The personal and business side of going gluten free

By Marc Strauss

February 5, 2013 Updated Oct 28, 2013 at 2:23 AM CDT

CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- You may have seen a label at the grocery store that reads "gluten free" and thought it was some kind of fad diet. However, millions of people can get sick from gluten, an ingredient found in many foods. We take a look at what gluten is and why living gluten free is growing in popularity.

For years, dating back to childhood, Liz Wilson suffered with painful migraine headaches.

"And as an adult they just progressively got worse, to a point that they were debilitating," said Liz Wilson.

After talking to numerous doctors and trying various remedies without success, Liz eventually met with a dietitian.

"And the dietitian said its real simple, cut out gluten. Within three days I saw a tremendous difference," said Wilson.

A month later, Wilson's headaches were completely gone.
Gluten is a protein found in foods made from grains - things like bread and pasta. It gives dough its elasticity, but it can also make some people sick, especially those with a digestive disorder known as celiac disease.

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center dietitian Ashley Simper explains.

"What happens with celiac disease is that when you ingest gluten, your body is triggered and an auto-immune response occurs. Our intestine attacks itself and then we mal-absorb a lot of vitamins and minerals," said Simper.

Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and anemia. About 3 million Americans are known to have celiac. It's estimated another 18 to 20 million are also sensitive to gluten. For them, its necessary to shop for foods that are gluten free.

"At first it can be pretty hard because you have to read every single food label. That's the key to following a gluten free diet. You have to make sure that each food you eat is free of wheat, rye or barley," said Simper.

Amy Carbonneau has been shopping that way most of her life. She was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was just two years old. Growing up, Amy and her mother would prepare gluten free meals at home. Now she manages the gluten free division at Apple's Bakery.

"I step in here, create some new recipes, work with what they've got and just provide a good, quality product that not only the gluten free customer can enjoy, but the entire family, " said Amy Cabonneau, Manager of Apple's Bakery Gluten.

According to Amy's boss, her passion for cooking and her desire to expand the bakery's menu of gluten free treats, has cooked up new business for the place.

"Ten to 15 percent of our gross volume is now gluten free sales and that's pretty gratifying," said Mary Ardapple, owner of Apple's bakery.

But there's another side to gluten free living. More calories. Additional fat and sugar are necessary when preparing gluten free foods in order to make them taste good.

"It's important for the gluten free consumer to not over-indulge in carb-filled products, but if they choose to do that balance out your diet. Make sure you get lots of fiber, iron and lots of fruits and vegetables," said Carbonneau.

On balance, experts say a gluten free diet can be healthier. A growing number of people are going gluten free because they want to and not because they need to.

"You can go online and get recipes very, very easily. Just start filling your refrigerator and your cabinet with gluten free items. You could switch your flour, you could switch your bread or just cut bread out completely. These are easy changes that people can make," said Wilson.

And that millions already have.