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The new “it” diet?

17 Sep

Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Clinton and that guy from the Old Spice commercials are going gluten-free. That’s right – they’re axing gluten, a protein found in most grains, cereals, and breads, from their lives. And suddenly, the gluten-free diet is the biggest Hollywood diet trend.

Seriously? If someone had told me gluten-free would be the next big culinary thing 15 years ago, I would have laughed, and then asked, “Have you tried gluten-free rice pasta, or dry, tasteless gluten-free cookies?

I got my first sampling of gluten-free foods some 20 years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with Celiac disease, ´╗┐an inherited autoimmune disease in which the consumption of gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. In other words, even a little bit of gluten can make a Celiac very sick.

It’s a serious illness, and the diet – well, there was nothing particularly trendy, tasty, or even healthful about the gluten-free diet back when she first started on it. Gluten-free foods (breads, waffles, snacks, cookies) occupied one measly aisle of the local natural foods store. Characteristically, they were chalky, dry, flavorless, and highly caloric (thanks to the large quality of butter and sugar added to make them more palatable). My mom ate them because she had to. My family ate them (from time to time) with her, in solidarity. And then we snuck out to eat “real” food.

About five or six years ago, we began to notice gluten-free foods becoming more mainstream, accessible, and decidedly yummier (and healthier). Restaurants started offering gluten-free menus, bloggers started chronicling their experiences, and online shopping has made it easier for Celiacs to have good food delivered to their doorstep. Gluten-free bakeries are popping up around the country, and other high-end bakeries are offering assortments of yummy gluten-free goodies along with their flour-laden staples.

This means that being a Celiac is no longer a sentence for a life without good food, and dining out is hardly the ordeal it once was for the gluten-free set. I’m all about increasing awareness, but as far as people opting to eat gluten-free for trendy reasons, well, that’s just crazy. Avoiding wheat products is harder than it looks. And from what I’ve heard, when Celiacs go on a gluten-free diet, they usually gain weight (because they are finally able to absorb nutrients). So if gluten-free is the new no-carb, it seems a bit, well, weird.

Even if the trend dies off faster than it started, there are certainly positive things that come from having glamorous celebrities endorse a diet. So, thank you, Chelsea and Gwyneth – because of you, ordering my mom a gourmet birthday cake will be much, much easier!

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