I don't have celiac and I am not sensitive to gluten. However, following a recent trip to Italy, and a week on non-stop pasta eating, I decided to go gluten-free for a week just to see how I would feel. At the end of the week, I felt like I was less bloated and generally had more energy.
Gluten is the substance in foods (specifically, breads and pastas) that makes them chewy. For some reason, more and more people are becoming sensitive to wheat products and gluten. Scientists have come up with a variety of possible reasons. Firstly, we are eating too much wheat. Apparently, Americans are the fourth largest consumers of wheat in the world and consumption has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. According to the US Department of Agriculture, annual average grain consumption was 45% higher in 2000 than in the 1970s (www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf). Secondly, we are eating a smaller variety of grains than our ancestors did. Finally, we may be reacting to wheat that has been genetically modified or is full of pesticides.
Reactions to gluten can range from mild sensitivities to full-blown celiac disease. Foods which contain gluten are: any wheat products (including spelt, durum wheat, bulgur and farro), barley, rye and, sometimes, oats. Gluten-free grains are: rice, buckwheat (related to rhubarb and not wheat), quinoa, corn and millet.
After my experiment, I realized that - as with most things in life - moderation is best. While I do enjoy bread and pasta, I have decided to limit my intake of wheat products to once or twice a week. I feel it's a good way to give my digestive system a break and allows me to experiment cooking with other grains. That said, I do make sure to stay away from the gluten-free processed foods, sugary snacks and cereals, which seem to have become quite the fad lately.
Rachel Khanna is a Certified Health Counselor. She resides with her husband and four daughters in Greenwich. Visit her website at: http://www.healthytiffin.net