If you’ve shopped in a natural foods store in recent months, you’ve no doubt seen products bearing the label “GMO-free” or “contains only non-GMO ingredients.” The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, which refers to any food product that has been altered at the gene level. Genetically modified foods are also frequently described as “genetically engineered”, “genetically altered” or “genetically manipulated.”
It can be said that modification of plants is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, gardeners and farmers have been crossbreeding different species of plants to create plants that produce heartier, better tasting, or more beautiful crops. However, the type of genetic engineering of foods that has caused a groundswell of concern around the world is vastly different from these traditional plant breeding practices.
With modern genetic engineering, genes from an animal, plant, bacterium, or virus are inserted into a different organism (most often a plant), thereby irreversibly altering the genetic code, the “blueprint” that determines all of an organism’s physical characteristics, of the organism that received the gene. Through this technology, scientists have created tomatoes with a longer shelf life by adding flounder genes, soybeans that are resistant to weed killers, potatoes that produce their own pesticides, and potatoes with jellyfish genes that glow in the dark when they need water.
Genetic engineers are also working to develop fruits, vegetables, and grains with higher levels of vitamins and foods that contain vaccines against diseases like malaria, cholera and hepatitis.
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.
A gluten-free diet is primarily used to treat celiac disease. Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease. Eating a gluten-free diet helps people with celiac disease control their signs and symptoms and prevent complications.
Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change, and like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions, especially if you weren’t having troubling symptoms before your diagnosis.
It may help to try to focus on all the foods you can eat instead, however. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or search online.
If you’re just starting with a gluten-free diet, it’s a good idea to consult a dietitian who can answer your questions and offer advice about how to avoid gluten while still eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Initially, following a gluten-free diet may be frustrating. But with time, patience and creativity, you’ll find there are many foods that you already eat that are gluten-free and you will find substitutes for gluten-containing foods that you can enjoy.
The gluten-free diet is a treatment for celiac disease. Some people who don’t have celiac disease also may have symptoms when they eat gluten, however. This is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may benefit from a gluten-free diet. But people with celiac disease must be gluten-free to prevent symptoms and disease-related complications.