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What is Gluten Free?

The second trend on our 2014 food trends list is gluten free. We want to educate you on gluten, and how to incorporate gluten free options into your menu.

Marketing Gluten Free Menu Items

Having your restaurant ready to market to the growing population of consumers with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, or dietary choice may result in big windfall.

What is Gluten?

Specifically we are talking about WHEAT GLUTEN, which is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is the glue that gives dough elasticity, helps it rise, and hold its shape. Gluten is also used as component for thickeners in soups, sauces, and gravies. It is also used as a flavor carrier, extender, and stabilizer in a vast array of foods.

Gluten Sensitivities

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly reacts to gluten as if it were a poison. It affects one in 133 people, although most have not been diagnosed. Celiac sufferers specifically have missing or damaged villi, from the intestine walls. The villi are part of the system that is able to process and uptake gluten. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten their immune system reacts by destroying the part of the small intestine that absorbs vital nutrients. This malabsorption can lead to serious illness.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, constant fatigue or weakness, headaches, infertility, depression that does not respond to medication, abdominal pain, bone pain and anemia. For children, symptoms include failure to thrive, short stature, distended abdomen, dental enamel defects, and unusual behavior changes.

Diagnosis is made through a series of blood tests, followed by a biopsy of the small bowel to see if the absorbing lining is damaged. The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow the gluten-free diet. When gluten is taken out of the diet, the small intestine heals and a return to full health can be expected. Long-term complications of undiagnosed celiac disease include malnutrition, lymphoma, osteoporosis, neurological complications and miscarriage.

Gluten Free by Choice

Gluten-free diets are becoming popular, thanks in part to the increased awareness of celiac disease and allergies. The effects of gluten free diets have been linked with weight loss and fewer headaches, including migraines. Gluten typically means carbs, so when you’re not eating gluten you’re not eating most of the foods we tend to crave and overeat. Also, there have been many studies linking wheat and depression, mood and behavior changes. Too much consumption of wheat may cause inflammation in the gut and problems with the absorption of nutrients and function of serotonin.

Issues Facing Restaurants

Trained Staff (Front and Back of House) – Having a fully trained staff to deal with allergens is necessary in order to have repeat sales for this growing segment of the population. If your wait staff hesitates and is unsure if menu items are safe, most likely the patron will not return.

Cross Contamination – Lack of understanding of how easy it is to cross-contaminate food with allergens. It’s just like bacteria; it is easily transferrable.

Labeling Issues – With the vast variety of foods available, the FDA has stepped in and has begun defining “Gluten-Free”. This includes the types of grains and also the concentration of gluten in PPM (parts per million). Ingredients like modified food starch can be gluten free but is most likely made of wheat. However, there is no requirement currently to specify which starch it is made from.

Lack of Information for Your Customer – In addition to having trained staff, having readily available information for your customer to understand is a very powerful tool to have repeat sales. Once a “Gluten Free” patron feels comfortable with the restaurant’s knowledge, they are more than likely to return.

What You Can Do In Your Foodservice Business

Certification – Proves you have been trained to deal with allergens and sensitivities.

Menu – Having a menu prepared is a big factor for repeat sales.

Ingredient Statement Reference Book – A binder filled with all your restaurants nutritional statements and ingredients list is a very powerful tool when your customer asks “does the sauce have wheat/gluten?” On a recent trip to Disneyland, my wife (celiac sufferer) was unsure about the fries on her plate. I asked the 15 year old behind the counter if the product had flour or gluten and much to my surprise, he pulled out the binder and flipped to the fry page….?nope, you’re fine”. Wow – that was cool and gave us confidence.

Nicholas and Company has also partnered with The Gluten Free Institute™, an independent certification company who specializes in, not just helping restaurants develop gluten free menus based upon ingredients, but taking it two steps further in creating a cross-contamination protocol within the kitchen and educating the entire restaurant staff. The Gluten Free Institute™ and its affiliates are “setting the standard for gluten safe restaurant food”.

Continued research of The Gluten Free Institute™ shows that simply offering gluten free menu items without having the education and certification to stand behind the product is unsafe to the gluten-free diner. The GFI’s ‘Six Steps to Gluten Free Safety Certification™’ has been helping restaurants since 2009, to instill confidence in restaurant staff and the product they’re representing, thus instilling the same confidence in their customers. This helps to build repeat customers and opens the doors for a new customer base.

Combining the research that the gluten-free food industry is a $2.64B market currently, the Gluten Intolerance Group estimates a 10-14 percent increase in yearly profits for restaurants offering a certified gluten free menu. With the #1 complaint of gluten-sensitive individuals being the inability to dine out safely due to misinformed restaurants, it only makes sense to cater to this ever growing dining population and put your establishment at the forefront of the gluten free industry. Most importantly though, to do this with the help of The Gluten Free Institute’s™ program ensures that your protocol can be developed quickly, with the least margin of error possible.

The Gluten Free Institute™ works with independently owned restaurants, chain restaurants, and restaurants currently offering a gluten free menu that do not hold a cross-contamination protocol certification. They can be reached online at www.TheGlutenFreeInstitute.com.

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