(WXTX) - Ten years ago, no onetalked about gluten in bread being a big deal, but now "gluten-free"foods are all the buzz.
This year alone Americanswill spend an estimated $7 billion on foods labeled "gluten-free" andmore than half of the consumers buying these products don't have any clear-cutreaction to gluten.
We separate fact fromfiction when it comes to eating foods that are "gluten free."
Whether fact or fad, or abit of both, gluten avoidance has become a way of life for millions ofAmericans.
It used to be that agluten-free diet was only recommended for those with celiac disease, an autoimmunedisorder in which exposure to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, andrye - can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine.
It's an illness in whichnearly one out of 133 Americans suffers from.
According to recentfigures, another 18 million people, or six percent of the population, havegluten sensitivity.
Columbus resident SageAppleby is one of them.
"I used to gethorribly sick every time I ate certain things and I couldn't figure out why andI just kinda eliminated things and figured it out," Sage said.
For many "gluten sensitive"people like Sage, some of the symptoms may range from gastrointestinal issuesto behavioral problems to joint pain and osteoporosis.
"Sometimes you justdon't feel right," Sage said. "You get kinda sad and gloomy but most of the timeyou can tell right away because you either have to vomit or you get horribleintestinal distress, so it's not pretty."
The demand for gluten-freefood isn't going away any time soon.
Most chefs report thatcustomers seeking such meals represent a small portion of their business - butit's a portion they must accommodate.
Take Mellow Mushroom inColumbus for instance. They have "gluten free" pizza dough importedfrom Texas to serve to their gluten sensitive customers, and so far it's a hit!
"We have had a coupleof people who are really very happy because as far as pizza goes," said RossWhite with Mellow Mushroom. "Pizza is gluten, that's what it is and to get itas a gluten free product the people who do have celiac disease have been very,very excited that they have that option now."
Jason's Deli is anotherlocal spot that caters to those who are gluten sensitive. And while MellowMushroom and Jason's Deli are not 100 percent gluten free establishments, theydo offer customers a choice of gluten free meals.
"A lot of items thatare already on our menu, some of our potatoes, a lot of items on our salad barare already gluten free items now," said Davis Grimes with Jason's Deli. "Soyou can come in and order off of the menu and get gluten free items that way ifyou like."
Mellow Mushroom went astep further by offering its customers gluten free beer.
"We have a beer thatBudweiser produces," White said. "We've been selling it for about a year and ahalf not. It does not have the barley and the hops and everything else and itsmade with a sorghum. It is a ale and we sell a good bit of it."
In addition to themillions of Americans who have to avoid gluten products for health reasonsthere are some who choose to be gluten free.
Paul Appleby, Sage'shusband, decided to free himself of gluten as well when Sage went "glutenfree" nearly six years ago.
"I was very concernedfor her," Paul said. "It's more than a little upsetting after a good meal whenyou see your spouse in distress like that. The thing that really concerned mebeyond that though was her issues with anemia which seems to have cleared upsince she's taken this gluten free diet."
So he picked up hiscooking utensils and began preparing foods that are gluten free.
One of Paul's favoritedishes is his famous homemade Mac and cheese prepared with all naturalingredients that not only taste good, but keeps his wife happy and healthy.
"It makes me feel better,"Sage said. "I used to have all kinds of medical issues and they just magicallydisappeared once we figured it out."
Under a new Food and DrugAdministration regulation that goes into this year, foods labeled "glutenfree" must contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.
While the rule primarilytargets packaged food, an FDA spokeswoman said the restaurant industry should movequickly to ensure that its use of 'gluten-free' labeling is consistent with thefederal definition.