JOPLIN, Mo. —
A national group is challenging people to try eating food without a key, hidden ingredient: Glutens, which are proteins found in all forms of wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Though found naturally in the grains, they are also added as a stabilizing agent to other foods, such as ketchup and ice cream.
Part of it is merchandising: The group has teamed up with Pamela’s Products, a maker of gluten-free foods. But there are some health concerns that call for avoiding glutens.
And the Gluten Intolerance Group is encouraging people to sit down at the same table and eat the same gluten-free foods. The group challenges families to leave glutens behind during the upcoming weekend.
Suzanne Nelson, owner of Suzanne’s Natural Foods, said that gluten-free foods comprise a significant amount of her stock. Baking mixes, frozen pizzas, pretzels, pancake mixes, macaroni and cheese, snack foods, chicken nuggets Ñ the list of gluten-free products is long and varied.
More than 1,000 gluten-free items are available at her store ÑÊmainly because some of her customers don’t have a choice.
“There’s a high demand for them, but not because people choose to eat that way,” Nelson said. “They have to eat that way for health reasons.”
Mainly, people afflicted with celiac disease must avoid glutens. The disease is a digestive disorder that creates a toxic reaction that damages the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. One of every 133 people has the disease, according to the foundation.
There’s only one treatment for the disease, Nelson said: Avoid eating glutens.
“If they eat gluten it can be almost deadly,” she said.
A gluten-free diet has also been connected to treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Nelson said that she hears from a lot of mothers who say they notice improvements in the behavior of their autistic children. When the Route 66 Movie Theater in Webb City hosts sensory-friendly films for autistic children and their families, they are allowed to bring in gluten-free snacks.
But unlike celiac disease, there is no scientific evidence that the diet helps, said Jennifer Kirby, clinical director for the Ozark Center for Autism.
She said the National Center for Autism labels such a diet as a “non-established treatment” that has no scientific evidence supporting that it works.
“All the evidence is anecdotal,” Kirby said. “And another problem that arises is that a lot of times kids with autism are picky eaters. Restricting diets can cause problems in that area.”
Kirby said that autistic children don’t suffer from gastrointestinal disorders any more regularly than other groups of children. But unlike most other groups, these kids may not be able to communicate any discomfort.
“Kids with autism can’t tell us when they have a tummyache,” Kirby said. “It involves a lot of problem solving.”