Commentary

Gluten-Free Rises (And Improves Your Backhand, Too!)

For a while this week, a decidedly unbusinesslike story sat at the top of WSJ.com's "Most Emailed Links." The headline reads, "The Diet That Shook Up Tennis? Starch Madness: Novak Djokovic's Domination of the Sport Has Coincided With His Gluten-Free Turn."

It seems that the Serbian tennis player has been on a tear since his nutritionist discovered that he is allergic to the protein gluten, which is found in common flours. Since he stopped eating such delicacies as "pasta, pizza, beer, French bread, Corn Flakes, pretzels, empanadas, Mallomars and Twizzlers," Djokovic has not only lost a little weight, he has also gained a winning streak that is "threatening to push Roger Federer" and Rafael Nadel off the front pages, Tom Perrotta writes.

And while Djokovic's "transformation from odd man out to invincible overlord also is leaving gobsmacked tennis fans searching for answers," they are witnessing a "precise, fluid and, at times, devastating" serve, a forehand "that seem to subscribe to undiscovered laws of physics" and a backhand that has become "impenetrable."

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If you're not saying "gimme some of that" -- or should we say "none of that" -- by now, you've never played a racquet sport. Or been gobsmacked.

Meanwhile, the Fresh & Easy supermarket chain announced this week that it is adding 15 to 30 new gluten-free items to its stores, bringing the total to more than 500, Drug Store News' Allison Cerra reports. Last year, it created a labeling system for the products and added a list of all gluten-free products on its website, Freshandeasy.com/glutenfree.

The New York Times ' Tammy La Gorce last Sunday reviewed a number of restaurants in New Jersey under the headline "Eating Out Gets Easier for Celiac Patients." Celiac disease, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the small intestine in response to gluten, is more serious than the allergy -- or intolerance -- that Djokovic and many others suffer from.

It is, in fact, Celiac Disease Awareness Month. A walk and run organized by a grassroots group called Raising Our Celiac Kids (R.O.C.K.) will take place in Victoria, Minn., tomorrow headlined by ex-NFL MVP quarterback Rich Gannon. Gov. Mark Dayton is also attending, according to Fox 9 News.

The gluten-free trend has been growing for quite a while, of course. In February, I wrote about Shari Cole's multiyear effort to bring Simply Shari's Gluten Free + Fabulous Line of cookies, pastas, pizzas and sauces into the mainstream. Earlier this year, a Packaged Goods report, "Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., Third Edition," put retail sales of gluten-free food and beverages at $2.6 billion in 2010 and projects that the market will grow to $6 billion in 2015.

Kate Lawson's story about the increase in dietary options in the Detroit News yesterday ledes with some startling statistics: "Celiac disease, once viewed as an obscure chronic illness, has now been estimated to affect more than 3 million people in the United States. That's one in every 133 Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness." And 95% of them don't even know they have it. Many others are gluten-intolerant, she writes, which means the body has difficulty processing the protein but, unlike celiac disease, it is not a life-threatening condition.

"Europe has been ahead of us on gluten-free dining, but now it's growing by leaps and bounds" in the U.S., Diane Holtaway, associate director of client services at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, tells the Times' La Gorce. Dr. Schär U.S.A., a division of a European gluten-free food manufacturer, is making gluten-free bread at the center, Holtaway continues, and is building a production plant in New Jersey's Gloucester County.

The story also mentions two gluten-free bakeries in the state. Another one, By the Way Bakery, opened in my small village in Westchester County, N.Y., a couple of weeks ago and seems to be doing a robust business.

Copy on its website reads: "There's no dairy either, but we're sure you can't tell, as in, 'Oh, by the way, it's gluten and dairy-free.' At the risk of venturing into food reviewing, you really can't. Chocolate is chocolate, after all.

3 comments about "Gluten-Free Rises (And Improves Your Backhand, Too!) ".
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  1. Tami Racaniello from It's Time to Get Fit, Inc., May 20, 2011 at 11:02 a.m.

    A gluten-free diet does not have to be expensive. Many companies took advantage of the hype to make gluten-free "specialty' items, (which are really processed foods), that of course, cost more. It is no more difficult to cook gluten-free, than it is to cook any other food, but the industry wants you to think that way for their profit. I teach clients quick, & inexpensive solutions, that empower them to prepare gluten-free recipes with ease. But if you look at the tennis players eating habits, they hardly resemble an athlete's typical fare... pizza, beer, Twizzlers, Mallomars & Corn Flakes? Cutting down on consumption of those alone, and adding in healthier choices would make most people feel better & have more energy. Though he may have had a gluten issue, not everyone does. It could also be a product of poor dietary choice, so consult with a professional before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. To your health & happiness! Train with Tami - Live purposefully, Eat mindfully, Move joyfully.

  2. Julie Du brow from dubroWORKS, May 20, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    This weekend is the annual Gluten-free Challenge -- http://www.goGFchallenge.com, as well. For the last 30 days, people who've signed up have rec'd a daily tip + recipe and the point is to get people who are AND are not GF so they can learn how easy it is to eat at the table together again. The feedback on this Challenge from consumers has been incredible. But one point to the the losing of weight--and Dr. Oz even did a segment on this: a GF diet is NOT a weight loss diet...that is not the reason to go GF. You do it b/c you have to (celiac disease, gluten-intolerance) primarily, and yes, a number of others also do it b/c they find they feel less bloated. But GF food can be just as many calories as wheat-based products, so just be watchful of your body.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 20, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.

    Tami and Julie: Your information will be helpful to many and should be emphasized when discussed on the talk show circuit or where ever. It's the Gluten Free section in the supermarkets that make people's purse's gulp. It can drive people who need different diets away.

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