Walk the aisles of a neighborhood grocery store examining nutrition labels and packaging and you’re bound to find information that was not there a decade ago.
On August 2, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling that defined “gluten-free” for food labeling. Since then, items labeled gluten-free must meet a defined standard for gluten content.
Chances are people who grew up in the 1990s or earlier probably never heard of the word gluten or discussed it as part of their diets. Today it is something even young children may be aware of as more people embrace alternative eating plans to alleviate various health concerns.
Individuals avoid gluten for all sorts of reasons, including to lose weight or to reduce inflammation or to adhere to the advice of allergists and other doctors. While avoiding gluten is a choice for many people, it’s a necessity for the estimated three million people in the United States with celiac disease.
The Celiac Disease Foundation says celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people. The ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
It is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, which can be found in wheat, rye and barley, the body mounts an immune system response that attacks the villi, which are small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine.
When damaged, the villi cannot properly absorb nutrients from food. Untreated celiac disease may also lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, according to the CDF.
The intestinal damage from eating gluten often causes diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and anemia, and can lead to serious complications, advises the Mayo Clinic.
Therefore, the only way to avoid damage and distress is to stop consuming gluten entirely. Following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
Perhaps thanks to the popularity of gluten-free diets, more companies are producing gluten-free foods and stores are carrying them in greater numbers.
There may be entire aisles devoted to gluten-free products — from burger buns to waffles to pastas. In addition, there are a number of new baking flours available that provide alternatives to traditional wheat-based formulas.
People with celiac disease or gluten intolerances can use these specially designed flours to make homemade items.
Certain flours also may be billed as one-to-one alternatives, meaning they can be substituted for traditional flour in recipes without adjusting the measurements.
Celiac disease requires people to follow strict gluten-free diets to manage symptoms and prevent intestinal damage. (MC)