One of the biggest trends so far in the 21st century, when it comes to food and health, is the growing popularity of the gluten-free lifestyle. Recent surveys show that almost 30% of American adults claim to be interested in living gluten-free. While people who suffer from celiac disease – an autoimmune disease of the small intestine, which prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food – must abstain from gluten, the radical change in diet has become a fixture of popular health culture.
Here are four things you should know when considering this lifestyle change:
1. Check the label
Likely due to the growing tidal wave of demand, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has standardized labels using the term “gluten-free.” Food industry manufacturers will only be able to claim that their products are free of gluten when they indeed contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten – not totally free of gluten, as the term might suggest. The counter-intuitive logic behind this has to do with the means of scientific testing for gluten that are available. Tests cannot identify gluten at amounts less than three parts per million. Additionally, studies have shown that gluten has no effect on individuals sensitive to it, even at levels higher than zero parts per million. However, people should be aware of the truth behind gluten-free labels and the fact that reactions to these albeit small levels are possible. Fresh sources of starch will always be the safest bet for a gluten-sensitive person: fruits, root vegetables and potatoes.
2. Gluten isn’t alone
While definitely a factor, celiac disease can also be triggered by types of proteins other than gluten, researchers at Columbia University discovered. Research on the subject is still being conducted and new insights on the disease are on the way.
3. Gluten-free favorites
Gluten-free food is becoming easier to find, but also going beyond the borders of how we normally picture it, i.e. only health food. Fast food chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza now offer gluten-free options. Burger King and Wendy’s offer gluten-sensitive menus. Many supermarket chains now have special sections dedicated to gluten-free products like cookies, brownies, pasta, potato chips and beer, and the selection is still growing. While these new items certainly help the gluten allergic community by allowing people to eat things they had to previously avoid- one must be as careful with them as one would be with similar gluten-carrying junk foods. “Gluten-free” does not equal “healthy.”
4. High tech
We might be the generation that witnesses a major breakthrough in lifestyle for allergic and food-sensitive people. Soon, a person will be able to carry around a gluten sensor – a device in development at 6Sensor Labs, which will be able to test food on your plate for gluten levels, as well as other allergy-causing ingredients, and share the results on an app. TechCruch.com reports that the device will come in a disposable version as well.