Gluten-Free: Buzzword or Healthy Lifestyle?

Restaurants bet on more customers seeking special menus.



g-free mac & cheese, Beer Kitchen

Nicole G.

   Gluten-free is one of the latest buzzwords in modern cuisine. If you have celiac disease, an immune system disorder that causes damage to the digestive system, the rise in availability of gluten-free foods is exciting.

   If you’re just trying to be healthy, going gluten-free really won’t help you much.

   “For the general population, there is no reason to follow a gluten-free diet,” says Abby Heidari, executive director of the Kansas Dietetic Association.

   Many people do have a real medical need to go gluten-free. With celiac disease, a person’s body can’t absorb gluten the way it should, and the body overreacts. That, in turn, can damage the small intestine, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

   Heidari says that you can be sensitive to gluten without a positive test result for celiac disease. In those cases, going gluten-free can help.

   “A sizeable number of these patients have a placebo effect when they go on a gluten-free diet, but there is definitely a group of others who are really sensitive to gluten, and when you remove gluten, they don’t have symptoms,” says Heidari.

   She recommends eating less processed grains with a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, simple whole grains, lean meats, nuts, seeds and legumes. Just because a piece of cake is gluten-free, that doesn’t make it a healthy thing to eat all the time.

   But just what is gluten?

   It’s protein that’s found naturally in wheat, barley and rye. Sometimes people even add gluten to dough. When you knead bread dough, you’re stretching the gluten inside the dough, which will make your bread rise properly.

   Amateur bakers who’ve tried baking gluten-free know that it’s a tricky balance to get that same texture without gluten. You must use ingredients that mimic the feel of pasta, bread or whatever you’re trying to replicate.

   If you’re tired of trying to make some magic yourself with rice flour, potato starch and xanthan gum, restaurants around Kansas City have started highlighting gluten-free options on their menus.

   Here are a few:

  • Tuscan chicken pizza at Pie Five Pizza, 12154 W. 95th St. in Lenexa or 13366 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park.
  • Macaroni and cheese at Beer Kitchen, 435 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Vegetarian tacos at Eden Alley, 707 W. 47th St., Kansas City, Mo.
  • Chocolate cupcakes and iced sugar cookies at Mama Resch's, 12635 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park

  

   Bakery owner Angela Resch of Mama Resch’s says her customers can’t believe her treats are harmless to the gluten-intolerant or other allergy sufferers.

   “If you served these at a party, no one would know they were anything different (than regular cupcakes and cookies),” she says. “The texture is great; the flavor is great.”