60.
Alchemy has a plentiful variety of gluten-free options throughout their menu and some items that are not on the menu as gluten-free can be easily adjusted and made that way. Two customer favorites are the Seared Diver Scallops (with Green Chili Creamed Corn, Shiitakes and Bacon) and Chef Nick’s Brussels Sprouts (with Pancetta, Rosemary and Grapefruit). Clearly gluten-free does not mean eliminating the option for fine dining or flavor!
I thought that Mexican food would be off of of the gluten-free list, but Jonathan at Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana says that gluten-free dining is taken very seriously at this popular Germantown restaurant. Their tortillias are 100% gluten-free. Enjoy a tostado with your choice of toppings or a plate of tamales, all gluten-free … just ask, and they can easily accommodate your request.
And for dessert, stop by Gigi’s Cupcakes on Friday (or any day for many locations) to enjoy a gluten-free cupcake, offered in a variety of flavors. Read more here: Gigi’s Gluten-Free Fridays.
This was stage one. My curiosity has taken me down futile time-consuming paths before, ineffective because the effort needed to make the change introduced a more serious health condition: stress! My gluten-free day of grocery shopping and dining out was simple, so I will contine to stage two of this potentially positive lifestyle adjustment. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my discoveries, too.