Term of the Week: Gluten Intolerance

I’ve been wondering lately about gluten intolerance. It seems like everyone is selling gluten-free products these days. So I did a little research to learn more about what gluten intolerance means and whether there really are more people out there who need gluten-free products. This is what I learned:

Some people have a wheat allergy, which is when their immune system reacts to something containing wheat. Generally, though, the reaction is short-lived. Many children will outgrow this kind of allergy by the time they’re five. The second category is celiac disease (a.k.a. celiac sprue). That is an auto-immune disease that is genetically determined, in which the body’s immune system overreacts and doesn’t stop. It can lead to intestinal damage and other multi-organ problems. But the Big Gray Area is that of the gluten-intolerant. These people have an adverse reaction to the gluten protein in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats that isn’t an immune reaction. It’s like lactose intolerance. Their digestion is disrupted, but they may have hundreds of other symptoms—or none that they associate with eating gluten at all.

It turns out that up to 1% of the U.S. population (or 3 million people) have actual celiac disease (not just an intolerance). According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, up to 97% of those people are undiagnosed! I was very surprised to learn that. Because it’s an inherited genetic disorder, you should be tested if someone in your family has CD.

In Sacramento, we have some great gluten-free resources. Gluten Free Specialty market (2612 J St.) was the first gluten-free market to open in California. They have reams of information, books, magazines, and rigorous criteria for the products they sell. Check out their events listings for tastings and info. sessions.

We’ve also written about some gluten-free products in Sacramento. Read the following posts for more details:

  • The Bicycle Bakery (carrot cake pictured above)
  • Azna Gluten-Free Bakery
  • Glazed Chocolate Almond Cookie recipe (gluten free)
  • I just got a copy of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, so I’ll be reading that this weekend and will let you know about it next week. So far, though, the photos are mouth-watering. Stay tuned!

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