Not Another Health Fad

Grocery stores dedicate aisles to it. Restaurants include options in their menus. Health and fitness magazines advise to give it up. Chances are, you have friends who are avoiding it.  Gluten — or going gluten-free — is the hot health topic of today.

Spins, a market research and consulting firm for the Natural Products Industry, states that since 2010, gluten-free product sales have increased by nearly 17 percent, and in 2011, they exceeded $6 billion. All of this recent attention had us curious: Why go gluten-free?

According to, one in 133 Americans has celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with vitamin and nutrient absorption. A gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment to curb the slew of related health problems that accompany the disease such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, growth delay in children, hair loss, and itchy skin. Over time, if not treated, celiac disease can increase the risk of osteoporosis, infertility, and certain cancers.

We asked Bonabeth Nishimura, owner of the East Side’s Great Harvest Bread Co., how her gluten-saturated bakery accommodates the River City’s customers with celiac disease.

What typically contains gluten?
Gluten is in most bakery products that contain wheat, barley, rye, grains, and oats. It can also be found in unexpected foods such as soy sauce, licorice, soups, and salad dressings.

What if you’re a bread lover?
For nearly two years, we’ve varied our baking schedule for our following of gluten-free customers. Once a month, we offer alternatives to gluten products that are as close to regular bread, brownies, and cookies as we can make them.

Why have gluten-free products become more available?
I believe more people are finding out about their sensitivity to gluten. We continue to see an increase in requests for these specialty bakery items.

What do you offer that’s gluten-free?
We have a bit of variety in our lineup — white bread, banana bread, whole grain bread, white bread with cinnamon chips, Dakota bread, and breads with sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, and sesame seeds — as well as chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and cranberry-orange scones. We use a lot of rice flour, potato starch flour, tapioca flour, and buckwheat flour.

Does gluten-free mean healthier?
It all goes back to how many calories you consume, and you can consume as many calories with gluten-free products as you can with gluten products. In our gluten-free recipes, we use sugar and oil or butter, so you can’t necessarily say they’re low calorie by any means.

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