Bread, pasta, and beer are now enemies to those following a gluten-free lifestyle. Since medical advancement in the past decade have allowed many previously unknown diseases like Celiac Sprue or celiac disease to come into the spotlight, we are now able to explain some of the abdominal discomfort and malabsorption cases that follow when one consumes gluten.
Gluten-free foods become a multi-million dollar business. Celebrities are seen on gluten-free diets and have since influenced many who are not even intolerant or tested to have a sensitivity to gluten to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. Non-medically supported health claims even say that the gluten-free diet will relieve you from many illnesses from headaches to gout. I say, there is no other profession out there in this world that has more “quack”, as one of my graduate school professor use to say, than being a dietitian dealing with nutritional issues. Some people don’t even know what gluten really is before making a change in their diet.
What is gluten in the first place?
Well, a good start to answering that question is knowing that it is a protein found in all forms of wheat (bulgur, durum, semolina, spelt, farro and more) including its relatives rye and barley that gives the elasticity to breads and pasta. Gluten comprises of 2 different smaller proteins, glutenin and gliadin and is formed when water is added to flour and kneaded either by hand or machine. The more you knead the dough, the tougher the gluten strands become and the more elasticity the bread has.
What is Celiac Disease?
The small intestine is lined with millions of finger-like projections called villi, which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food we eat. When a person with an auto-immune illness called Celiac Disease, the gluten they consume damages the villi and causes inflammation, therefore, upsetting the abdomen and causes malabsorption. Please ask your doctor for a diagnostic blood test to determine whether or not you may have Celiac Disease. Symptoms include an upset digestive system including diarrhea and weight loss, anemia, headaches and acid reflux/heartburn according to the Mayo Clinic.
What is Gluten Sensitivity?
Firstly, the amount of breads, pasta and whole grains we have been consuming in the western world in the last 5 decades have increased so much that people have started to develop sensitivity to gluten. This increased consumption causes low levels of inflammation in the small intestine, similar to those who have Celiac Disease.
Secondly, compared to those with Celiac Disease, having gluten sensitvity does not increase intestinal permeability and will not allow more toxins, bacteria and undigested material to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Gluten Sensitivity cannot be detected by performing the celiac disease blood test. Although, symptoms do include headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers, they typically appear hours or days after gluten has been ingested. These symptoms will eventually disappear when one removes gluten from their diet then reintroducing it gradually to access your own body’s response to the gluten threshold.
In Hong Kong, the awareness in the food and beverage world only began recently within the last 5-8 years. Some restaurants in the HK side have adopted gluten-free options for their patrons. Also health food stores have been carrying flour, granola bars, cereal that are gluten free.
I’ve listed a few below:
Life Café: With 3 locations now – 10 Shelley Street, Soho, Central
50 C Johnston Road Wanchai
Grassroots Pantry: 12 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun
Mana! Fast Slow Food: 92 Wellington Street, Central
Noodlemi: 2 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan
O Green Café: 27 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan
Dandy’s Organic Café: 108 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan
Just Green Organic Convenience Store: 4 locations
52 Graham Street, Soho, Central
7 St. Francis Street, Wanchai
75 Yung Shue Wan Main Street, Lamma Island
Shop G33C Block C, Discovery Bay
Little Giant: 15/F 447-449 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay
Nature’s Village: 4 locations
36 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
Shop 54 Elizabeth House, Causeway Bay
Shop 106 1/F Johnston Road, Wanchai
Shop122 1/F 20 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Some gluten-free alternatives are listed below: