A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale — a cross between wheat and rye.
Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Maintaining a gluten-free diet helps people with celiac disease prevent those complications.
According to the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment in Boston, about two million to three million Americans, or nearly 1% of the population, suffer from celiac disease.
And the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that another 18 million Americans have a gluten sensitivity, which can manifest in the form of diarrhea, anemia and other symptoms similar to those of celiac disease.
But now millions more who don’t have a specific health issue are eliminating gluten from their diets.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Julie Jargon points out, nearly 30% of Americans surveyed by market research firm NPD Group Inc. said they are trying to avoid gluten, up from 25.5% three years ago.
As a result, many chain restaurants strive to offer gluten-free food to attract this growing base of customers, but ensuring food is free of gluten is easier said than done. Julie notes that in commercial kitchens, ingredients can easily mix, making restaurants reluctant to promise.
(Click “Next” to see 8 Tips on Staying Gluten-Free When Dining Out)