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Live Free, Gluten Free

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I recently came across online commentary addressing the trend of gluten-free dieting as a weight-loss regimen. I found this interesting because it is such a challenging way to eat—so much more so than other tried-and-true diet programs—and because Celiac Disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that attacks the small intestine and blocks absorption of nutrients from food, is so pervasive and so difficult and so dangerous to live with. It seemed a little perverse to me that a serious illness could be transformed into a diet fad.

Most people understand what gluten is by now, as the celiac-awareness movement has been exploding during the past decade. However, if you’re unfamiliar, gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, along with plenty of products in which it is hidden. Going gluten free means a lot less carbs and calories, which always amounts to weight loss. What you have to remember, though, is that those products also contain healthy and necessary nutrients that a person needs each day.

I, along with many people, take for granted that I have no food allergies or intolerances. I eat what I want every day and never worry about how something will make me feel. It certainly makes eating in or at a restaurant very easy. But for those who suffer from Celiac, the stakes are much higher.

Typical symptoms include:

• Diarrhea
• Weight loss
• Malnutrition
• Mild weakness
• Bone pain
• Abdominal bloating (stomach swells)
• Nutrient deficiencies
• Ill health with no gastrointestinal symptoms

And left untreated, Celiac can lead to complications like other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease and some cancers.

Fortunately, more and more information is getting out there, and research funds are increasing, thanks to a number of high-profile events like this weekend’s Appetite for Awareness on Oct. 24, plus an influx of gluten-free retail stores and bakeries like Main Line Baking Co. in Wynnewood (mainlinebakery.com).

Hosted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), in conjunction with Thomas Jefferson University and Hospitals, this grand affair features gluten-free creations from the area’s premier restaurants, an open bar that includes gluten-free beer and wine, and an active marketplace that showcases products from more than 85 of the nation’s finest gluten-free vendors.

Participating restaurants in this year’s event include: Amis, Bar Ferdinand, Broad Axe Tavern, Buddakan, Butcher & Singer, Chifa, City Tavern, El Rey, Drexelbrook Catering, Feast Your Eyes Catering, Fleming’s Steakhouse, Giorgio’s on Pine, Grandma’s Grotto, Jack Kramer’s Catering, Le Bec-Fin, Le Castagne, L’Oca Bistro, Melograno, Osteria, The Palm, Pasta Pomodoro, Rouge, Terra, Valanni, Vetri and Zahav.

Other highlights are the Gluten-Free Cooking Spree, Vendor Marketplace and Children’s Pavilion.

2-6 p.m. $25-$75. (Tickets purchased in advance receive a discounted rate.) Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier One at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Visit celiaccentral.org.