Iowa City officials see an increase in people going "gluten-free"

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MAY 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Over the past few years, decreasing gluten intake has taken off across the country, and Iowa City officials say that trend has increased locally.

“When I started [in 2000], there were around 30 businesses [that offered gluten-free products],” said Anna Sobaski, the president and founder of Breads from Anna. “In 2009, there are over 1,200 businesses. There’s always going to be a need for gluten-free products; that’s not going away.”

One University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics dietitian said there are no positive or negative effects associated with decreasing one’s gluten intake when a person does not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

“We see more patients trying to lose weight by reducing their intake of gluten,” Natalia Hauck said. “I think people are still using gluten-free diet as more of a trend, like a Mediterranean diet or the Atkins diet. People will want the easy way out to lose weight, but it really doesn’t make a difference.”

People with celiac disease and wheat intolerances have trouble digesting their wheat. Ninety-seven percent of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed. One in 133 Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease.

The Bread Garden Market, 225 S. Linn St., has been selling gluten-free options since 2008, and one official said that it is no longer uncommon for restaurants to offer gluten-free products.

“Everyone does [offer gluten-free products] now, even by accident,” said Heath Brewer, Bread Garden Market assistant store manager. “They didn’t have them when we first started [offering the products] five years ago, but people started to catch up a couple of years ago.”

The New Food Pioneer Co-Op, 22 S. Van Buren St., is holding several gluten-free events this weekend and next week to show customers its various products and educate the public about celiac disease and wheat.

“People ask for these foods, and it’s also part of the popular diet, being gluten-free,” said Nik Conner, New Food Pioneer Co-Op specialties manager. “We’ve been diligent in coming up with new recipes and providing options for customers.”

Other places in Iowa City, such as the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 123 E. Market St., have also reached out to provide the community wheat-free options for roughly three years.

“People have celiac sensitivity in our church, and we decided to go ahead and just offer [a wheat-free] Eucharist,” Minister Pam Larabee-Ziereth said. “We want to make them feel like they’re a part of the community.”

The University of Iowa mirrors Iowa City’s efforts in providing many eating options for its students. The UI has a dietitian that students who identify having celiac disease can meet with.

“They go through the menu and are told what they can and can’t have,” said David Von Holten, chief assistant manager at Hillcrest Marketplace. “They have a toaster just for gluten-free products and gluten-free bread. We have generally a handful of people, and they have strict guidelines they have to follow.”

Although some officials said people who are going gluten-free is a trend that will pass, Iowa City will still continue to offer the options for a variety of reasons for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a big thing, and we don’t intend to stop [selling gluten-free products] any time soon,” Brewer said. “We still don’t go a day without someone asking about a gluten-free product.”

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