If you are anything like me, then you are a very tall man who loves to eat. As such, I rarely exclude anything from the realm of possibilities of my diet. That is not to say I do not eat healthy, but I cannot think of many examples of foods that I would purposefully ignore or avoid if they tasted good enough.
On the exact opposite side of this spectrum is my dad. You can name few things that he is not allergic to. Gluten is one of his main enemies, but the list also includes apples, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, peanuts and lactose. When it comes to gluten, he is not the “intolerant” sort who finds discomfort in eating wheat, barley and other grains with the protein stuffed into them, nor is he a Celiac, but instead has a true-blue and very deadly allergy.
What is Gluten?
To go over why someone would be allergic to gluten, I should start with what is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is contained in certain grains. This protein gives foods like bread and pasta its cohesiveness and can keep ingredients stuck together, which is why it is used in many foods one would not normally associate with bread or grains.
What is Celiac Disease?
A person who is a Celiac has an abnormality of their immune system that does not allow them to process the protein. This causes inflammation of the intestines that can then damage the intestine lining causing the intestines to lose their nutrient absorption properties, and if left untreated, could lead to death.
What is a Gluten Allergy?
An allergy on the other hand is the body’s immune system finding the protein and treating it like a pathogen attacking and going haywire to try to fight it. So when an allergic person eats a food they are allergic to, imagine how your body would react if you ate the same volume of Botulism. The body causes the heart rate to slow down to stop the “pathogen” from reaching other parts of the body and a very complex mechanism is put into motion that is designed to save you, but in many cases ends up causing anaphylaxis, which is fatal without immediate treatment.
Gluten in the Marketplace
My informative, yet scary primer is the reason why the subject of gluten is very important to my family and me. My father has had many conversations with waiters about whether the items on the menu contain gluten over the years. I have seen the reactions change from complete confusion, to offering complete gluten-free menus. He has seen the marketplace respond to Celiac, which are much more prevalent than those allergic, with a new array of gluten-free products. These aim to give people the richness of bread and other flour derived products without the peskiness of potential death.
Enter, the Gluten-Free Expo in Pasadena! This expo was put on by the Celiac Disease Foundation and hosts mainly vendors with products that should provide all the deliciousness of pasta, pizza and other bread products without the violently ill part. The gluten-free industry has grown tremendously in the past few years, going from barely edible bricks to bread clones. Sales of Gluten-free food has doubled from 2012 to 2015 to reach around $5.5 billion dollars a year. Although this is not a large portion of the overall food market, it is very lucrative for those willing to pursue it. In addition, gluten-free industry has had a ride effect with the healthy foods craze that is dominating the early 21st century. People are looking for ways to eat healthier. Even though there are no studies which back up gluten specifically as unhealthy, sans allergies and Celiac, many of the substitutes for wheat and barley are much better for you, such as quinoa.
I have to say as someone who has had both kinds of foods, the gluten-free foods are getting pretty close in taste. The brownie bites tasted like brownies, the bread tasted like bread. Bagels and pizza tasted like… I think you get it. The expo contained dozens of companies all showing their unique take on gluten-free products. My dad finally had a place he did not have to worry about asking whether he could eat it or not, and I have to say even halfway through, I was stuffed from the samples and quite happy about the flavors. If gluten-free is the way to be, then head over to Pasadena next year.