The rise of gluten free By marc sturisky

On the night of December 8, 2017, Burton's Grill's menu featured a chef's special gluten free seven layer chocolate cake. This is definitely unusual to find gluten free, and it tasted delicious! Image courtesy of M. Sturisky.

In recent years, there has been an expansion of the number of people following a gluten free diet. Many restaurants around Charlotte have decided to take action to cater to these demands.

According to Forbes, there are around 3.1 million Americans that follow a gluten free diet. This number does appear to vary by sources because there are a lot of factors to consider. An autoimmune disorder that can damage the small intestine when gluten is digested, known as Celiacs disease, is common but usually not the reason why people follow the gluten free lifestyle. Instead, people also take part in this for dieting or helping their bodies feel better.

Stated by the Celiac Disease Foundation, 2.5 million Americans have celiacs and do not know it. This can severely hurt the body and lead to stomach cancers, early osteoporosis, miscarriages, epileptic seizures, and iron deficiency. Often, celiacs disease is linked to family members with the same condition and can spread unknowingly down family trees.

The symptoms of eating gluten amongst people who have celiacs are often abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and smelly stool. However, many non-celiacs have encountered similar symptoms but have tested negative for celiacs or have chosen to follow the diet without taking the test.

An autoimmune disorder that can damage the small intestine when gluten is digested, known as Celiacs disease, is common but usually not the reason why people follow the gluten free diet.

Recently, there’s been a rise of people without gluten allergies who take part in the diet due to their belief that they can raise their energy or lose weight. A prime example of this is former number one men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic. Although now ranked number 12 by ATP World Tennis, Djokovic has felt more in shape than ever and less prone to illness because he changed his eating habits to gluten free.

Felicity Berzack has embraced the gluten free diet even though she is not celiac. After consuming a large number of sandwiches in London, Berzack encountered constipation. Fortunately, this disappeared as soon as she began to follow the celiac diet. Not only did being gluten free solve her constipation, but it also helped her with her arthritis. According to Berzack, “I researched and the first thing I saw was that cutting out gluten would also help with my arthritis.”

Just because it worked for Djokovic and Berzack doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. For example, nutritionist Felicia Stoler tried the diet to relate more to her celiac and gluten sensitive patients. Stoler was irritated by the inconvenience of having to look for glutenless food, but she never felt any more energized or thinner after giving it a try.

Restaurants too have noticed the large amounts of participants in the gluten free diet. At Burton’s Grill, a popular lunch and dinner site in Charlotte, North Carolina, locals can take part in a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, fish, and hamburgers. Attempting to cater to different groups, Burton’s has multiple menus including vegetarian, paleo, and gluten sensitive. While vegetarian and paleo have their own spots on the main menu, gluten free has its own menu with a blue typeface instead of the regular menu’s wine red version to help customers distinguish between the two.

Both the gluten free and regular menus feature sandwich pages but having two separate typefaces prevents customers and employees from mixing them up. Image courtesy of M. Sturisky.

Unfortunately, the manager of Burton’s Grill declined an interview when the Charger met her. She was carrying out gluten free food because Burton’s has a rule that the manager will always serve the gluten free meals. Additionally, Burton’s only serves gluten free food on specially squared plates. These protocols are in place in order to eliminate cross-contamination.

When asked for a recommendation on gluten free food, Peyton Fitts, a Celiac, stated that “Mexican is the type of food that I find easiest to navigate with a gluten allergy. Pretty much anything that’s Mexican, you can substitute flour tortillas with corn tortillas. It’s mainly meats and cheeses and not a lot of stuff is fried like it’s grilled.” Fitts enjoys going to Don Pedro in Pineville to get her Mexican fix.

It doesn’t have to be restaurants that offer options for gluten free eaters. Supermarkets have taken part in it too. A franchise of Food Lion in South Charlotte has a corner where a variety of gluten free goods are displayed for purchase. It contains flours, cereals, pizza crusts, pretzels, desserts, among other foods. There is also a gluten free freezer featuring frozen breads. In addition, one can find brown gluten free signs featured around the store to show if products are safe for consumers to buy.

Food Lion creates a special home in this South Charlotte location for customers to safely locate gluten free products. Image courtesy of M. Sturisky.
Consumers can save time in the supermarket by finding easy to read labels stating whether something is gluten free. Image courtesy of M. Sturisky.

It’s fantastic when supermarkets have options for everyone, but gluten free food comes with a price. On how expensive gluten free foods are, Nicky Keylin, a parent of a celiac, voices, “I wouldn’t say a lot. That’s a stretch, but it definitely is more expensive.” Fortunately Keylin has found that “a lot of mainstream companies have started making gluten free products and those aren’t usually more expensive." Her example is Chex cereal, who has embraced gluten free customers with reasonable prices.

It doesn’t have to be restaurants that offer options for gluten free eaters. Supermarkets have taken part in it too.

Whether one is a celiac or is gluten sensitive, the help of restaurants, supermarkets, and more general knowledge about celiacs disease has allowed people to make the most of their dietary restrictions.

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