Gluten-free and comfortable: a local's guide

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When a diet gets a lot of hype, it’s easy to write it off as a fad, but a gluten-free diet is a lifestyle. Once only a prescription for celiac patients (people who cannot tolerate the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley), people with a range of sensitivities are eating gluten-free and finally finding relief from debilitating digestive issues, headaches and depression—among other afflictions.

Brett Baker grabs a gluten-free slice of pizza from Brixx Wood Fired Pizza. It’s one of a few local restaurants that offers GF menu options. Photo by Eric Kelley Photography.

Brett Baker, 23, has suffered from digestive issues since childhood, but her complaints went unheard by doctors. A nutritionist finally recommended an elimination diet followed by the re-introduction of food groups one by one. Lactose, raw veggies and protein caused no discomfort, but after eating a piece of toast one morning, she knew by lunch time that gluten was the culprit.

“I had gone all these years thinking it was just the way I was made—to be in pain after eating,” she said. “I had a honeymoon phase with being gluten-free where I felt so thankful to feel normal after a meal that I wanted to tell everyone I knew.”

Baker thinks there’s a misconception that eating gluten-free is super-limiting. “You can still eat potatoes, rice and buckwheat. I can bring my own gluten-free bun if I’m invited to a cookout and my own soy sauce if we’re eating sushi,” she said.

And, with one in 133 people having a gluten intolerance, there are now entire grocery store aisles devoted to gluten-free products (Baker likes Kroger’s selection) and many restaurants offering gluten-free options. “Brixx can make any of their pizzas with a gluten-free crust—they sure have gotten some business from me!” said Baker.—Megan Headley

Diner’s choices

Gluten seems to be in just about everything from salad dressing to lasagna. Here are a few helpful tips if you are trying find food sans gluten.

At the restaurant:

  • Many restaurants offer gluten-free menu items. When in doubt, ask to speak to a manager.
  • Call ahead to determine what gluten-free menu items are available. The standard meat and veggie dish is usually a safe bet.
  • Be prepared. Knowing what foods and additives contain gluten will help you spot them in unexpected places and will aid any discussion you may need to have with a busy chef. Glutenfreeinfo.com is a good place to start.
  • Bring along some tried and true gluten-free snacks for young children and yourself in case you need to wait longer for a special meal to be made.

At the store:

  • Labels can be deceiving, as there may be some gluten present in packaged food despite having a gluten-free designation. The FDA is pretty lax on gluten-free standards, so it is best to check a trusted source for gluten content in most foods.
  • Many grocery and all health food stores will be well stocked with gluten-free products. Make a list and find some surprisingly tasty baked goods, pasta and other alternatives to the gluten-filled varieties.

Living gluten-free? Rebecca’s Natural Food, Integral Yoga, Relay Foods, Market Street Market, Revolutionary Soup, MAS, Chap’s, Sal’s Pizza, The Flat and Savour are among the local options for GF menu items.—Christy Baker

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