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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Gluten-free cuisine gains awareness

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Ask the Nutritionist: Gluten-free cuisine gains awareness

In her latest Ask the Nutritionist commentary, the National Restaurant Association’s Director of Nutrition & Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., tackles gluten-free cuisine.

Awareness of gluten intolerance has been growing over the past several years, drawing attention to the importance of adjusting restaurant menus and preparation methods. Gluten-free cuisine has increased in demand, thus you will now see various gluten-free menu options from pasta to beer to desserts.

Gluten refers to a naturally occurring, specific complex of proteins found in grains that is not fully digested by some people. Celiac Disease (CD), a genetic-based auto-immune disease, is the intolerance to gluten that elicits an immune response that may lead to an onset of symptoms that can affect the gastrointestinal or digestive system, density of bones, skin and the nervous system.

Approximately three million people, or 1% of the population, have been diagnosed with CD. Unfortunately, CD is not curable; however, once gluten is removed from the diet, most individuals experience relief from symptoms and can reduce the health risks associated with CD.

Gluten is found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye. When following a gluten-free diet, you must avoid using all varieties (including cross-bred varieties) of these grains and ingredients made from them.

Gluten-free diets do not mean you have to stop eating grains completely, though. Rice, corn, millet, flax seed, chia seed, cassava, tapioca, arrowroot, soy, sorghum, wild rice, gluten-free oats, buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa can be substituted. These grains provide essential nutrients, including B vitamins, fiber and iron, and are a great addition to any diet. A wide variety of gluten-free products are now readily available in stores, and many restaurants are offering gluten-free menu items.

If you have CD or a food allergy and you are dining out, you should alert your server that you have an allergy - and be clear that it is an allergy rather than a preference. You may want to check a restaurant’s website to review their menu or call them before visiting. The lines of communication are very important so that the restaurant can ensure a safe meal from start to finish.

For more information on CD and gluten-free diets, visit the Celiac Disease Foundation website.

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