Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I am sure recently, you have heard people saying they eat a gluten-free diet. Which then begs the question, WHAT IS GLUTEN? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is used in virtually all boxed, packaged and canned processed foods to create textures that are more desirable to our taste buds. Gluten is responsible for the elasticity in dough and the structure in baked bread. Not all foods in the grain family, however, contain gluten. Examples of grains that do not have gluten are wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, teff, oats, soybeans and sunflower seeds.

People who are sensitive to gluten have an autoimmune reaction to it. In other words, instead of the body digesting gluten like it should, it sees gluten as an enemy and tries to fight it off. Gluten sensitivity is NOT an allergy but an intolerance, therefore it is not possible to outgrow it or take medicine to remedy it. The only solution to gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet. Gluten intolerance is the main culprit of celiac disease (pronounced seel-ee-ac.) Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction in which the body reacts so strongly to gluten that it whittles away and flattens out the delicate lining of the small intestine, causing chronic mal-absorption of nutrients. According to The Gluten Connection by Shari Lieberman, “almost 29% (3 out of 10 people) in the United States are gluten sensitive, and approximately 81% of Americans have a genetic disposition toward gluten sensitivity.” However, you can also have a low level of gluten intolerance with symptoms so mild that you don’t even pay attention to them anymore. It gets to the point where feeling less than 100% is so normal that you don’t know you can even feel better. When symptoms are present, though, the following are some more common indicators:

· Abdominal pain
· Bloating
· Diarrhea and/or constipation
· Fatigue
· Depression
· Frequent canker sores
· Dental enamel defects (vertical or horizontal grooves in teeth)
· Iron-deficiency anemia
· Low blood cholesterol
· Low blood levels of zinc, vitamin D and vitamin K

So, if gluten is so bad for us why then is it virtually everywhere? Most people think it is natural to eat grains, but really it’s not. Grains in their natural state are tough and pretty much indigestible. About 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, our ancestors in the Middle East learned that grains needed to be processed in various ways to become edible. (For example, ground up with stone grinders, made into flour and then cooked.) Eventually our ancestors began to plant and reap grains. This development is known as the Agricultural Revolution, and it dramatically changed the course of history. Such a strong departure from our original diet has set us up for many health problems.

After the Agricultural Revolution the next major shift in our diet came during the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800’s when the steel-roller mill was developed. This invention made the refining process of whole wheat grain and sugarcane a fast and inexpensive process. As a result, white flour and sugar became affordable and easily available. Refined wheat flour, also known as white flour, is stripped of nutrients and fiber and is usually very high in carbohydrates. Examples of refined grains in today’s diet would be pastas, rolls, breads, muffins, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, bagels, pretzels, tortillas and pizza dough. Need I go on? Consequently, refined grains are difficult to avoid without consciously working at it.

In the middle of the twentieth century (1940’s-1960’s) the Fast Food Movement took over society making food that was convenient and easily transportable. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s Pizza began popping up all over the country and supermarkets introduced lines of convenience foods with high shelf lives that made up most of the items on the inner aisles. Grains even found their way into the meat industry. Prior to World War II 90 percent of cattle was grass fed, not grain fed. In the 1970’s, due to an American grain surplus and the discovery that grains fatten cattle faster, feedlots became commonplace throughout the US farm belt and grain-fed livestock became the norm not only in the beef industry but in the production of virtually every other kind of meat. In the 1980’s the fat-free movement became the latest rage. People responded by loading up on fat-free, usually sugar rich, refined-grain products, such as crackers, fat-free cookies and rice cakes. Today we’re not so quite fat phobic as we were in the 80’s but we are consuming more high-fat, grain based combinations (pizza, nachos, quesadillas, pastas, etc…). These combinations is what has lead our American population to be estimated as Sixty-one percent overweight with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer on the rise.

· Reduce or avoid grains and eat more non-starchy vegetables in their place
· Avoid sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup and other concentrated sweeteners
· Enrich your diet with protein
· Increase your intake of omega-3 fats and eliminate the bad omega-6-rich vegetable oils and trans-fats
· Emphasize mono-saturated fats, such as olive oil, avocadoes and nuts
· Opt for foods in as natural and fresh state as possible

As gluten sensitivities become more common in the United States many resources are now available to make living a gluten free lifestyle even easier. Many grocery stores are starting to carry lines of gluten free products and baking supplies. There are also many restaurants that now have gluten free menus. To find restaurants that are gluten free in any area you are traveling go to and you can type in any zip code to find the closest gluten free menus.

Going gluten-free is not a diet but a lifestyle change. It requires new shopping habits, new cooking habits and new eating habits. And remember special treats are okay just don’t overdo it. Substituting processed gluten free “junk” foods is not the answer either. Take this time to explore the world of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats and start on the road to a healthier you!


  1. thanks for a great history lesson on grains. here in Austin we have the amazing Wildflower Cafe which has lots of gluten-free options. do you know of any other restaurants? a great future column might be to write about how to use your favorite recipes and substitute for the gluten ingredients.

  2. Actually I do have a list. Here is a list of the resturaunts that I know about that have GF menus available upon request!

    1. Blue Goat Gourmet
    2. Brick Oven
    3. Carino's Italian Grill
    4. Carrabba's Italian Grill
    5. Catfish Parlour
    6. Cornucopia Popcorn Creations
    7. Craig O's Pizza & Pastaria
    8. Eastside Cafe
    9. Fiddler's Hearth
    10. FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar
    11. Freda's Seafood Grille
    12. Guero's Taco Bar
    13. Gypsy
    14. Jade Leaves Tea House and Asian Cuisine
    15. Java Dive Organic Cafe
    16. Ka-Prow
    17. Maudie's Cafe
    18. Mother's Cafe & Garden
    19. Murphy's Deli
    20. Outback Steakhouse
    21. P.F. Chang's China Bistro North
    22. Papa' Pot
    23. Pei Wei Asian Diner
    24. Pluckers Wing Bar
    25. Red Poppy Coffee Co
    26. Rise & Shine Bakery
    27. Sampaio's
    28. Smoothie King
    29. Steeping Room
    30. Stir It Up Culinary Service
    31. Taste of Ethiopia
    32. The Belmont
    33. The Grove
    34. Trio at the Four Seasons
    35. Vaca Java
    36. Vino 100
    37. Vinosity
    38. Wildwood Art Cafe
    39. Yume
    40. Z Tejas
    41. Zen Japanese Food Fast
    42. Zuzu Handmade Mexican Food
    43. West Lake Hills Mexican and Tex-Mex

  3. Kelly, Thanks for the great history and the list of restaurants! If you haven't tried it yet, the new Betty Crocker GF Brownies are really good...wish they were better for you! Definitely a special treat.

  4. Oooh Maggie..sounds yummy! Our favorite gluten-free brownie brand is Namaste. WOWSERS! They are good!! I substitute egg whites and applesauce for the eggs and oil to make them healthier. They don't come out as fluffy and you can tell they've been "healthified" but they are still yummy and a good alternative.