Dining Out

The Gluten Free Specialty Market sells only foods that are free of gluten, the protein found in wheat and many other grains, which some people are highly allergic to. We recently caught up with the stores cofounder, Melanie Weir.

How hard is it to find gluten-free products?

The term gluten-free is not currently regulated by any government organization in the United States. The FDA has proposed to define the term gluten-free as products that are free from: (1) the prohibited grains – wheat, rye and barley (2) ingredients derived from prohibited grains that have not been processed to remove gluten, (3) ingredients derived from prohibited grains that have not been processed to remove gluten and that contain the presence of gluten at a threshold of 20 ppm or more.  

To my knowledge, there are currently two organizations in the United States that formally regulate the gluten-level in products: the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA). The GFCO is a private business that works with companies to ensure that their products contain less than 20ppm of gluten. The CSA is a non-profit organization that provides many services to individuals on a gluten-free diet, including the CSA Recognition Seal Program. Through the CSA Recognition Seal Program, the CSA works with companies to ensure that their products contain less than 5 ppm of gluten.

How common is gluten?

Gluten is not usually present in fresh from the garden, fruits, vegetables and roots. In other words, if an apple is picked from a tree, the apple should be free from gluten. Gluten can be introduced during preservation, producing or processing, from shared equipment, or cross contamination during food production. Most packaged foods contain gluten. Many gluten-free labeled products are made in gluten-free facilities, are made on production lines that use allergen-friendly sterilization processes, or are tested to be below the International standard which is currently 20 ppm.

How did you get the idea for the Gluten Free Specialty Store?

My business partner and I were discussing how I was currently shopping at several different stores and still I couldn’t find many of the gluten-free products I was looking for. I knew from searching online that there were many gluten-free foods on the market, but there was no place in town that catered to the gluten-free community. While studying abroad in 2001, I worked at a grocery store, East West Provisions, which catered to American students studying in Oxford, England. I thought it would be fun to offer this type of a market to the gluten-free community. The local community and the gluten-free community have both been very supportive.

Please tell me about some of the health problems you’ve had.

Before I began eating gluten-free, I had many unexplained symptoms, including dermatitis, bloating, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, chronic fatigue, gastric pains, auto-immune issues, Sjorgens Syndrome and migraine headaches. I also had chronic heartburn, gastric pain, ear infections, tonsillitis and eye infections. Thankfully, we finally found the main culprit behind my problems. Thanks to a gluten-free diet, I no longer suffer from these chronic ailments.   

From my personal experience, doctors, dietitians and specialists are only beginning to understand gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease and gluten allergies. Currently, 1 out of 133 people have Celiac Disease, but only 3 percent of individuals with the disease are accurately diagnosed. Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance tend to involve clusters of symptoms that are often confused with other syndromes and diseases.

Currently, research studies are investigating the correlation between gluten and several disorders relating to neurology, auto-immune responses, gastroenterology, inflammatory and dermatology. Since gluten intolerance and celiac disease have many different types of symptoms, and since not every individual with Celiac Disease has the same symptoms, I believe that every doctor should have a comprehensive book of celiac symptoms, like “Recognizing Celiac Disease: Signs, Symptoms, Associated Disorders & Complications.”     
In 2002, I went on a gluten-free diet for six weeks to find out whether gluten might be my problem. At the time, I was not warned to get tested for Celiac Disease before eliminating gluten from my diet. Before running an IGA antibody test and biopsy, I was told to consume gluten for two weeks.  My IGA antibody test came back negative, but after two weeks of eating gluten, I was extremely sick with ear infections, swollen tonsils, swollen eyes, itchy skin, and severe fatigue. Getting out of bed was a challenge. For months I experimented with eating gluten-free. Then I would consume gluten and get extremely sick.

Eventually I decided that my quality of life was much better when I did not consume even microscopic levels of gluten. After more than seven years of eating a gluten-free diet, it’s hard to remember what being sick all the time felt like. Before eating gluten-free, I visited doctors’ offices multiple times every week. Currently, my doctor’s office calls me to remind me of my annual physical.  

It is difficult to find medical practitioners that specialize in Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance, and to find safe gluten-free foods on the market. Over the past eight years, I have noticed that this is changing. More medical practitioners are specializing in Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance, and more food products and beauty products are coming out on the market.

Do people sometimes not believe that you are gluten intolerant?
Many people do not understand gluten reactions. With an anaphylactic food allergy, there an is instant reaction when gluten is ingested, but with mild allergies, gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease, reactions can be delayed. Some individuals take up to 72 hours to react to ingested gluten protein. Until more people are educated regarding gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease and allergies, there will always be people that assume the gluten-free diet is a pop cultural phenomenon, but knowledge is power and I feel that it is my duty to provide educational materials to our community.  

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