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Aug 13, 2008 09:36 AM

gluten free?

Can someone please explain this to me?

I understand that some people are gluten intolerant (what causes this?), but why is it that half the foodie world seems to be touting their edibles as especially gluten-free lately? Do they think that it's healthier to avoid gluten? Or are there just a lot of people that can't have gluten?

Is gluten intolerance something that's always been around, but we've just now come up with a name for it?

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  1. Don't know. No. Yes. Yes.

    If you google "celiac sprue" .... well, here's a link:

    It is a disease and as such, has probably been around for quite sometime - altho as the food we eat becomes more and more refined, our bodies may be less able to handle certain food properties, so..... relatively speaking, perhaps celiac is a somewhat "new" disease.

    My dad was dx'd with celiac 10 + years ago. It's unimaginable what a pain it is to find things that are gluten free. ex: He has to purchase special mustard made only with apple cider vinegar. Based on processing, other vinegars comtain some type of gluten.
    A can of Campbell's Tomato Soup contains flour.

    It's more than just avoiding "wheat" based items -

    So I think it's great that restaurants are considering special need diets. And gluten free doesn't mean "tastes bad".

    1 Reply
    1. re: CocoaNut

      You might want to look into the research over the last 5 years or so. Regular vinegar is acceptable due to the distillation process. From the U of Chicago CD Website:

      "Distilled white vinegar is safe to consume on the gluten-free diet. Distilled vinegars are gluten-free because the distillation process filters out the large gluten proteins so that they do not pass through to the end product. Therefore, the finished liquid is gluten-free. Patients with celiac disease should not be concerned about distilled white vinegar or foods such as pickles, which may contain it. The exception to this rule is MALT VINEGAR, which is not distilled, and therefore is not safe to consume."

    2. There are plenty of great websites that detail this. Go to or even

      Most people that eat gluten free have celiac disease, which is an auto-immune disorder where the protein gliadin (found in wheat, barley, rye, etc) causes an inflammatory reaction in the intestines of an affected person, detroying the villi in the intestines and blocing nutrient absorbtion. A reason for the explosion in foods labeled gluten free is much better knowledge about the disease. If you were diagnosed even 10 years ago, you did not have many options. There is not medicine or vaccines avaialble although they are in the works. The only treatment is a gluten free diet.

      Sophisticated and accurate tests have been developed to determine if a person has disthe disorder. Before, doctors often said a person had IBS when they came to them with the celiac symptoms. What they have found is that a lot more people have it than previously though which has led to the prevalence of gluten free foods.

      There have been studies thats a gluten free diet helps a lot of autistic children as well, in addition to the normal fad dieters that believe gluten free is the way to go.

      Gluten intolerance has always been around, but we did not just come up with a name. Celiac or Coeliac disease has been around a long time as well.

      8 Replies
      1. re: basachs

        Disagree that most people who go gluten-free have celiac disease. It's just not as wide-spread as the plethora of products indicate. I forget the numbers but it's only a very small percentage of the population that has it. (It's most common among people of Irish descent, I'm told). Also, I know or have encountered dozens of people who don't have celiac (a very serious disease over the long term) but have eliminated gluten. The latter is anecdotal I know.

        1. re: cinnamon girl

          2.2 million people in the US have it alone. And that was from a study published on '03 so you can be sure more have it. My wife has it an she is not from Irish stock.

          As for you disagreeing...ok.

          1. re: basachs

            Ya I wasn't sure abt the Irish thing which is why I framed it w qualifiers. It wasn't suggested to me that everyone who had celiac disease was necessarily from Irish stock - just that it was common among the Irish. I'm just saying there are a lot of people out there who don't eat gluten but don't have celiac. I'm sympathetic to both but particularly to people with celiac as it can be so damaging to the health. While it's futile to argue anecdotally, I know at least a dozen people who are gluten intolerant . . . but in the past decade have only met 2 w celiac. You prob meet more people w celiac b/c of your wife. We'd also have to know the percentage of people who are just intolerant to come to make a valid comparison. Also, what's the American population? What percentage is 2.2 million? dunno

            1. re: cinnamon girl

              People can be gluten intolerant and still get very sick from gluten, without a celiac diagnosis, and/OR without celiac. I wish I could track down the video presentation I saw by nutritionist Tom Malterre on the web--if you can find one, he's studying some fascinating research. Someone who is gluten sensitive/intolerant who eats gluten has a starkly increased risk of cancer and a multitude of other problems. Some of us aren't doing this to be trendy--we're being proactive. I assure you I wasn't keen on giving up my bagel habit! And I feel and look hugely better for it.

              Besides which, to confirm celiac via typical Western medicine, I'd have to start eating gluten again AND get a gut biopsy. To heck with that. A lot of us 1) can't afford that, 2) don't have a lot of incentive to get diagnosed medically when there's nothing a doctor can do for us, and 3) don't know that their IBS/dairy issue/dermatology issue/etc issue is remotely related to gluten, so they never seek the diagnosis.

              From what I've read, Italy is another gluten-aware country. Interesting stuff.

