the gluten-free revolution

As with many things, the culinary world is constantly changing. Foods go in and out of style, almost like clothing. Who eats Jello and aspic anymore? Remember when kale was a decorative plant?

And how about food trends? Eating three set meals a day was how things worked in my house when I was growing up. Today, I lean towards smaller, more frequent meals. The fashionable food trend now is being gluten-free. Is this simply a fad or is it here to stay?

Raise your hand if you never even knew what gluten was a few years ago. In case you don’t know, gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, spelt, and rye.

There are a few theories as to why we’ve seen an explosion of people choosing to go on a gluten-free diet:

1) There is a greater awareness of celiac disease, so more doctors are testing for it. People who have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, cannot eat foods containing gluten, as it will damage their small intestines.

2) Wheat, a mainstay of the standard American diet, is not the same grain that humans grew and ate for thousands of years. It has been hybridized so much in the past 50 years or so that our bodies do not recognize it and may be reacting negatively to it.

3) Another theory is that people are not actually sensitive to gluten at all. Rather, they are reacting to the glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, an herbicide commonly sprayed on wheat crops or actually inserted into the seed.

4) Research by Dr. Alessio Fasano, a pioneer in the field, has shown that a gluten-free diet is very important for people with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), not just celiac disease.

The symptoms of gluten intolerance are varied and run from digestive distress all the way to mental fogginess. Food intolerances, in general, can show up in wildly different ways. Anyone with autoimmune disease or a digestive disorder, especially IBS and IBD, should try a gluten-free diet for at least two months and see how they feel. Many physicians have minimal training in nutrition and are not focused on food as medicine, so don’t be surprised if your doctor has not mentioned this to you. If you think you might benefit from going on a gluten-free diet and your physician is not supportive, you might need to advocate for yourself. I did and it changed my life.


Since gluten is a protein inside of a grain, it is generally not listed on packaged food labels. The safest way to avoid it is to look for a gluten-free label. Beer and ale are not gluten-free, unless marked so. Malt is not gluten-free. Brewer’s yeast is not gluten-free. Neither is bulgur, faro or regular couscous. Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix is not gluten-free. Some flavored coffees contain gluten as do some deli meats. On the other hand, non-processed animal protein is all gluten-free. Fruits and vegetables are gluten-free as are nuts and seeds, unless they’re coated with something that contains gluten.


Going on a gluten-free diet does not mean just avoiding white and whole wheat breads. It means avoiding anything that has gluten or wheat, barley, rye or spelt in it. That means most breads, cereals, pastas, bakery items, soy sauce, and many packaged foods. People on a gluten-free diet need to read food labels, as gluten is a common hidden ingredient. And just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it is good for you. It still could be filled with sugar, sodium, an unhealthy fat, etc. Again, reading labels is vital.

Having been gluten-free for almost 20 years, I guess you can call me a trendsetter. Two decades years later, I am happy to see that this trend is only gaining in popularity. My life is so much easier today than it was all those years ago. Restaurants now often mark their gluten-free offerings and there are entire gluten-free sections at many grocery stores. More and more packaged foods have a GF (gluten-free) mark on them, so they are easy to identify.

There are many convenient substitutes for common gluten-containing foods:

Do you enjoy pasta? Try brown rice or quinoa pasta, spaghetti squash, or vegetable noodles.

When making your favorite wrap sandwich, try a gluten-free grain tortilla or a piece of romaine lettuce to hold the sandwich together.

Baked goods can be delicious when made with gluten-free flours, like almond, coconut and rice flours. Each one has a different consistency, so you might need to use a combination and experiment, or get a good gluten-free cookbook.

Be creative. When I make meatloaf for my family, I substitute whole rolled oats for the bread crumbs.

Something to think about is that a gluten intolerance can develop late in life; it is not something that you’re necessarily born with or that becomes apparent during youth. If you are diagnosed with some sort of digestive or autoimmune disease at any age, trying a gluten-free diet may very well be a life changer.

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