The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network reports that over 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies. To break those figures down into more understandable numbers, in the average household, 1 out of every 4 inhabitants will be stricken with a food related allergy. One of the lesser known allergies is to a product of the wheat seed that is, gluten. This gluten allergy leads to an autoimmune disorder of the intestinal lining known as celiac disease. When the body comes into contact with gluten, the small intestine is attacked by the immune system as it recognizes the gluten as a foreign invader. In turn villi, the small finger-like protrusions lining the small intestines which aid absorption of nutrients, are destroyed. Left unchecked, celiac disease can lead to osteoporosis, infertility, depression, varying neurological complications, and in some rare instances, cancer.
According to the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center only 1 out of every 4,700 have been diagnosed with celiac disease, however the numbers are probably closer to 1 in every 133 people. While this may seem to be an exaggerated number reminiscent of the Ritalin explosion of the 90’s, these figures are inexact because on average it takes 11 years before a sufferer of celiac disease is properly diagnosed. One sufferer, RC, experienced severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, nausea, vomiting, and extreme fatigue for over a period of 13 years before finding out that her symptoms were a result of her gluten intolerance.
Gluten is used as a binding agent in many products such as breads, pastas, ice cream, ketchup, and many processed foods. A trip to the fridge at midnight, drinks at the bar with friends, or a take-out meal may pose problems. Celiac.com states that gluten hides under many different names such as binder/binding, bulger, hydrolysed wheat protein, kamut, modified food starch, seitan, thickener, triticale, or wheat alternative. (Please note this list is not exhaustive. Ask a trained physician, dietitian, or nutritionist to provide you with a comprehensive list of the other names for gluten.)
While there is no cure for a gluten intolerance, the remedy is to adopt a life-long gluten-free diet. While the upside of a gluten free diet is a pain free existence, for those on a tight budget this poses a big problem, as gluten exists in many everyday, cost friendly convenience products. One needs to be prepared to purchase unprocessed meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and rice which are naturally gluten free. Many of these unprocessed foods are found in the organic sections of the local grocery store, with a slightly higher price tag, an unfortunate but palatable remedy for those who have suffered with abdominal pain for so long.
Recipes can be altered to accommodate the use of potato, rice, soy or bean flour in place of wheat flour. Sauces, soup stocks, and pie fillings can be altered so both texture and taste remains intact while the gluten disappears. Today many restaurants are able to work with customers with gluten allergies, chefs opting to do the extra work to create a special gluten-free dish to earn a happy customer who may return many times over.
In short, going gluten-free is a life long change, but the payoffs are worth it. Gone is the pain, discomfort, and mental stress of an under diagnosed disease.
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: www.foodallergy.org
The University of Chicago Medical Center: www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/celiac/