There are diets that are largely a matter of individual choice, such as to lose weight, to gain weight, to improve your health, to make smarter choices.

Then there are DIETS, serious matters of immediate health and well-being. Among these are "gluten-free" diets that are quite distinct from the average American's daily and healthy intake.

"Gluten" refers to a mix of proteins found inside certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten makes up about 80% of the grain in a wheat seed, but it's more than a chemical part of the grain. It is a significant nutritional source for most of the world, but it also provides many of the physical characteristics we expect when cooking with grains: it gives elasticity to kneaded dough, provides chewiness to cooked products and it affects how dough rises.

The impact of going on a gluten-free diet is significant. Gluten products are common in the normal diet, and they are found in unexpected places. It's not enough to avoid just wheat products – you may have to avoid products that are made where gluten products are made. And it's not just bread that can cause problems. Gluten in one form or another is used to thicken sauces and gravy; it shows up in soy sauce for that favorite Chinese food; and even your favorite Sunday afternoon football game beer contains gluten. It is everywhere!

Making the decision to go gluten-free is seldom optional. Physical symptoms usually develop that lead to your doctor suspecting an allergy or intolerance to gluten, and then requiring you to avoid all gluten products. Doing so is a learning process: you begin with the obvious sources of gluten, you deal with the initial refusal to give up such favorites, and you continue to learn to build a new "normal" diet that allows your system to adapt and respond to an absence of gluten.

Everyone who is told that they have to stop eating gluten goes through a period of shock as you begin to realize everything that you are no longer able to eat. But the good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are happily eating a gluten free diet with no trouble. If there are any Celic or gluten free groups that meet in your area, try going to a few meetings to meet some new people. They're almost always happy to help out a new member and will more than likely have plenty of yummy recipes for you to try.

You can also find some great gluten free resources online, from blogs and websites to complete cookbooks. If you're new to a gluten free diet, don't despair. You're probably overwhelmed right now, but that's OK. Do some research and find new foods to cook and you'll be doing fine in no time.