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Getting to know gluten...

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Celiac disease is something that has been in the media a lot today. Many people still don’t fully understand what Celiac disease fully entails; how it’s different from other food allergies, and even what gluten is. Did you know that approximately 1 in 133 Americans, (about 1% of the population), has been diagnosed with Celiac disease? This statistic only accounts for about 17% of those that are actually affected by the disease. Surprisingly, it can take 6 to 10 years to correctly diagnose a person who has Celiac disease, with the only existing treatment being a 100% gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease isn’t like any other food intolerance (such as lactose, soy or egg). Although it does happen, most people who have celiac disease can’t just eat what they want and deal with the stomachache or hives that may come later. Many people who are lactose intolerant can attest to indulging in pizza and ice cream (even if they are short on lactaid pills), mentioning that they will “just deal with the consequences.” Celiac disease isn’t like that.

As per the Celiac Disease Foundation: “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” When people with celiac disease consume gluten, their body releases an immune response that attacks the small intestine, hence the autoimmune classification of celiac disease. The immune response attacks the villi, which are the small, fingerlike projections that promote nutrient absorption in the small intestine. Once damaged, villi cannot properly absorb nutrients into the body. If left undiagnosed or untreated, celiac disease can lead to numerous, additional serious health problems, including Type I diabetes, Multiple sclerosis, anemia, osteoporosis, epilepsy, migraines, infertility and miscarriage, short stature and intestinal cancers.

Regardless of whether or not you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, following a gluten-free diet has become a somewhat popular diet fad recently. As Jimmy Kimmel recently pointed out on his late night show, most people who follow a gluten-free diet don’t even know what gluten is.

So…what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat endosperm. Gluten nourishes plant embryos during germination and also gives dough its elasticity, which in turn gives baked wheat products its chewy texture. Gluten can be found in any products that are made with wheat, rye, barley and various other crossbreeds of these three grains.

Now, you may be thinking, “The gluten-free diet is hard to stick to.” You’re probably right. Going gluten free means cutting out foods such as bread, pasta and pizza (essentially the Italian diet), as well as anything else that is made out of flour, or contains wheat, barley or rye. Gluten-free products and wheat alternatives have recently been showing up in restaurants and supermarkets across the country. Gluten-free products are also very clearly labeled on the front and sides of their packages.

If you do decide to follow a gluten-free diet (whether you have celiac disease or not), you can still choose from many grains (such as oats, corn, flax, millet, quinoa, rice, soy) and the widening array of gluten-free flowers that are showing up everywhere. If you’re at a loss for what to eat on a gluten-free diet, don’t worry. Tribes of lifestyle dieters have taken to social media to share their discoveries, recipes and tricks. Simply searching #celiac, #glutenfree or any other similar hashtags on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest will reveal an exponentially growing array of recipes, and meals and ideas for you to try. Recipe websites such as foodgawker.com also have special gluten-free categories that you can browse as well.

The one thing you should keep in mind about enjoying a gluten-free lifestyle (whether you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or not) is that you will be making changes to your diet that are for the better. As long as you supplement your gluten void with fruits, vegetables and healthy grains, you will start to feel healthier and more energized, overall. If you love cooking (and especially gluten-free), you should consider a career as a professional chef! Many restaurants and wealthy individuals these days are looking to hire chefs who are well-versed in a variety of cuisine, such as vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Star Career Academy’s culinary education programs can start you on the right track to the career you’ve always wanted.

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