By Michaela Warren
Lawrence, Kan. – For Jenna Collins and Liz Stuewe eating out is a challenge. They have been best friends since high school and both have celiac disease. For them a gluten-free diet is not a fad; it is necessary.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that inhibits the absorption of important nutrients. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye – the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine. About 3 million Americans have celiac disease and the disease is four times more common now than 50 years ago, a 2010 Mintel study of food allergies and intolerance reports.
A gluten-free diet is essential for a person with celiac disease.
“I’d say one of the biggest misconceptions about a gluten-free diet is that it’s good for weight loss, or that it’s intrinsically healthier,” Collins said. “Just because I can’t eat at McDonald’s doesn’t mean that I can’t find a hundred other ways to eat unnecessary, gluten-free calories.”
Stuewe said that any trace of gluten will make her sick; so eating out is a challenge.
Minsky’s Pizza is the only restaurant in Kansas to receive GREAT Kitchen training from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. The training teaches awareness about gluten-free diet, cross-contamination and prevention, and kitchen protocols.
“Everything we use in the restaurant for gluten-free food is separated,” said Gary Jaklevich, general manager at Minsky’s. “There is a separate station, utensils and washing for the gluten-free area to prevent cross contamination.”
Minsky’s has a separate menu for customers who are on a gluten-free diet. The menu has cheesy pizza wedges for an appetizer, a lemon cake for dessert, Redbridge Gluten-Free Sorghum Beer, and gourmet pizza.
Stuewe said if more people knew about celiac disease and how many products gluten is in, it would be easier to dine out or eat in a social situation.
“It’s definitely a risk any time someone with celiac disease chooses to eat at a restaurant, but I’ve had many more positive experiences than not, and for me it’s worth it,” Collins said.
The gluten-free food market is more popular, not for the rise in people with celiac disease, but due to celebrities – Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chelsea Clinton – adopting the diet, a 2012 gluten-free goods study by Mintel.
Some followers of the gluten-free diet do not have a gluten allergy or celiac disease, so some critics believe this is just another fad diet, according to an AP article.
A gluten-free diet is known for alleviating the symptoms of celiac disease. People may suffer from fatigue, headaches, mood disorders or weight loss.
Stuewe said that since starting a gluten-free diet, she has more energy. She and Collins also have gained weight. Weight gain for people with celiac disease means the small intestine healed and can absorb nutrition properly.