You've probably seen the labels staring back at you from the grocery store shelves. They're advertising gluten-free products - everything from pizza to ice cream and beer. But, is it healthy or just hype?Walking through Spokane's Main Market, it practically smacks you in the face. Apparently, gluten must be a very bad thing, because products proudly proclaim their lack of it."Two years ago, it was really frustrating," says Shallan Dawson. "Not many restaurants had gluten-free menus, now you can find them all over the place. There were a couple niche places where you could find the gluten-free pasta or gluten-free this or that. Now, you can go into the Grocery Outlet and find gluten-free products there. It's way more common."
Dawson is thankful for that. She's one of three million Americans suffering from Celiac Disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder caused by eating gluten. Before being diagnosed two years ago, Dawson was on bi-polar medication, she was anemic, she had rashes on her hands and she was chronically exhausted. Since cutting gluten out of her diet, Dawson isn't suffering anymore."I'm not on any medications, I don't have rashes. I can mountain bike, I can do yoga," says Dawson.Gluten is a binding agent found in rye, wheat and barley. It's in thousands of foods we eat every day. Dawson is an extreme case - a true Celiac - but, a lot of us may have gluten insensitivity or intolerance and not even know it."Reducing gluten from the diet or eliminating it can certainly help with a lot of health issues," explains Dr. Richard Skrei. He says gluten intolerance will most likely manifest itself in a stomach ache or other unpleasant digestive issues. He says he's seen a rise in gluten insensitivity because of parents giving their children wheat products before four months of age. He's testing for it more and more - and, it's alleviating all kinds of medical problems."I've had it help for people with migraine headaches, " explains Dr. Skrei. "Parents come in and say 'my kid has ADD' - they eliminate processed foods and gluten, that can improve."So, should you go gluten-free? It depends. You can ask your doctor for a blood test, or you can just try it for a few weeks and see how your body reacts. But, Shallan Dawson will be the first to tell you - it's not easy and, in a lot of cases, it's not cheap."It's way more expensive if you buy a lot of the speciality items, like gluten-free pastas and things like that," Dawson says. "What I try to do is buy foods that are already gluten-free, like beans, rice, corn tortillas, vegetables and meats." If you want to - or need to - go gluten-free, Dawson wants to help. She started the blog GlutenFreeSpokane.com. She's done the legwork and found out which Spokane restaurants boast great gluten-free menus. She writes about them on her blog - and, welcomes your suggestions of places she hasn't yet tried. She says the hype and attention to the gluten-free lifestyle has led to more products on the shelves and more options for people like her. She suggests you give gluten-free a try."If people think, 'oh it's a fad diet', but they want to try it, they eat gluten-free for awhile and it helps them, then why not do it?" she asks. "I kow a lot of people who eat wheat-free just because they can and they feel better because of it."