Half baked? Local bakery owners respond to recent study negating gluten sensitivity


Stevie G’s is one of several local gluten-free bakeries, but owners Sue Gass (left) and Stephanie White made a conscious decision to stay away from muffins and cupcakes, and provide snacks like power bars, whoopie pies, and ice cream sandwiches.  Rammelkamp Foto Stevie G’s is one of several local gluten-free bakeries, but owners Sue Gass (left) and Stephanie White made a conscious decision to stay away from muffins and cupcakes, and provide snacks like power bars, whoopie pies, and ice cream sandwiches. Rammelkamp Foto

We all know at least one person who orders lettuce-wrapped burgers, declines invitations to pizza nights, and swears up and down that you’ll never miss the gluten in the fabulous homemade brownies they bring to the office party. Ever since a 2011 study revealed that non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) could be the root of a whole host of health issues, the gluten-free trend has been spreading like wildfire. Here in Charlottesville, restaurants like Burtons Grill have rolled out extensive menus for guests with food allergies and sensitivities, and everywhere you look it seems there’s a new muffin or granola bar with “gluten free!” plastered in bright colors on the packaging.

But hold up a second. The red-hot gluten-free craze just got hit by a wet blanket. A 2013 study conducted by Monash University gastroenterologist Jessica Biesiekierski—the same researcher who published the 2011 study supporting gluten intolerance—recently took the Internet by storm when she found that the vast majority of participants, all of whom claimed to be gluten intolerant, had no discernable difference in symptoms when they ate a diet high in gluten. All 37 participants, however, experienced improved symptoms from the diet low in FODMAPs, a group of carbohydrates that the small intestine absorbs poorly, and when fermented can lead to gastrointestinal issues. 

“We believe non-celiac gluten sensitivity probably does exist,”  Biesiekierski wrote, “but it’s not very common and we have a lot more to do until we fully understand [gluten].”

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, and rye, and sensitivity to it has been linked to symptoms ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and joint pain to headaches and congestion. Health blogs across the nation blew up with arguments for and against the new study’s conclusion, and a few local gluten-free bakers are hitting back, claiming their own personal experiences and those of their customers are enough proof that gluten intolerance is real.

Stevie G’s Gluten Free Bakery owner Stephanie White eliminated gluten from her diet about 10 years ago, in solidarity with her gluten-intolerant daughter, who struggled with the transition into a diet free of traditional bread, pasta, and snack foods. She said she immediately had more energy throughout the day, and the difference in brain clarity was like night and day.

“Turns out I’m gluten intolerant, and I never ate it again,” White said, adding that she can pick up on cross-contamination almost instantly, and claiming that even the smallest amount of gluten will make her sick.  

Other family members followed suit, and White’s sister Sue Gass said her long-time joint pain improved dramatically after she stopped eating gluten. Both sisters said they just feel better overall, and though White’s now 20-year-old daughter occasionally splurges and goes back to her old diet (only to experience regret and return to gluten-free eating, White said), White and Gass said they don’t even remember what real bread tastes like, and they have no desire to reintroduce gluten into their diets.

White started tinkering with gluten-free recipes about seven years ago, when she got tired of watching her then teenage daughter isolate herself by not eating the same foods as her friends. Her goal was to create treats with the same flavors and textures as their gluten-containing counterparts, so no one would know the difference and her daughter would feel less ostracized.

“We socialize around food every day, and that’s really dampened when you have a food allergy,” White said.

Since launching the home-based gluten-free bakery with Gass in 2012, White said she’s been trying to hone in on products that everyone can enjoy, whether you eat gluten or not. She and Gass are in the kitchen every day, cranking out batches of power bars, seven-layer dessert bars, brownies, whoopie pies, and ice cream cookie sandwiches for wholesale. So when the Internet erupted with news about Biesiekierski’s latest study, White took it with a grain of salt. She doesn’t expect it to affect either her business or her way of life, and the market indicates that businesses like Stevie G’s have nothing to worry about in the coming years.  According to market research firm Mintel, the $10.5 billion gluten-free food and beverage industry grew 44 percent from 2011 to 2013. Mintel reported that 75 percent of gluten-free consumers who don’t have celiac or NCGS eat the products because they believe them to be healthier, and the firm predicts another 48 percent jump in the market before 2016.

