Chuck out the bread, flush the flour, and toss the tortillas – it’s gluten-free season.
Gluten: the great scourge on Earth, a plight that must be combated – or at least that’s what gluten-free dieters would have you believe.
In the last few years, going gluten-free has exploded in popularity. Everyone from Miley Cyrus, to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and even former president Bill Clinton have hopped on the anti-bread bandwagon. So what’s up? If Hannah Montana is doing it, it has to be worth looking into, right?
The Gluten Fad
First things first, let’s clear up any mysteries about the infamous gluten. It turns out that gluten is a specific type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. And wouldn’t you know it, people use wheat, rye and barley to make everything from pastas and breads to crackers and granola. Basically, gluten is in a lot of stuff.
So why the hate? Well for starters, if you have Celiac disease, gluten is off the menu. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation,
“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.”
Recent studies have found that an estimated 1 in 100 people worldwide are affected by Celiac disease. While this means millions of people clearly need to avoid gluten, it hardly explains the broad popularity of gluten-free living. In fact, a poll conducted by The NDP Group found that 30% of adults wanted to “cut down or be free of gluten.” In case you don’t want to do the math, that’s 30% of adults trying to avoid gluten when only 1% are affected by Celiac disease. Quite the gap.
The gluten-free fad is just that: a fad. It’s trendy to be gluten-free, so more people are giving it a shot. Because a lot of sweets like cupcakes or cookies are normally made with gluten, many people use the diet as an excuse to avoid most carbs. Think of it as the new and improved Atkins diet.
Why Gluten-Free Can Matter
Don’t let the fact that most people are gluten-resilient fool you; it’s a growing trend that doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. Sales of gluten-free products are expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019. With all the buzz around the gluten-free diet, it was only a matter of time before students jumped aboard. As a result, more and more students and parents are looking for gluten-free options at school. Either districts offer more gluten-free options or they run the risk of losing student participation. Luckily for schools, offering gluten alternatives is relatively easy. Check out our list below to see what you can do to cater to gluten-free students:
Offer salads. Better yet, have salad bars to give students more customization to their lunch. Students who are avoiding gluten for diet purposes will most likely gravitate to healthier options like salads.
Replace tortillas with lettuce wraps. Restaurants like PF Chang’s or Pei Wei have had success offering lettuce wraps for more health-conscious customers. Try your hand at an Asian-inspired lunch that has the benefit of being gluten-free.
Try vegetable pasta. Everyone loves pasta and you’re killing two birds with one stone – removing the gluten and adding more vegetables into your students’ diet.
Gluten is like the dentist: a good percentage of people avoid it unnecessarily. If schools are looking to attract health-conscious students, or just trying to reinvent their cafeteria, offering alternatives is a must. For now, at least, gluten-free is in.