The g-word


Gangsta? Groupie? No, try Gluten.

There’s a new label on food that is not only changing the way consumers live, but also buy.

“WARNING: May contain wheat.”

Seems a bit odd to warn of a main ingredient, but for those living with Celiac Disease or gluten allergies this warning is obediently scanned for on packaging and menus. May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month and while celebrities have promoted a gluten-free diet in the past – don’t call it a food trend.

Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disorder in the lower intestines where gluten, a protein found in wheat grain, barley, and rye, cannot be digested. The difference in Celiac Disease and a gluten allergy are in the symptoms. Fatigue, stomach aches, irritability, and irritable bowels are all symptoms of Celiac, but only a full medical screening complete with blood work and endoscopy can ensure a correct diagnosis.

While the Federal Drug Administration has yet to define “gluten-free”, many companies are acknowledging the demand for wheat-free products by updating their marketing, and in some instances their products.

Products that are already wheat-free are beginning to advertise that fact prominently to make purchasing and selecting more efficient for the consumer. Companies like General Mills changed their packaging in 2009 to promote their already gluten-free product, Rice Chex, with a bright, large label. Later in 2010 they released under their popular baking brand, Betty Crocker, gluten-free cake mix. Followed shortly with Bisquick’s gluten-free batter.

Today, the gluten-free demand goes beyond the grocery store. Restaurants such as The Yard House, P.F. Changs, Buca Di Beppo, and Claim Jumper, all have separate menus available that offer dishes excluding any wheat-based ingredients.

For those diagnosed, treatment is simple: eat a gluten-free diet. Sounds relatively easy and painless. No prescription medications to follow. No surgeries to schedule. Treatment could be a whole lot worse. But consider this, as summer tempts us with warm weather and longer days we areventuring into summertime party territory. I’m talking BBQ’s, pool parties, block parties, clambakes, bonfires, and picnics. The scent of charcoal grills cooking hamburgers and hotdogs destined for toasted buns. Buns! What buns? Exactly. Here in lies the last frontier of gluten-free foods.

Since the advent of gluten-free baking, no company has perfected the simple art of baking a light, delicious hot dog or hamburger roll. For many, this meant stuffing dogs and patties between slices of gluten-free toast…until now. Earlier this year Udi’s Foods (http://www.udisfood.com) announced that at the end of May they will release their new hamburger and hotdog buns, just in time for those summer cookouts.

Rejoice!

The Center for Celiac Research estimates that approximately six percent of the U.S. population, or 18 million people, suffer from gluten sensitivity. Meanwhile, the food research firm, Packaged Facts, estimates the retail sales of gluten-free products to reach $2.6 billion by 2012, and over $5.5 billion by 2015 as more Americans are diagnosed. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of dough.

DGWB Perspective

Gluten-free food products are the result of new food science and medical advancements that are subsequently encouraging a more content-aware consumer. Regardless of amount, ingredients in processed foods are now observed, questioned, and researched. Consumers looking to change their diet start with the simple task of looking for fresher, organic, and natural ingredients in the common food products they eat. In turn, food companies from production to sales are answering the demand with more diverse alternatives to satisfyeven the most demanding diet.

Trend or diet? Does it really matter when the outcomes means a more healthy, happy public? In this case, no, as I suppose with the advent of new food development you can now have your (gluten-free) cake and eat it too.

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