Many of today’s big names in alternative-grain goodies are (or began as) small, independent companies whose owners often had personal reasons for launching their product lines. “When I went to parties with tables full of cheeses and dips, there wasn’t a cracker or bread stick I could eat,” writes Mary Waldner, co-founder of the company Mary’s Gone Crackers. Another manufacturer, Gluten-Free Pantry, was founded in 1993 by celiac sufferer Beth Hillson, who was dissatisfied with the gluten-free baked goods on the market.
Carol Fenster, a cookbook author whose titles include the forthcoming 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and Gluten Free, Quick and Easy, says she used to know all the company founders “on a first-name basis,” but that’s changing. Gluten-Free Pantry, for instance, was recently bought by the Canadian company Glutino, one of the world’s largest gluten-free food manufacturers.
Whether suffering from celiac disease or not, the gluten-free community feels very strongly about its cause. Many people report feeling more energetic and alert when they don’t eat gluten–perhaps in part because eliminating wheat and related grains means cutting out many high-glycemic foods, such as packaged snacks and fast foods.
Danna Korn, the author of Living Gluten-Free for Dummies, argues that everyone could benefit from giving up wheat and its relatives. “My son has celiac disease, but I’m not gluten-intolerant; still, I wouldn’t touch gluten if you paid me–not after the research I’ve done,” she says. “Our systems were not designed to handle gluten.” That may be an extreme view, but it seems to be catching on. “There are a lot of people who avoid wheat simply because of the health benefits,” says Joseph Pace, the chef and owner of Risotteria in New York City, a celiac-friendly restaurant that also sells a line of prepared gluten-free foods.
Despite the rising popularity of the gluten-free diet, most doctors say it isn’t for everyone. For one thing, it can be hard to obtain adequate amounts of certain nutrients–like fiber and B vitamins-without wheat and its cousins (in their whole-grain form, at least). Moreover, it’s hard to truly stick to the diet, and it’s expensive to buy gluten-free items, which often fetch a premium of more than 300 percent.
And let’s face it: Eating processed foods–be they gluten-free cookies or vegan ice-cream sandwiches–isn’t as healthy as sticking to whole, unrefined fare. So while gluten-free goodies won’t solve the nation’s obesity or diabetes problems, they may be a crucial step toward better health for many people–maybe even you.
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