Going gluten-free: Why it may not offer the benefits customers want

Chocolate cupcakes are one of the items offered at Blackbird Bakery, an all gluten-free shop in Lakeway. Owner belives customers will see more gluten-free restaurants like her's in the future. Photo: KXAN

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More of Austin’s restaurants are adding gluten-free menus. Doctors say it may be one way to help people with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. But what about people who just want another healthy option?

For Karen Morgan, almost everything about her business is icing on the cake. She owns Blackbird Bakery, an all gluten-free shop in Lakeway. There’s one thing that isn’t so sweet: Her Celiac disease that doctors diagnosed her with 15 years ago.

“I kind of went through this depression. I think a lot of people who are first diagnosed are,” Morgan said. “Because they feel like there’s no selection.”

So, she launched the shop and her customer base across the board keeps growing.

“We have people who have Rheumatoid Arthritis, they want to decrease inflammation. They want to go gluten-free,” she said. “We have people with Celiac disease and with gluten sensitivities.”

Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune illness, that’s aggravated by the gluten protein lodged in wheat. While eating gluten-free may make the difference for some, doctors warn that all-gluten free diet won’t offer significant health benefits for people who don’t have Celiac, because it strips away heart-healthy grains.

In fact, Dr. Ken Ellis, an Austin-based gastroenterologist, says eating too much gluten-free may have an opposite effect.

“If it makes you feel horrible, of course, don’t eat it,” he said. “Because you’re using flour usually derived from nuts, which has more calories meaning you can gain weight.”

Dr. Ellis told KXAN News that Celiac disease may be one of the most under diagnosed diseases of our time. He said for every one or two people diagnosed, there may be up to seven more dealing with symptoms.

“That is 110 percent correct,” Morgan said. “For some reason, there is a huge swath of people that’s really having a hard time with gluten.”

Morgan says that means a bigger slice of the customer pie for her in the future.

When it comes to offering gluten-free products in restaurants, Austin trails behind other cities like Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado. We wanted to know how many restaurants in Austin have gluten free items. So, we got in contact with the creators of the Nima Sensor, it’s an app that allows customers rate and track gluten-free restaurants.

They learned that Austin has more than 30 all or partially gluten-free restaurants.

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