This is what annoys me about gluten-free products and restaurants. It’s a marketing ploy. Most of the time, companies that claim they’re gluten-free, weren't founded by people who have Celiac disease or aren’t versed enough in nutrition or labelling guidelines to know when something contains gluten.
An article in the New York Times, published last week, about the boom of gluten-free food products, goes over some facts about Celiac disease and which consumers are driving the gluten-free market (article excerpt in italics):
...A Mayo Clinic survey in 2012 concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine when gluten is ingested and can lead to other debilitating medical problems if not diagnosed.
An additional 18 million people, or about 6 percent of the population, is believed to have gluten sensitivity, a less severe problem with the protein in wheat, barley and rye and their relatives that gives elasticity to dough and stability to the shape of baked goods.
“There are truly people out there who need gluten-free foods for health reasons, but they are not the majority of consumers who are driving this market,” said Virginia Morris, vice president for consumer strategy and insights at Daymon Worldwide, a private brand and consumer interactions company.
My sister isn’t gluten-free because she’s “gluten-sensitive” or experiences a little headache or light bloating. And she's not eating gluten-free to seem au courant. She has Celiac disease: an autoimmune condition that damages the small intestine upon the ingestion of gluten, which can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility, lymphoma and other serious ailments down the road. She would gladly eat a loaf of bread again if she could; she absolutely hates not being able to eat gluten. This isn’t a trend for her, she has to live with this diet for her entire life.
I can see how the restaurant unknowingly used a gluten-containing product, as labelling is tricky. Over the last 7 years since my sister has known about her Celiac disease, she’s been able to identify brands and products that make her sick. For instance, something as simple as pure vanilla extract contained hidden gluten, even though there was no indication of gluten on the ingredient list.
Unless you can be 100% certain about a food (i.e. accessing assays from particular food companies or food products for everything you have on the menu), you can't claim with 100% certainty that your restaurant is gluten-free.
A lot of gluten-free eating has been trial and error for her, and she’s come to find “safe” products and restaurants, and “unsafe” products and restaurants. She was so excited to find a restaurant that was dedicated to gluten-free eating as she felt she could finally relax about her order choices and at last, be able to eat whatever she wanted on the menu! And then she was cheated.
I’m not trying to call out the restaurant, as I appreciate their philosophy, vegan values and of course, delicious food. My sister really would like to go back, and I do too.
I just want ALL restaurants to know that it’s NOT OKAY (yes, I used ALL CAPS -twice) to claim a 100% gluten-free menu, when it’s not.
Perhaps working with health experts or nutritionists, who can help to educate the staff on cross-contamination, gluten bywords and hidden sources of gluten in foods, would be a good step for any restaurant claiming to be “gluten-free.” Or, simply calling the companies your particular restaurant deals with, and asking for an assay of their "gluten-free" products, is another great option. Until this happens, I would appreciate that the 100% gluten-free claim come with a warning, or at least some form of disclosure, so others don’t accidentally become ill.
A big sister has to protect her little sister, and I’m happy to have this amazing platform to do so.
And that ends my rant. Back to the regular nutrition and healthy recipes posts, hereafter.
The two books pictured sitting on my coffee table, are worth reading for more information on Celiac Disease and gluten-free food products:
Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, by Peter H.R. Green, M.D. and Rory Jones
Wheat Belly, by William Davis, M.D.
More from food