La farina [flour] is everywhere in la cucina italiana…in pizza, pasta, and dolci [sweets]. Did we mention pizza and pasta? Yet since Italian doctors have begun diagnosing la celiachia [celiac disease], the national reliance on il grano [wheat] has started to shift.
La celiachia is a genetic condition in which the small intestine is chronically inflamed. This inflammation is triggered by ingesting glutine [gluten], a protein found in il grano. Nearly 200,000 Italians have been diagnosed with la celiachia; an additional 400,000 Italians are believed to have the condition without a diagnosis.
The prevalence of the condition is high enough to have been recognized by the food industry. There are now over 6,500 gluten-free products listed on the Italian National Food Registry, including hundreds of types of pasta and biscotti [cookies] made with grains and pulses that do not contain il glutine. The gluten-free industry in Italy brings in sales of 300 million Euro per year.
The Italian public health system is gradually accommodating those who suffer from la celiachia. A 2005 law guarantees Italians the right to a gluten-free meal in any public cafeteria. However, misinformation still abounds: 30% of Italians surveyed believe that a gluten-free diet is a surefire way to lose weight, which may be why an estimated 6 million Italians intentionally buy gluten-free products, even though the vast majority of them haven’t been diagnosed with la celiachia.
If you have issues with gluten and are planning on traveling to Italy, you can tell people “Sono celiaco/a” [I have celiac disease] and look for labels that say “senza glutine” [gluten-free].
If this is the kind of learning you like to do, pick up a copy of Italian Through Food!