More Americans are going gluten free, either because they discover they have diseases that render them unable to process the grain protein, or they perceive gluten to be unhealthy. According to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine Journal, the number of people going gluten free tripled between 2009 and 2014, and a Gallup Poll reports a whopping one in five Americans say they actively try to include gluten-free foods in their diet.
Food companies have taken note and responded with a glut of gluten-free offerings, lining the store shelves. How can you make sense of it all?
What’s Gluten Free
A gluten-free diet excludes the protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) and sometimes oats. Foods that are labeled gluten free, according to the Food and Drug Administration rules, must have fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Who’s Gluten Free?
People who don’t eat gluten include those with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects one in every 100 people in the United States. It’s a serious health condition: even a taste of gluten can trigger symptoms, like not being able to absorb the nutrients in food or issues related to infertility and seizures. Other people who don’t eat gluten are those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity but who suffer abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, feeling spacey or headaches; people with wheat allergies; and people who avoid gluten for weight loss or a perceived health benefit.
The Scoop on Gluten
Don’t be fooled: Just because something is gluten free, it’s not necessarily healthy. According to Mintel’s Gluten-Free Foods US Report, two in five consumers say gluten-free products are beneficial to everyone, but that’s not necessarily true. Junk food gluten-free snacks can be loaded with processed sugar and other nutritionally empty calories. The FDA is currently reviewing and modernizing its definition of healthy, and the Clean Label Project is working on industry standards.
It’s obvious that most bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, pies and other baked goods often contain gluten, but it can also be found in beer, gravy, soup, salad dressing, soy sauce, processed meat and more. If you’re not clear, check the label for clues.
Gluten-Free Snacks and Booze
Gluten-free grains can include amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, flax, flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean), hominy (corn), millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy, tapioca (cassava root) and teff (a seed from an Ethiopian grass).
You can find gluten-free snacks at healthy food emporiums like Whole Foods, Thrive.com, Brandless.com, as well as everyday, not-so-fancy or millennial-favorite grocery stores—some have gluten-free aisles as well. Here are just a few snacks to try:
Caulipower (The Fastest Growing Frozen Pizza Brand in the U.S.)
Beer and other Booze
Celiac.com and other websites that cater to gluten-free lifestyles are terrific resources to find lists of specific gluten-free beers and ciders. Duck Foot Brewing Company Drink This or the Bees Die, Ghostfish Brewing Company Grapefruit IPA, Glutenberg Craft Brewery Blanche and Sonoma Cider are just a few. Vodka, rum and tequila are also gluten free.
Whether you’re picnicking, couch-surfing or serving up a Super Bowl feast, it’s easier than ever to get your gluten-free game on.