What is gluten, anyway?
Gluten is part of the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Unfortunately, wheat flour plays a huge role in the American diet. Think of pizza, pasta, hamburger buns, sandwiches, cereal, doughnuts, cookies … the list is endless.
What is celiac disease?
Essentially an immune response gone dreadfully wrong, celiac disease is triggered by ingesting gluten. Symptoms vary between individuals, but typically includes severe gastrointestinal distress and can involve a recurrent rash, dermatitis herpetiformis. This toxic reaction to gluten damages the surface of the small intestine, interfering with the absorption of nutrients from food. If prolonged, this can lead to medical problems such as retarded growth, Type 1 diabetes, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, and lymphatic cancer.
Celiac disease symptoms can appear in childhood or surface in mid-life. It’s now estimated that one in every 133 Americans has “the celiac gene”, though most are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and many millions more are gluten-intolerant. (Wheat is one of the eight major allergens, along with milk, eggs, seafood, fish, corn, peanuts, and tree nuts.)
No drug or other medical treatment currently exists. Gluten, plus a genetic disposition, is the cause of celiac disease; avoiding it for life is the cure. Given the prevalence of wheat flour in our highly processed and packaged food supply, this is no easy task.
The good news is that cooking fresh or minimally processed ingredients in your own kitchen is not only best for everyone’s long-term health, gluten-challenged or not, but infinitely kinder to your waistline, your wallet, local food producers, and the environment.
Where can I find more in-depth information?
Celiac Disease Foundation: http://www.celiac.org
Gluten Intolerance Group: http://www.gluten.net
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: http://www.celiaccentral.org
R.O.C.K. (Raising our Celiac Kids): http://www.glutenfreedom.net
The Living Gluten-Free Answer Book: http://www.theglutenfreelifestyle.com