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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Gluten-free lifestyle easier with more choices

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NEW PORT RICHEY -

For Jennifer Eichenberger, going gluten-free in her diet was not just a healthy lifestyle choice, but a necessity. The New Port Richey woman has a sensitivity to the protein gluten found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale.

“I get really bloated and I get brain fog” after consuming foods with gluten, Eichenberger said.

“I was going to an acupuncturist for a totally unrelated thing and we were talking about all my symptoms and she said ‘why don’t you cut out gluten for a month and see what happens?’ So I did and it was like the sun came out behind a cloud.”

For Eichenberger, the symptoms are mild, but for those with celiac disease, a digestive condition triggered by consumption of gluten, the damage can be severe.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.”

Kathy Wright, a clinical nutritionist and co-owner of Wright’s Nutrients, an organic grocery and health food store in New Port Richey, blames the increasing number of people with celiac disease and gluten allergies to genetically modified organisms such as frankenwheat.

Frankenwheat, which is most of the wheat we consume today, has twice the number of chromosomes and codes for a much larger variety of gluten proteins, or “super gluten.”

Wright said the body sees these GMOs as pathogens, which triggers an autoimmune response to attack it, causing those with gluten sensitivity to experience bloating or inflammation when they eat gluten.

Wright’s Nutrients offers an entire aisle of certified gluten-free products that are guaranteed to be free from cross-contamination.

Other naturally gluten-free products are sold in the store but may be processed in plants where gluten products are also being handled.

Although gluten-free products are a bit more expensive than their gluten-filled counterparts, Wright said it’s better to pay up front for a higher quality of life than on the back end for doctor’s visits and medication.

“It does not need to be a complicated change to go gluten-free,” Wright said. “There are wonderful options now; 12 years ago, there weren’t as many options and it didn’t taste as good.”

Now, Wright serves gluten-free stuffing at Thanksgiving and gluten-free cookies at Christmas and her friends and family don’t notice the difference in taste.

More restaurants in the area are also now offering gluten-free choices. Zim Zari in Mitchell Ranch Plaza on S.R. 54 has an entire gluten-free menu by request that offers corn and lettuce wraps for tacos, burritos and fajitas. Even Outback Steakhouse now offers gluten-free items.

Eichenberger favors the Leaning Tower of Pizza, an eatery on Grand Boulevard that offers gluten-free pizza, ravioli, penne pasta, chocolate torte and soon, meatballs.

“There are a lot of people requesting gluten-free products so we are looking for more stuff,” Leaning Tower owner Carl Serpe said.

Your Fresh Chef, a gluten-free bakery in Hudson, also offers baked goods on a daily basis and at the Fresh Friday Farmers Market in downtown New Port Richey.

More local gluten-free dining options can be found at www.findmeglutenfree.com by typing in your city or ZIP code, but Eichenberger warns patrons to question the chefs and servers. Not everyone is trained in how to avoid cross-contamination between gluten and gluten-free products.

Offering the selections is a start, but Eichenberger looks forward to a Pasco County with more dine-out selections for her and others with gluten allergies. For now, most of her restaurant dining happens in Pinellas County.

“People are not eating at restaurants because they can’t eat their food so it would be a good idea to have at least a few selections that are gluten free,” Eichenberger said.

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