As we hear more evidence of Americans going gluten-free, it is becoming increasingly important for both food producers and restaurants to work towards a more gluten-free-friendly environment. In recent years, more Americans are finding themselves developing either a sensitivity or full-blown allergy to gluten, resulting in a sometimes dramatic lifestyle change. Knowing that gluten is affecting more Americans than ever, I investigated what exactly gluten is, and how it is hidden in different common foods in today’s restaurant industry.

What Is Gluten?
While many people have heard the word, gluten, they may not have a full understanding of what it is, and how it can affect one’s body. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is an ingredient commonly used in wheat products that help to give food their shape and texture. In other words, gluten helps food to get its shape and hold it together, similar to how glue holds things together. Gluten is the ingredient that helps foods like table bread, sandwich bread, and bakery items to hold their shape.

What Happens With A Gluten Allergy?
Knowing that gluten is the main ingredient in one of the more commonly eaten foods may not be surprising. What many Americans don’t know is that people can begin to develop an allergy to gluten at any age, and for many, they don’t know that an allergy has begun. If a person’s allergy continues to develop enough, it can become celiac disease. Celiac disease is when a person’s body can no longer tolerate the ingredients in gluten and can begin sustaining damage in the small intestine if consumption continues.

Unfortunately, while some people become more predisposed to developing celiac disease based on other underlying factors, anyone can develop celiac disease at any age. Knowing this, it is important to not only keep an eye on one’s health, and note any changes in how they feel, but restaurants should work on accommodating the food allergy. For many Americans living with celiac disease, going out to eat at restaurants can often be more stressful than enjoyable, as they struggle to find a single item on the menu that can be consumed.

Where exactly does is gluten used that can be missed when eating out? To begin, it is important to be aware of the drinks one is ordering, as a majority of beer contains a moderate portion of gluten. Sauces, which ranges from soy sauce all the way to barbecue sauce contain gluten, making meals with sauce already pre-made into the recipe off limits. While it seems like a small risk to enjoy one meal with barbecue sauce, it can quickly turn dangerous for a person suffering from celiac disease.

While significant progress has been made towards helping Americans with celiac disease to maintain their diet, the lack of options available at countless restaurants should be addressed by offering a full, comprehensive gluten-free menu. Since more Americans are being diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten allergy, more restaurants will find that having a gluten-free menu can not only obtain new customers but retain old customers with a new eating lifestyle.