We see the word everywhere today. Make your regular trip to the grocery store and it’s likely one of the packages you pick up will say ‘Gluten Free’. If not, you can probably look at the ingredients listed on the package, and you will see either wheat or gluten. Fortunately, the FDA now requires manufacturers to list common allergens on their product labels. According to the FDA, eight major foods or food groups (milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans) account for 90 percent of food allergies!
It may seem like a fad, and indeed, some people may eliminate gluten from their diet without having a clinical issue with it. There may actually be evidence indicating that there are benefits to anyone who eliminates wheat and gluten-filled foods from their diets. That is still debatable and not yet recommended by the medical community.
Just what is Gluten anyway?
Gluten is the protein found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It is the substance that gives dough it’s sticky quality. It holds bread together and keeps pasta from falling apart. Wikipedia expounds on this definition:
“Gluten is is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Worldwide, gluten is a source of protein, both in foods prepared directly from sources containing it, and as an additive to foods otherwise low in protein. “
Some people have a sensitivity to this protein. For some, it’s a gluten intolerance; for others, it’s celiac disease. Whichever it is, though, makes gluten a dangerous thing for that person. Here’s a quote from the foremost authority on Celiac Disease in the country, Dr. Peter Green, director, Celiac Disease Center, Columbia University.
“Eating a healthy gluten-free diet means paying constant attention to what you eat. This isn’t something that anyone should do casually,” said Green. There’s also little point in eliminating just some gluten. For people who are sensitive, even trace amounts can cause damage to the small intestines. “So an almost gluten-free diet isn’t going to help if you have a problem.” (emphasis mine)
I happen to have Celiac Disease. You can read a little more about my story HERE. My purpose in writing this post, though, is to reach those folks who don’t have any kind of issue with gluten. I would love to introduce you to the world of someone who is gluten free, and help you see everyday life through their eyes. So, here are a few tips on understanding a loved one or friend who has to keep their distance from gluten:
- Make the effort to listen and understand, even just a little, about the gluten-free lifestyle.
- Recognize that, for that person, gluten is akin to poison. For many of us it is not a choice to avoid it… it is a medical neccessity.
- Help that person find alternatives to ‘normal’ foods. If you’re a family member, explore ways to modify recipes. It’s often easier than you think, as there are now such awesome GF alternatives.
- Don’t sabbotage them. Now, I know you wouldn’t do this, but try not to put a loved one in a situation where they may not have choices that are safe for them.
- Be an advocate. It is so awesome that my husband will stick up for me! If we are dining out and my food is presented not prepared as ordered, he will make sure the staff understands that I cannot even have my food touch the wheat, or bread, or crouton that might have found its way onto my plate.
I truly hope these few suggestions will help you to understand the gluten-free person in your life. Trust me when I tell you that he or she would give almost anything to not be in that situation. It isn’t something they made up in their heads or decided on a whim. As for those with celiac disease, it’s believed by experts that even the amount of gluten that would fit on the head of a pin could cause damage to their small intestine. It’s no wonder folks with gluten issues are careful: they have to be!
Now, go out and enjoy something gluten-free today, just for the heck of it! And be a friend to someone who has to live the gluten-free lifestyle!