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Saturday, April 24, 2010
Trending Topic: Gluten
As seen in the April 15, 2010 edition of the Long Island Press.

Sandwiched between Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Lady Gaga, the Internet trend site TrendHunter.com lists gluten-free diets as a trend for 2009. There is little question consumer interest in gluten-free eating habits—as well as gluten-free products—is growing. Sales of gluten-free foods is the fastest growing U.S. grocery category, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, increasing by more than 18 percent per year.

Gluten, the Latin word for “glue,” is a protein contained in the cells of wheat, rye and barley. It is an important source of nutritional protein, both in foods prepared directly from wheat, and as an additive to foods like sauces and condiments, to boost protein. It gives kneaded dough its elasticity, allows leavening and is a binding agent that contributes shape, texture and chewiness to baked products like bagels and pizza. It is highly incorporated into vegan diets in the form of seitan as it absorbs flavor and has a meat-like consistency. Growth of convenience and fast foods has led to an increased use of gluten as an additive to non-wheat products, with the United States being the largest consumer of wheat gluten in the world. Because of bio-engineering, modern wheat contains almost double the amount of gluten it did a century ago.

For those without a gluten intolerance, gluten is harmless and avoiding it could cause dietary deficiencies. But for those with an intolerance, gluten causes the body to have an abnormal reaction and launch an attack on the body’s immune system.

Because celebrities like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Zooey Deschanel, Rachel Weisz and Victoria Beckham have gone public with their gluten-free lifestyles, which they adopted either by necessity or by choice, word is spreading about gluten-free products, among those with gluten intolerance, and among fad dieters looking for the next trend.

But because this is a trend that, for some, is a way of life, many wonder whether all the attention gluten-free diets are getting belittles the severity of the actual disease or if it is a move in the right direction for the millions still undiagnosed.
Celiac disease affects 1 percent of healthy, average Americans. That means at least 3 million people in our country are living with celiac disease—97 percent of them are undiagnosed.

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