First it was Chelsea Clinton’s wedding cake, now it’s Chris Davenport’s morning toast. The connection? They’re gluten free. From a red carpet movement (The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it caused her years of chronic pain) to enhancement of athletic performance, passing on gluten has become this decades new diet trend. So what’s the skinny?
For Angeli VanLaanen, pro skier and X Game super pipe superstar, the reason is simple: “I eat gluten free for health benefits…I don't feel sluggish after meals like I used to. The stomach cramps during digestion are gone."
She is not alone. Allergies and sensitivities to gluten are on the rise. Surveys suggest that 1 out of every 133 people in the general population has a gluten intolerance, ranging from slight sensitivities to celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity is characterized by antigliadin antibodies while celiac disease is the result of both genetic and environmental factors (two HLA markers DQ2 and DQ8 indicate the genetic predisposition for celiac disease). Celiac is an autoimmune disease of the digestive tract where inflammation and damage to the small intestine interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food, causing digestive upset, and a multitude of other body-wide symptoms.
The array of gluten sensitivities can affect both adults and children—most often Caucasians of European decent, and some of the most common symptoms include: chronic diarrhea or constipation, weight loss or gain, bloating, gas, depression, fatigue, irritability, muscle cramps, and joint/bone pain. A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 "diseases" that can be caused by eating gluten. These included osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, anemia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage).
But let’s back up, what the heck IS gluten, anyway? Gluten is a collection of proteins, namely the long-chain amino acids called gliadins and glutenins, that make bread rise and give a chewy, elastic texture to baked goods and many processed foods. Wheat contains the most gluten, while other closely related grains, including rye and barley, also have high amounts of the gluten proteins. Gluten is found in practically every processed food we eat on the slopes. Think about it: the morning breakfast burrito, lunchtime sandwich, and après pizza and beer. Because this overexposure is causing so many adverse symptoms, health conscious athletes are starting to pass on the breadbasket.
Chris Davenport says, “I like Gillian’s Gluten Free Bread. There’s really no reason for it except that I love pasta and bread so much I thought it couldn't be a bad thing to lower the gluten intake. Seems to work.”
Meanwhile, websites devoted to the benefits of a gluten-free diet in athletic performance are showing up everywhere: www.glutenfreefitness.com and www.glutenfreeathlete.com are just a couple that offer gluten free food reviews, nutrition articles, and training tips.
Skiers aren’t the only ones catching on; ski area restaurants are jumping aboard the gluten-free gravy train as well. At the Banff Ski Lodge, gluten free diners can now, “Enjoy organic coffee, chai, fresh sushi and gluten free cupcakes while chillaxin in the smoothest vibe on Banff Ave.” For the Colorado Front Range skier, Vail Cascade Resort is now serving gluten-free pizza at The Gluten Free Bistro. www.theglutenfreebistro.com. In fact, gluten-free cuisine will be one of the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2011, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual, “What’s Hot" survey of more than 1,500 professional chefs.
You might be wondering, if I can’t have bread, what is there to eat aside from dirt? Lots, actually. VanLaanen likes stir-fries with veggies, rice, and chicken, or Mexican food with corn tortillas. There are buckets of new gluten free products hitting the market as we speak (VanLaanen recommends trying Pamela’s pancake mix), and, apparently many new restaurants. There are gluten free versions of practically every gluten-containing article you’re used to, from pasta, to pizza, to bread, tortillas, cookies and beer. Yes, gluten free beer. New Planet beer is certified gluten free, made in Colorado, and not half bad.
The simplest guideline to follow for gluten free eating? Meat and potatoes, baby. Could be worse, right?