Banishing buns tough for gluten intolerant

More and more people are abandoning gluten for their health. What's it mean and why does it matter?

Posted on Jan. 27, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.

Halie Patrick just wants a sandwich.

She really wants a sandwich.

But finding a good one is difficult because of what a conventional one does to her.

She's gluten intolerant. If she eats bread, her body reacts.

"I bloat up like a dead fish. Miserable," she said.

She occasionally indulges in a conventional baked item or a beer. "I hear it for the next two or three days," said her fiancee, Mac Zeimet.

Patrick used to hear it from customers. She was a waitress at Chubby Trout and Kelly Jae's Cafe.

The first time a customer asked her for something gluten-free, she got mad. (Though I doubt she showed it to the customer. She was a pro.)

She thought it was strange.

But at the same time, she was going to doctors about symptoms she had but didn't understand.

Her left hip hurt occasionally.

Her stomach was often bloated.

She had fingernail fungus and her nails would recede and start unattaching.

Her lymph node was swollen under her armpit.

And her skin hurt all over as if someone was poking a bruise.

Her doctor listened, but couldn't find a cause. He wondered if it was lupus or fibromyalgia.

She started doing research, wanting a diagnosis.

A friend suggested that she had a gluten problem.

Gluten is the protein in wheat and some other grains that gives bread the elastic texture we love.

Tests confirmed that Patrick had a gluten allergy, but she doesn't know if she has celiac disease, which would have required a biopsy to confirm.

Patrick knows food. Zeimet is a former chef who now sells for Stanz, a restaurant supplier. They know and love food.

He keeps her from eating gluten so he doesn't have to hear about its affects, but also teases her about her "eating disorder," as he calls it.

"A guy at work says I have a fake hippy disease," she said.

They laugh about it, but are serious about avoiding it.

She carries a card to send back to restaurant kitchens indicating what she can't have.

She has a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce in her purse.

And she would often rather just order a salad with grilled chicken breast than fight to find out whether a place can not feed her gluten. She couldn't stand waiting on gluten-free people and doesn't want to be that person, she said.

Over the holidays, she ate gluten and dealt with feeling miserable.

A lot of people don't know what they can't eat.

Zeimet helps dissect sauces and traps. She reads labels carefully. They look for good, gluten-free bread -- which is usually an oxymoron.

"All I want is for Panera Bread to make a gluten-free bagel," she said.

Whether that happens, she knows she can get good gluten-free options at Five Guys, Taco Bell, Subway, Jimmy John's and Dunkin Donuts.

And she loves how Iechyd Da offers beers that have less gluten and a pizza she can eat. And she hopes for a soft pretzel she can safely eat someday. "I miss that pretzel so bad," she said.

Iechyd Da's owners are working on options for customers. Restaurants that do so will get a following as Old Hat did in Lawton, Mich., before it closed.

About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

But people are finding that they feel better if they don't eat soft, white bread.

I know a few people with official celiac diagnoses, but I know others who have given up gluten. They tell me they feel better, that injuries healed, that they aren't bloated unless they eat bread, pasta or beer.

Patrick says her doctor told her, "Truthfully I don't think anyone should be eating this crap."

I wonder what's happened to the wheat in the United States. Did genetic fiddling change it so that it affects people differently? Or are we just more aware of the link than we once were?

I don't have answers. I just know that more people are asking for gluten-free options. What was weird is now more mainstream.

Many restaurants are better at responding to these requests, but others have a long way to go.

And there's a simple way for those wondering if they're sensitive to gluten to find out: give it up."Try it. Can't hurt," Patrick said.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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