According to my doctor, I’m “off the charts” allergic to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and of course, flour that is made from any of these plants or related species). One small bite can send me into an autoimmune flare-up for three to four days. It’s a delayed reaction, which means it take a day or two to show up. But when it does, it feels a lot like the flu. Unlike the flu, however, there is no medicine I can take to relieve the symptoms. Time, yoga, whole foods, and patience are the only cures.
If you’re not familiar with gluten intolerance, it might seem like a simple problem to solve…if you don’t want to eat gluten, then just don’t eat it, right? I wish it was that easy, but it’s not.
Because our grocery stores are stocked with more foods that contain flour than not, and restaurants use flour in almost every food they serve.
Even after ten years of avoiding gluten, I am still surprised by how few foods are truly gluten-free. This is especially true in restaurants. If chefs aren’t using flour or bread crumbs to thicken sauces, or bind burgers together, they are marinating chicken, or making sauces and dressings, with soy sauce (which is almost always made from wheat).
There is also a risk of contamination from grills, sauté pans, and deep fryers, that have cooked foods containing flour prior to your order.
Or, as one highly respected chef told me recently, it could just be that flour is so abundant in restaurants, that it becomes airborne, and lands on your otherwise gluten-free salad or veggie plate.
Of course, this makes it difficult for people like me, who are highly allergic to gluten.
But more importantly, if wheat and other sources of gluten are so prevalent in our food supply, then how much gluten/flour/wheat are non-allergic people eating?
And what would they do, if they knew that A) gluten is hard for our bodies to digest (which can lead to illness, inflammation, and weight gain), and B) that they are ingesting a lot of gluten unintentionally?
I’ve never seen anyone quantify how much gluten the average person consumes, but I really think someone should. I would not be surprised if, as a society, we are actually consuming more gluten than sugar. If you think about the flour content all of the breads, pastas, pancakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, cereal, pies, and cakes we consume at home, plus the gluten-laden foods in restaurants, it definitely seems possible.
I know I’ve seen Dr. Oz quantify and display the amount of sugar the average American eats in a year–which he says is 150 pounds–and I can’t help but wonder why he wouldn’t also quantify the amount of flour we consume? It seems like a critically important piece of information to me.
If the good doctor were to stack up the bags of flour that represent how much gluten the average person ingests each year, and explain how much of a toll it is taking on our country’s health, would it change the way we eat? Would restaurants rethink their menus, and minimize the amount of gluten they serve? Would the major food companies use gluten-free flours and soy sauce substitutes in their foods? This would likely cost them more, but their hand might be forced, if we all decided to reduce our gluten intake.
I’m not saying everyone needs to cut out gluten all together. As long as you are not allergic, I think gluten, like everything else, is okay in moderation. But I do think that it’s important to practice dietary awareness, and do our best to consume real foods more than fake foods.
Most sources of gluten aren’t food anymore (wheat, for example), because they have been so genetically modified that don’t even resemble the original foods that God created. This makes it really hard for our bodies to digest, and potentially toxic in large quantities.
And so the question stands: how much gluten is in our food supply, and how does it affect our health? It’s hard to say for sure, but I am certain that minimizing gluten intake, and replacing it with real foods, is in everyone’s best interests.
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