Wandering down the aisle of a grocery store these days, one can be staggered by the wide array of gluten-free products displayed. Gluten-free pasta, gluten-free cake mix, gluten-free bagels, gluten-free cookies, gluten-free this gluten-free that. The first impression might be that, gluten is bad for you. This is probably what you might hear from some of the gluten-free diet adopters. Yet, most people take on the gluten-free diet because they heard that it is good for their health. So, some people are staying away from gluten for no particular reason, only because someone they know may be doing it. The gluten-free phenomenon is slowly turning into a trend, much like how the organic food diet has gained its popularity some time ago.
For those who eat gluten-free for health reasons, it is most likely for celiac disease. This disease impedes the digestion of gluten, and if it is improperly treated, can be fatal. The intolerance to gluten happens when it comes in contact with the small intestine. Gluten injures the lining of the small intestine, resulting in weight loss, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas, vitamins and mineral deficiencies. Celiac disease is considered one of the most under-diagnosed diseases in the U.S., potentially affecting 1 in every 133 people according to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. A simple blood test would determine a person’s tolerance to gluten easily.
Be it for trend or for health reasons, there is rising demand for gluten-free products. Food producers and restaurants alike have begun to alter their market strategy in order to cater to the new gluten-free mania segment. A short casual chat with Jeff Elbel, the owner of Theo’s Restaurant in Portland, OR revealed some insights. Theo’s currently serves gluten-free burgers. Elbel told me that they started serving gluten-free burgers about 3 months ago when he realized that some of his close friends are celiacs and they have had hard time eating out. Their gluten-free burgers have since attained many loyal followers. Elbel said that they did not need to advertise a whole lot, as people were very excited to learn that they could get gluten-free burgers at Theo’s and this has stimulated word of mouth recommendations. Theo’s’ gluten-free hamburger buns are all handmade naturally by Laurel Sweet Treats, a gluten-free manufacturer of baking mixes and bakery products located in Tigard, OR. Elbel also mentioned that they will be soon serving gluten-free potato chips. The chips are gluten-free because they are made from natural potatoes and deep fried in a dedicated fryer.
Many restaurants nationwide are embracing gluten-free customers and attempting to get distinguished recognition through the endorsement of the Gluten-Free Awareness Restaurant Program (GFRAP). The program “facilitates a relationship between individuals with celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance, and restaurants”. GFRAP identifies gluten-free restaurants across the nation and provides online and offline publicity. Here’s a short list of some of the restaurants they have endorsed: Lilli and Loo (New York), Burton’s Grill (Boston) , Daily Grill (San Francisco) Outback Steakhouse (Lafayette, IN), Piazza Sorrento (Hershey), Andina (Portland), Bonefish Grill (Kansas City) The Melting Pot (Miami)
Finally, if you are diagnosed as a celiac, you may be eligible for a tax deduction. Check out the tax deduction on gluten-free foods guideline.