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Beyond Bread: Gluten-Free Foods

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Beyond Bread: Gluten-Free Foods

Why are gluten-free products crowding supermarket shelves?

Walk into any natural-foods store these days and you’re likely to find a special section stocked with gluten-free foods: Pasta made from rice, teff-flour cookies, quinoa-and-amaranth crackers. Even major supermarkets now carry alternative goodies containing no wheat, barley, or rye. And with the gluten-free products market growing at about 17 percent per year in the United States, you’ll soon see many more such items.

A rash of new books from major publishers–with titles like 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, fall 2008), Gluten Free, Quick and Easy (Avery, summer 2007), and even Living Gluten-Free for Dummies (For Dummies, 2006)–are slated for release or are in stores now. So what is gluten? And why are people avoiding it?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye–as well as several less-common related grains–that gives them the ability to stick together and form doughs and batters. Recent research indicates that at least one in 133 people has celiac disease, a genetic condition that makes them unable to digest gluten. For celiac patients, eating foods with gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine, leading to digestive discomfort, inflammation, and malabsorption of nutrients–which in turn can trigger other health problems, such as osteoporosis, skin rashes, and infertility.

Doctors speculate that there are even more undiagnosed celiacs out there, and that others may be sensitive to gluten without having full-fledged celiac disease. “Some people just feel better when they don’t eat gluten, and that may mean that they don’t digest it very well,” says Joseph Murray, a doctor and celiac disease researcher. Symptoms of gluten intolerance are similar to but less severe than celiac symptoms and can include digestive discomfort and inflammation.

One reason that gluten intolerance is on the rise may be growing dietary concerns among the public. “The medical community is slowly becoming more aware of the problem, but that pales in comparison to the public’s awareness of how food affects us,” says Stephen Wangen, a naturopathic doctor based in Seattle. Recent fads like low-carb and raw-food diets require people to cut out wheat and other grain products; some experts think these diets may have led some people to realize they felt better when they avoided gluten. The market for gluten-free goods is expanding among non-celiac sufferers, too, as a growing number of people remove gluten from their diets even without a diagnosis.

Developing gluten-free crackers, cookies, and other products involves much trial and error. Specialty flours made from gluten-free foods like rice and corn, or “heritage” grains like sorghum and quinoa, must be coaxed into forming dough, which rarely bakes with the same texture as wheat flour. So a binding agent, like xanthan or guar gum, is added to give gluten-free baked goods the same elasticity and feel as those that contain gluten. The catch is that every single ingredient has to be processed in a gluten-free facility to be considered uncontaminated, because even a trace of wheat, barley, or rye can trigger a reaction in gluten-sensitive people.

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By Christy Harrison, Plenty magazine

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19 comments

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9:25PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

I've been gluten intolerant for years thanks to too much antibiotics as a kid and now it's easier to find foods we can eat. Some places are still hard though.

3:05PM PDT on Mar 27, 2011

Just found out I have celiac. Have notified family as there is a strong family genetic trace. I was tested 10 years ago, they lost the testing and decided I was fine. Life became unbearable, I looked up the symptoms and there I am. Life started improving within 24 hours. Will attend a celiac support group for a while to get some ideas. Problem is I hate cooking.

I eat Quaker oats and they do not appear to be an issue. Will see what happens.

They definitely need better labeling and better choices.

10:53AM PST on Dec 22, 2010

I just found out that I'm gluten intolerant - and am just now learning - from this site - about celiac disease. I am already diagnosed with ulcerative colitis - now I'm wondering if I have celiac disease as well. They have similar symptoms.

8:53AM PST on Dec 22, 2010

Oats in and of themselves are gluten free. HOWEVER!!!, the cross contamination rate is excessively high and can cause problems with many. Bob's Red Mill sells GF oats and are very good.

I find if I eat oats that are not certified, I get that darn rash and a belly ache.

So for what it is worth, that is my 2 cents worth! :)

8:45AM PST on Dec 22, 2010

I haven't been able to tolerate bread since they started adding non-fat dry milk or sodium caseinate to it, and the label-reading involved in processed foods is so complex, I accidentally eliminated most gluten from my diet. Except at the holidays. I bake a couple of loaves of bread then, doesn't seem to bother me, but when I totally cut the dairy and bread a few years ago I certainly felt much better. And peanut butter on homemade bread is pretty good for a special treat.

Oats aren't mentioned - as having or not having gluten. Does anyone know?

8:11AM PDT on Apr 2, 2010

I have stopped all gluten in my diet - no reason other than I feel better without it. Funny- I still love the smell of fresh croissants or pastry- breads- but I do not have it... Very cool markets in my area that carry gluten free everything!!!
I tried a few things, and will stay without...
Fresh is best!

Happy Easter... don;t forget to click to donate...
together we do obtain amazing results... I know we think, they won't miss my click... but sadly- yes- it is missed...

just do it!! ( woohoo Nike! )... it feels so good!

c

9:46AM PDT on Mar 21, 2010

Good, brief article on celiac. There are more and more foods that are gluten free on the market, but more is needed so the pricing can be reduced for one! The UK is so much farther ahead in that arena... even though i am celiac and living gluten free for about 3 yrs now, it IS not easy to do... and it's true, minute amounts are such a problem, which many people just find hard to believe.

6:03PM PST on Nov 20, 2009

Because my nutritionist suspects I am gluten intolerant and my internist agreed it was a distinct possibility, I began doing a lot of research on the issue and was surprised to hear how many celiac/gluten intolerant are asymptomatic and thus undiagnosed...and it surprised me how damaging it can be...so now I've been tested and I'm just waiting for the results...yes, at Thanksgiving....I have decided that either way, I'm not going to make radical changes to my diet until after the holidays...my symptoms aren't extreme luckily, but honestly, I admit I dread going gluten-free, it's clearly a lot harder than most would think....I am just glad to know there are so many out there who do so successfully and satisfactorily (from a food standpoint)

3:45AM PDT on Jun 15, 2009

thanks...
Kabin
Konteyner

2:19PM PST on Jan 15, 2009

My sister and I both have CD (celiac disease). I have found that avoiding anything processed and eating foods that pretty much look like they were harvested has saved me! My sister was Dx'd because of anemia. I was Dx'd because of her, but had the "outward" symptoms! I also suffered from rashes and "blisters" for years and years that are all gone, unless something sneaks in and less than an hour, I am itchy and have a rash!
It isn't as hard as some may think but dining out can be tricky. If anyone needs info or help they can contact me or even look at the magazine called "Living Without", it has been a great help!

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