Gluten Free: Separating Fact from Fiction

MILWAUKEE -- What happens when the food we eat suddenly turns against us? It’s what Brookfield store owner, Martha Kolbow went through for months.  Something as simple as a bite of pizza would attack her immune system until almost anything Kolbow ate was unbearable.

\"I was severely ill. I was almost hospitalized because I was so ill. I had lost 30 pounds in two months. I was pretty much down to skin and bones,” Kolbow recalls.

Shortly after, she was diagnosed with Celiac disease, an intolerance to foods containing gluten.  That was 15 years ago, when Celiac was fairly unheard of. Today, Froedtert Hospital dietician Amy Kulwicki says the disease has exploded.

\"In the last ten years we've seen a four to five fold increase in the actual diagnosis of those with Celiac disease,” Kulwicki said.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. Even trace amounts could send the body of those affected into a tailspin. Kulwicki says the symptoms could range from mild to severe.

\"They might feel bloated; they might have some distress or discomfort issues,\" Kulwicki said.

But what about those simply interested in the gluten free lifestyle? Grocery store shelves and restaurant menus are filling up with gluten free choices, but is it a smart choice for those who can handle gluten products? That’s where the answers get tricky.

First, we stopped by Martha Kolbow’s Brookfield grocery store, “A Gluten Free Frenzy.” She opened it after she couldn’t find her favorite gluten free snacks. But are they any healthier?

Kulwicki says no. \"When you take out that gluten protein you have to add some flavor, texture, and taste back to the food, so they're not actually healthier foods by any means, she said.\"

What about weight. Froedtert Hospital dietician and Celiac sufferer Susan Batchelder noticed a big drop when she was diagnosed with Celiac, but even that was deceiving.

\"Once you do get on the gluten diet and your intestines heal, you are probably going to gain most of that weight back,” Batchelder said.

In fact, “They're often actually higher in fat, sometimes they're higher in sugar, even higher in calories,” Kulwicki added.

Price is also an issue, will a gluten free diet save you a few bucks? Sadly, the answer is still no. Kulwicki says it can even cost more.

\"You're going to find that the gluten free products are often more expensive than the regular products,” Kulwicki said.

So that leaves one final question, taste. Gluten-free foods can definitely taste different, but one Waukesha restaurant is looking to add a little more flavor to the diet. Key Westconsin is a specialty restaurant that offers up an entire menu of gluten-free dibs. Owner Gary Krivos opened the restaurant after he learned his daughter-in-law who suffers from Celiac didn’t have many places to eat.

 \"One or two choices is not really any kind of a choice, I want to give people just about anything on the menu,\" Krivos said.

We checked out a chicken breast sandwich on gluten-free buns, and were pleasantly surprised at the flavor.

So is the gluten-free lifestyle a choice you should make? Probably not, if you don’t suffer from a gluten intolerance. But, for those who do, the world has gotten a lot easier.

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