              1. re: Vetter

                Oh no - I wasn't implying that at all (that it's just a trend); I have a gluten intolerant friend who has definite symptoms if she has gluten. So I'm quite meticulous abt the desserts I make in her case. Yes, diagnosis of celiac sounds onerous so you have to wonder how many people w gluten intol do have celiac. (Not that the former isn't as serious a problem.)

                That's interesting about Italy. Some of us (including this friend) had toyed w the idea of going to Italy a few years ago. We had a whole discussion about what she would eat - in the casual places that is . . . there would be lots of choices in proper restos but cafes etc looked like they could be a challenge. Coincidentally, I read today that it's most common in northern European countries and is so common in Finland that that even chains like McDonalds offer gluten-free buns! Also I learned that diagnosis of celiac over there is not the nightmare it is here. Good luck with it all Vetter.

          2. re: cinnamon girl

            That is hilarious...plethora of products! That development is incredibly recent and not at all true, by the way. I never have as many choices as "regular" people do!

            1. re: diehardfoodie

              We considered going to Italy a couple years ago and decided that food would be tough since we're vegan, I'm gluten-free and we don't drink....I understand that ubiquitousness of gluten varies between north and south.

              1. re: diehardfoodie

                Any time a diet varies from "the norm" there are are fewer choices...just part of life.

                I've worked in natural foods for decades. The number of gluten free choices now is nothing short of amazing. 10 years ago GF wasn't hardly on the radar, 5 years ago there were some products, but most tasted like cardboard. Now there are so many options - even bread crumbs, bread sticks, soy sauce, GF supplements and body care items (gluten intolerance can be experienced topically too). To be GF now is sooo much easier than even a few years ago. Awareness/production has reached a wide enough level that with a little research a person can find just about any product they need in a GF form. And now there are GF products that taste good and often great!

                There are now many restaurants that understand what GF is and the dangers of cross contamination. Again, with a little research, there are safe dining out options in most small cities.

                In my area one of the major hospitals now has GF available in the cafeteria and for patients! All prepared by a local company whose focus is meals for folks with food allergies.

                It is getting better, and the growth of this category is moving along rapidly.

          3. I was never diagnosed with celiac but went gluten-free a number of years ago and feel better enough that I avoid gluten even though it can be a hassle. It is becoming easier with greater awareness and better labeling. My husband and I are also vegan which makes it even more of a challenge but our health is worth it.

            1. In my case it was most likely metal toxicity (mercury and arsenic poisoning: mercury from dental fillings, vaccines, tuna, what I inherited from my ancestors, etc and arsenic from pesticides, etc) that caused my digestive system to get messed up.

              1. Wow, thanks for all of the information. It's good to know.

                For people that don't have medical problems like Celiac disease, autism or metal toxicity like lgss described, what is the allure of going gluten-free?

                8 Replies
                1. re: Halie

                  You don't need to have celiac, autism or metal toxicity to have issues with gluten. I don't have any of the above and am sensitive to it. However, I had no idea that I had issues with gluten until I did an elimination diet several years ago. If I avoid gluten for a long time and have a little bit at a later point, I get diarrhea, stomach cramps and swell up. As I don't want to follow 100% gluten-free diet, I just have it in small doses from time to time to desensitize myself towards it. But I don't have eat a lot of it as it's not the best thing for me.

                  And a lot of people I know are gluten sensitive even though they don't have any of the above issues you mention. DH never did an elimination diet, but noticed that he has an easier problem digesting rice pasta over wheat pasta. Wheat pasta doesn't give him major problems but he feels slightly bloated. Never has that issue with rice pasta. He's also noticed the same thing when he eats bread. So we seldom eat wheat-based stuff in our apartment (majority of our meals), but will have it when we go out to eat.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Miss Needle,
                    Have you considered using enzymes from Houston Enzymes for the times you do have gluten? I ended up having to call to place an order recently since they haven't works all the kinks out of their new website.

                    1. re: lgss

                      Thanks for the info. But with the way I eat gluten now, I don't have any problems with it. It's only when I avoid gluten 100% for a long time and then have a bit where my body reacts to it because it gets supersensitive. And if I have it on a daily basis, I tend to feel bloated. I seemed to have found the appropriate balance that is right for me.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Did you ever get tested for celiac?

                        1. re: basachs

                          Of course, as you can't self-diagnose celiac.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            You would be amazed at how many people do though :)

                            Also prevalent are people that eliminate gluten from their diet before the test, causing a false negative.

                            1. re: basachs

                              Very true. Even though I was avoiding gluten for some time, I had to force myself to eat it for a while every day. I was so happy to go back to my usual regimen.

                    2. re: Miss Needle

                      My daughter has the same issues - tested negative for celiac, but has a gluten sensitivity which causes headaches, bloating, and stomache pain. She is still in testing, but managing pretty well on a gluten-free and dairy free diet. Thankfully there are many more gluten-free products and recipes available now. The recent "boom" in these products has been boosted by expanding research on the topic. I had the same symptoms for many years but they went undiagnosed until recently - there just wasn't as much awareness that diet can be the root cause, and most of us were expected to tough it out. For the record, I have never liked pasta or other gluten-heavy foods. Guess at some level I knew.