Bake Love Bakery owner Melinda Buchanan, who specializes in wedding cakes to accommodate food allergies and intolerances including gluten, soy, dairy, egg, and xanthan gum, wasn’t impressed by the study either. She noted that it was limited to people with only irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and wasn’t a large enough sampling of people to see comprehensive results.

“I believe there is much work to be done in this field of research before great claims can be made as to what exists or doesn’t exist, and how we would like to label their existence,” Buchanan said, adding that not only is she gluten intolerant herself, but she has several other “trigger foods” that mimic gluten symptoms if eaten in certain quantities and combinations.

“I think the even bigger question these days is, what’s happening in the last few decades to our food supply that so many individuals, children and adults alike, are having so many issues with food?” Buchanan said.


  • Ralphire

    You are darn right, the whole study is FALSE.

    You know I get tires of saying the same thing over and over again. The Dr. who did this study Dr. Peter Gibson NEVER SAID GLUTEN INTOLERANCE IS FALSE. As a matter of fact in this RECENT article titled from Sruff.co.nz titled getting to the guts of Gluten Dr. Peter Gibson who did the study that the media is claiming proved Gluten Intolerance is FALSE, Dr. Gibson says in regard to his study on Gluten Intolerance **”It does not say that there is no such thing as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. It is just we could not see any evidence of it in the 37 patients we studied, all of whom fulfilled the current definition of NCGS. ** From this article http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/10093474/Getting-to-the-guts-of-gluten As far as this study that proved Gluten Intolerance is false it was done last year of May 2013 SO WHY IS THE MEDIA REPORTING ABOUT THIS STUDY NOW? and it was funded by a bread company named George Weston Foods http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085%2813%2900702-6/abstract just scroll to the bottom of that link and you will see that this study was funded by a BREAD company named George Weston Foods http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Weston_Foods Next the guy that did the study Dr. Peter Gibson said that a Low FODMAP diet is the solution, well the problem is that this study is bias, WHY? Dr. Gibson is the one who created the FODMAP diet and YET says Gluten Intolerance is false http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FODMAP So now if the Dr who created the FODMAP diet and tells me it worked on ONLY 37 Participants in a mere 2 week study this somehow proves Gluten Intolerance is False and FODMAP works? The guy who created the FODMAP diet is telling us the participants did better on his diet. There was NO INDEPENDENT STUDY, FODMAPS was Dr. Gibson’s created DIET. Or Course Dr. Gibson is going to say FODMAP diets are better, it is his diet after all. It is funny that a study that came out last year in May of 2013 is coming to light in 2014 but that may be because Dr. Gibson’s assistant Susan Shepherd is coming out with a Cookbook this Sunday on Fathers day called the LOW FODMAP DIET. No wonder the study about Non Celiac Gluten Intolerance is coming out now in 2014. After all Dr. Gibson has a cookbook coming out. How as well do you explain a recent study this year in 2014 by the same Dr. Peter Gibson that said Gluten Intolerance is false and YET linked Gluten Intolerance with depression and Gluten Free leaving the Gluten Intolerant person feeling better. Do you not see the BIAS here, how can Dr. Gibson say Gluten Intolerance is FALSE and yet a study reveals Gluten Intolerance and depression go hand and hand and was again done by the same Dr. Peter Gibson who said Gluten Intolerance is false http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/10093474/Getting-to-the-guts-of-gluten & http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2014/s4012012.htm Can someone explain this to me, perhaps the answer can be found here http://www.iflmadscientist.com/2014/05/18/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-and-bad-studies-promoted-by-ifls/

