Gluten Free Trend: Part 1

By Richard Walker, Vice-President, Bellissimo Foods

“Gluten Free” foods are gaining in popularity and we think they are here to stay.  Unlike other recent trends, such as low carb, the “Gluten Free” trend seems to be gaining some pretty serious followers, giving it significant staying power.  In this article we’ll discuss what gluten is, what products contain gluten, and what types of diners want gluten-free.

What is Gluten?  Gluten is an elastic protein contained in wheat, barley, rye and related grains.  When these select grains are mixed together to make dough, gluten is what gives the mixture structure.  These proteins are the reason cakes rises and how you can stretch pizza dough thin and still have it come out chewy.  The higher the protein in the flour, the more elastic the dough will be and the chewier the finished product.  This difference in protein in these flours accounts for the differences in the texture and appearance between cake and pizza crust.

Products That Contain Gluten:  Some products that contain gluten are fairly obvious.  Anything that contains or is made from wheat, barley, rye, and related grains like spelt, durum, semolina, trticale, and kamut contain gluten.  Flour is the most obvious.  Remember, flour by itself is as an ingredient is wheat flour, even if it doesn’t say wheat.  The list of other possible ingredients that may contain gluten is extensive as many food and beverage products contain what is termed to be hidden gluten.  Common products that contain gluten are beer, many types of alcoholic spirits, couscous, farina, and malt (and malt products like vinegar).  Other ingredients that may contain gluten include  many starches, colorings, flavorings, soy sauce, caramel color, broths, gums, nondairy creamy, and even vitamins.  They may not contain gluten, but it is possible that they may be manufactured from a product that contains gluten, but doesn’t appear on the label.  For these products, the only way to know for sure is to ask your distributor.  For a more comprehensive list, go to the following link on Celiac.com:  http://www.Celiac.com/articles/182/1/Unsafe-Gluten-Free-Food-List-Unsafe-Ingredients/Page1.html

Gluten Free Consumers:  There are two groups of consumers that choose to eat a gluten-free diet.  One group has some form of gluten intolerance and the other group has made a dietary choice to be gluten-free.  It is estimated that up to 6% of the population may have some form of gluten intolerance.  Gluten intolerance falls into three groups: Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergies, and Gluten Sensitivity.

Celiac Disease:  Celiac Disease is not an allergy, though some of the symptoms may be similar to allergies.  For people with Celiac Disease, the consumption of gluten causes an autoimmune reaction with many potential health risks that are progressive and permanent.  Increased risk of cancer is among the long term effects.  This is why people with Celiac Disease avoid any food that contains gluten and may not dine at or consume food from any restaurant that doesn’t have Gluten Free Certification.  As much as 1% of the population may have Celiac Disease and it is more common among people of Northern European descent.  For more information about obtaining a Gluten Free Certification, visit the Gluten Free Certification Organization at www.gfco.org.

Wheat Allergies:  There are people who suffer from wheat allergies.  They have typical allergic reactions to wheat products.  Unlike Celiac Disease, people with wheat allergies may be able to consume other grains like barley or rye with no ill effects.  When they stop consuming wheat and have treatment, the symptoms go away with no permanent damage.

Gluten Sensitivity:  Persons that can’t be diagnosed with either Celiac Disease or Wheat Allergies may have gluten sensitivity.  Some of the symptoms may be similar to Celiac Disease or Wheat Allergy, but generally once the afflicted stops consuming gluten, a full recovery can be expected with no permanent damage.

Dietary Choice:  There are people who make a personal choice about the consumption of gluten (similar to vegetarians).  There may be no known personal health risks, but they choose gluten-free as part of their diet.  Many who do make this choice report that they “feel better” and have fewer gastro-intestinal problems.

Call your Delco Foods Sales Representative if you have any questions about stocked gluten-free items or would like assistance creating gluten-free menu items.

To read Part 2 in our series on The Gluten Free Trend – click here.

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