Ever find yourself wanting to yell, while waiting in line as someone ahead of you figures out what the gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free options are, "Oh, just order the salad! You diet-demanding people are everywhere!"? I know that you, being a good Minnesota nice person, would never even think such a thing, right? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Trust me, living the dream of diet dissection is not fun for us, either.
Are sensitivities to food really more common or is this all just a fad? Food allergies, sensitivities, celiac disease, etc. are on the rise, yes. I won't deny the fad has certainly played a part. This "fad," however, has had the benefit of helping some people discover that foods are making them ill and in some cases discovering they have an actual disease.
A quick look at a few of the theories and explanations that may be contributing:
Food system changes. What did your great-grandmother eat? It goes without debate that it was very different from today. Food didn't need labels and ingredient lists or travel nearly as far when she was young.
Today our diet includes many components that aren't actually food. It includes preservatives, dyes, pesticides and chemical residues, to name a few. Our body has to process whatever we put in our mouth even if it doesn't recognize it as something it understands. It's like using E85 fuel instead of regular gasoline in a non-flex-fuel car. Chances are it will work, but it may slow down the efficiency and/or have unintended consequences.
The timing that young children are introduced to food. This topic has been a subject of debate. Recent results from a LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study suggest that introducing peanuts at particular times to kids who are at risk for allergies may protect them from getting actual peanut allergies. Studies regarding wheat and celiac have also been explored.
The hygiene hypothesis. Young children who grow up with more exposure to everyday germs, bacteria, parasites, etc. gain the chance for their bodies to respond to allergens appropriately. This can support the immune system and protect them from devastating illnesses as well as food allergies. In other words, our obsession with making sure everything is germ-free may not always benefit us.
In the specific case of wheat ... Due to efforts to create a plant that is easier to harvest and produce greater yields, wheat today is very different than our great-grandmother's, a high-tech result of intense crossbreeding and hybridization. Technically it's not a genetically modified organism (GMO), but the nutrient composition is very different. Some nutritionists believe our bodies may not have had time to adapt.
According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, some of these new food issues may be caused by the chemicals used by non-organic farmers, both in growing and the harvesting process. The herbicide glyphosate is re-sprayed shortly before the wheat is harvested, killing the plant. The wheat plant sends out a blast of seeds right before it dies, creating an increased yield for the farmer, and then after death it's easy to dry and harvest. However, some of that glyphosate remains in our wheat. This may be causing problems in our gut and our bodies, contributing to both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Our bodies work effortlessly for us most of the time, so it's easy to forget the complexities that go on inside. Processes and chain reactions take place to allow our food and all its parts to support us and become part of us. As we can see, sometimes something gets in the way, sidestepping this process. For many, we compensate and don't even notice. Others are given a clear sign.
Continued research into the big picture will produce answers that have potential to benefit all of us in the end, but until then, be forgiving of that person in front of you in line.