Gluten-intolerant or suffering from Celiac disease? Asheville has you covered. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, can be troublesome for some to digest. Fortunately, our area offers a wide variety of restaurants that readily accommodate folks who require a gluten-free diet, or those simply looking to eliminate gluten from their food, whatever the reason.
Hype or health issue?
The last few years have seen a surge of popularity for the gluten-free diet, which has left some wondering if the increasing concern is a fad akin to the Atkins diet. Laurie Steenwyck, dietitian at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, says that cases of Celiac disease have increased since the 1950s. At this point, there is only speculation as to why; perhaps it is environmental, or maybe it’s the fructose in wheat that’s hard to digest.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 1 out of 33 people in the U.S. are gluten-intolerant. Globally, the figure is closer to 35 percent.
According to Ingles’ dietitian Leah McGrath, many don’t know that gluten-intolerance and Celiac disease aren’t the same thing. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder that causes the body to not tolerate any amount of gluten whatsoever. People with gluten-intolerance, however, can eat varying levels of gluten. While it won’t cause damage to the body, they may feel discomfort.
Making the wheat-free leap
Many who do not have any gluten intolerance say that they feel better when they avoid gluten. Hajo Engelke owns Durham-based Custom Choice Cereal, a mail-order company that lets the customer create their own custom-blend of cereal by choosing from a selection of gluten-free ingredients like nuts and dried fruit. Engelke is not gluten intolerant, but he indicated that when he cut gluten out of his diet for a month, he felt less tired. Others also attest to having more energy when going gluten-free. For more information, visit customchoicecereal.com.
Going gluten-free is an adjustment that sometimes has to happen overnight, and it’s never easy cutting out a major source in your diet. Rachel Rasmussen, a Warren Wilson College student, recently discovered she has Celiac disease. She had been dealing with stomach problems for years and, after going gluten-free, says her digestion has greatly improved. “At first I was really frustrated,” said Rathmussen. “I didn’t know what to do, I’m a baker. But since then I’ve been experimenting with different flours and it’s fun.” It’s a relief for her to know what was going on with her digestion.
So where to eat?
When you want to dine out, Asheville and the surrounding area is full of gluten-free options.
In the mood for pizza? Try Digable Pizza and Deli in West Asheville or Acropolis Pizza in Arden. Both have gluten-free and vegan options on their menu.
Other top spots to go to include West Asheville’s Sunny Point Café. A few delicious options off of their popular menu include molten lava cake, orange-scented pancakes and huevos rancheros. Downtown Asheville’s Green Sage will gladly substitute gluten-free bread on any of their sandwiches. From there, head towards the obelisk in Pack Square, and you’ll find Posana. Posana offers a wide selection of amazing gluten-free dishes, including a carrot cake with mascarpone frosting.
When asked what would make Asheville even more gluten-free friendly, Peter Pollay, co-owner and executive chef of Posana, said that every restaurant “needs to have awareness about the gravity of Celiac [disease].” Many people don’t know that even a tiny bit of gluten can wreak havoc on the body, he says.
Right across town, perennial vegetarian haunt, The Laughing Seed, also caters to the gluten-free crowd. Looking for a personalized experience? True Color Cooking is a private chef service that can accommodate a number of allergies.
More and more grocery stores are now labeling their items gluten-free. Earth Fare has posted signs to indicate gluten-free options, and Ingles has a wide variety of products too. One thing to keep in mind when shopping for gluten-free items is that it isn’t necessary to specifically buy jams, teas, sauces and other products labeled gluten-free. Usually gluten is not present in these things, although some teas may contain barley-malt. Gluten can be an unsuspecting ingredient in a lot of food products — just read the ingredient list, not the labels.
Did you know?
One way a dining establishment can ensure that food doesn’t end up falling subject to gluten cross-contamination, a real concern for those with celiac disease, is to get certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. GIG trains restaurant staff to notice what is and isn’t gluten-free, and how to avoid gluten contamination.
Asheville and Hendersonville both have gluten-free support groups that are branches of GIG. The Asheville group meets the third Tuesday of every month. Sheila Horine, who heads the Asheville chapter, says that they regularly feature educational speakers, tastings of gluten-free products and discussions about good food options for those unable to eat gluten.
Horine says that the increasing amount of gluten-free products is creating a whole new level of awareness on the issue. To learn more, visit ashevillegig.org.
— Melody Grace Miller is a creative writing major at Warren Wilson College and can be reached at email@example.com.