Friday, January 18, 2008

Are you gluten sensitive?

If you can’t tolerate gluten, you probably already know how horrible gluten-free foods can taste. And how impossible it is to eat—and maybe actually enjoy—a truly gluten-free diet. Until now.

Introducing Click on this festive logo to discover a world of delicious gluten-safe baking products:

Meet gluten
Gluten is the mixture of proteins left over after the starch has been removed from wheat. Its chainlike molecules make gluten essential for baking because they stretch under high heat, trapping carbon dioxide and giving bread products their spongy, airy texture.

Gluten is also used as an adhesive filler in thousands of other foods from salad dressings to ice creams to vitamins to deli meats. And, of course, you can’t escape gluten if you want to enjoy sandwiches, chips, pizza, fast foods, cakes, pies … even beer.

Gluten for punishment
If you’re gluten-sensitive and diligent enough to read the labels in the grocery store, you can avoid many gluten-filled products. But if you have severe gluten intolerance, even a little exposure to gluten can be harmful. Severe intolerance makes it hard to “cheat” on your diet even for one meal, and eating in restaurants can be out of the question.

In mild cases, gluten sensitivity just gives you an upset stomach. Severe gluten intolerance, though, can trigger a catastrophic autoimmune response. In the presence of gluten, your immune system starts destroying your villi—the tiny, fingerlike projections in your small intestine that absorb nutrients from food. And when you get no nutrients from the foods you eat, you can develop anemia, osteoporosis, depression, stunted growth and behavioral problems in children, and even type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s a family thing
Gluten sensitivity is hereditary, and it appears with higher frequency in people of Scandinavian descent. Like my sister.

She was diagnosed soon after she graduated from college, and she’s spent the last 15 years struggling to find foods she could eat that didn’t taste like sludge. There was almost nothing available in America, but while visiting friends in Norway a few years ago, she discovered a line of gluten-free products there that were actually delicious.

But having them shipped every few months to America was expensive. So she did the next best thing: She and her husband landed exclusive U.S. distribution rights to the entire product line. After a year of travel and negotiations and all the other fun things involved in setting up a business, their first shipment is finally en route to America.

And their web site—ingeniously named—is up and running. It’s not ready to take orders just yet, but it can take your name and email address and alert you when you can start buying their great products.

Visit the site every day for a week
Because you won’t be hearing from me for a while. We leave today for a week-long Atlantis cruise out of Miami, and I don’t plan on even looking at a computer until I’m baked to a golden brown and all caught up on my New Yorkers. Have fun and eat like a ... um ... gluten while I’m gone!

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