What it is: A cereal that is now gluten free
Bonnie: We’ve chosen Rice Chex as our FeaturedBite in a tribute to General Mills — the world’s sixth-largest food company — which has decided to change the formula of this cereal to make it gluten free. Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, but also in some other grains.
General Mills reformulated the cereal using molasses in place of barley malt syrup and has taken steps to prevent cross contamination with grains used in making their other cereals during the production of Rice Chex. That means that folks with celiac disease — an autoimmune condition that results in gluten intolerance — can sit down to a regular-priced bowl of cereal found in the regular cereal section of the supermarket.
One concern with many gluten-free products is that they’re made from refined grains, which generally are lower in iron, B vitamins and fiber. This gluten-free Rice Chex provides an excellent source of iron and the B vitamins; it’s only lacking in fiber.
You may not have noticed if you don’t need to purchase gluten-free products, but most of them often cost two to three times the price of gluten-containing products. Next time you’re in the supermarket and have an extra couple of minutes, check out how much these folks — and others with special nutrition needs — are paying for their food.
Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the population, or more than 3 million Americans, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. The lifelong treatment is to avoid gluten, naturally found in wheat, barley and rye.
Just imagine never being able to enjoy a fresh bagel topped with cream cheese and salmon, a slice of brick-oven pizza, a bowl of pasta e fagioli or even a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat. I am fortunate, but often do think about this as a number of my friends have celiac disease. When they come to dinner or we dine out, I plan my choices so they can enjoy everything.
So kudos to General Mills for making gluten-free Rice Chex, a cereal that, after reformulation, tastes the same as the original. Perhaps now the five larger food companies will follow suit.
Bryan: Rice Chex is likely not a product you’ll purchase — unless you’re one of the millions of people in the United States who have a gluten allergy. Those sensitive to gluten have essentially had their dietary options cut to a tiny fraction of what “ordinary” people can comfortably consume…. Just imagine having to avoid all wheat, barley and rye!
Though the path is still a complicated one to walk, the life of a gluten-allergy sufferer has eased a great deal in the past decade. Specialty producers have been churning out everything from gluten-free bread and pancakes to muffins and cookies. There has even been a gluten-free restaurant that sprang up in New York City, providing the hordes of afflicted food lovers with actual options beyond avoiding wheat and other grains!
General Mills is certainly not the first company to offer a gluten-free product, but they are by far the largest and most influential to do so. What strikes me most about their offering is how indistinguishable it is from the “normal” product. I challenged my girlfriend, one of the most fickle eaters I know and an enormous fan of Rice Chex, to a blind taste test. She was more than certain that she could pick out the “allergy product;” three bowls later and we had both forgotten which was which. Actually, it didn’t matter; they taste the same!
The one problem I’ve always had with “allergy products” is that they don’t taste the same as the products they imitate. Rice Dream is not ice cream, not even close… But GM’s new gluten-free Rice Chex is Rice Chex. Allergy sufferers rejoice!
Eric: “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” – Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
Unfortunately, as both my brother and mother have pointed out in their writings, what the above quote preaches is not possible for the 1 percent of Americans who suffer from celiac disease. Most people might not understand how difficult it is to avoid eating products (i.e. manufactured goods) that include wheat, barley and rye; in my opinion nearly every product produced contains at least a trace of these grains.
I urge you to try and stand by as an Italian-American with celiac disease sits at a table full of pasta, bread, pizza and breaded cutlets and hold back your tears. I’ve witnessed this event first-hand on more than one occasion, and it’s as if a close family member has been taken away from them. (Honestly, what Italian can live without pasta? Or, for that matter, what person of any ethnicity?)
For the food lover in all of us, do show respect and accommodate those who are unable to enjoy the simplicity of grain. And kudos to the companies that are helping to support gluten-free products. I am proud finally to see a business conglomerate stand up for the “little man” without charging a premium for their support. As my brother stated – allergy sufferers and celiacs rejoice.
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