Diet fads may come and go, but at a time when awareness of food allergies, digestive health and genetic modification keep growing, it’s safe to say that the gluten-free trend is here to stay.
Gluten intolerance can range from a mild sensitivity (a digestive response) to full-blown celiac disease (an immune response). According to a Mayo Clinic survey in 2012, about 1.8 million Americans have been found to have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. Over time, this reaction causes the inflammation of the small intestine’s lining and makes it harder for it to absorb nutrients the body requires. This can be dangerous if the brain, nervous system, and other organs are deprived of vital nourishment for too long.
However, an additional 18 million people, or about 6 percent of eaters are said to be gluten intolerant. This is when consuming gluten causes the body to display a stress response, different from the immunological response that occurs in those who have celiac disease. This differs from celiac disease as it does not cause lasting harm to body tissues.
Okay, so that’s where the trend comes from: an awful lot of people avoiding this gluten stuff. So, what is gluten? A protein found in wheat, rye, barley, or any of their crossbred varieties, gluten gives flour its doughy elastic consistency and helps food maintain its shape. It basically acts as glue to hold food molecules together, which is what makes bread chewy and cake crumbly.
Now imagine that you’re not gluten-intolerant, and thus not deeply briefed in the ins and outs of what the gluten-avoiding crowd can and cannot eat. And yet, you’ve invited over some friends who are. What should you make for your dinner party guests?