  • Ralphire

    Here is the article from REAL CLEAR SCIENCE THAT SAYS GLUTEN INTOLERANCE IS FALSE http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/05/gluten_sensitivity_may_not_exist.html But not ONE MEDIA OUTLET REPORTED THAT DR. GIBSON’S STUDY AGAIN WAS FUNDED BY A BREAD COMPANY NAMED GEORGE WESTON FOODS AND WAS DONE LAST YEAR IN 2013 http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085%2813%2900702-6/abstract Is the media pointing this out at all. NO. Dr. Gibson again did a study this year that proved GLUTEN INTOLERANT PEOPLE FEEL LESS DEPRESSED ON A GLUTEN FREE DIET THAN A GLUTEN DIET http://www.celiac.com/articles/23664/1/Gluten-Causes-Depression-in-People-With-Non-Celiac-Gluten-Sensitivity/Page1.html May I remind the LAME STREAM MEDIA AGAIN, this Dr. Peter Gibson who did the study LAST YEAR 2013 that said Gluten Intolerance is false also did a RECENT 2014 STUDY that linked Gluten Intolerance with Depression and AGAIN the Gluten Intolerant crowd felt LESS DEPRESSED on a Gluten Free diet then a Gluten Diet.

    • whoopsupsideyourhead

      Add a few more words in all caps and maybe I’ll believe you.

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      It doesn’t matter who funded the study if the science is sound and can be replicated. You can be certain that people will be trying to replicate the results in this study who were not funded by bread companies. The study itself used pretty sound methods, though I would like to see them expand on their methodology; if you knew much about science, you would be able to understand that your complaints are a bit hysterical.

      If you eat a gluten-free diet and feel better eating that way, nobody is forcing you to stop.

  • Cathleen Smith

    As the manager of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Charlottesville, I have members that are GF for MANY reasons. A GF lifestyle is used to manage symptoms from Celiac, Chrohns, Unlerative Colitis, acid re-flux and other gut related diseases, as well as the 80+ auto Immune diseases where gluten can be a food trigger. Irritable bowl is just one of many reasons people might try a GF diet or as part of what is known as an elimination diet protocol, which tests food for symptom reactivity. Also for those out there who are GF: We have 2 other local DEDICATED GF Bakeries not mentioned in this article: Sonrise GF Bakery in Palmyra and Mixing It Up GF Baking in Ruckersville.

  • Manny10

    According to Dr. Alessio Fasano Founder and Director of the center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, the study by Dr. Gibson is BOGUS http://www.glutenfreeschool.com/2014/05/20/alessio-fasano-gluten-freedom/
    Now, to answer some of the fury over the “Gluten Intolerance is fake” issue that’s again come up due to FODMAP studies in Australia — any article stating in any manner that gluten sensitivity is fake is wrong. I have looked at the studies in question which concluded that reducing FODMAPs in the diet was beneficial for those who claimed to have gluten sensitivity.

    To be clear, the studies only quantify gastrointestinal symptoms typical of gluten sensitivity. Any articles using these FODMAP studies as proof that gluten intolerance is fake have a very short-sighted understanding of what gluten sensitivity is by assuming that gastrointestinal issues are all that’s in play. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are much broader than just IBS-like symptoms which this studies do nothing to address. What about people’s brain fog and other neurological issues, or skin rashes or joint pain? Funny, the “gluten intolerance is fake” articles do nothing to address those problems because the studies don’t actually quantify them.

    Furthermore, the biomarkers for gluten sensitivity are still undetermined which means that there are no clear markers that scientists can actually quantify to make such an assessment as “Gluten Sensitivity is fake”. And as you will hear in this week’s podcast with Dr. Fasano, the assertion that everyone who claims they have gluten sensitivity should just get tested for celiac is misguided because anyone who has been gluten-free for quite some time (and has found relief from doing so) would most likely test negative for celiac even if they did potentially have it because the biomarkers for celiac would be gone.

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