Is going gluten-free good for you?
Businesses aren't going to these lengths for those with celiac disease, mainly because they aren't the ones driving the sales. What is driving sales, according to Mintel, is improvement in the taste of gluten-free goodies, people's perception that gluten-free food is more healthful, and good, old-fashioned trendiness.

"They go gluten-free because it's very fashionable," Fasano says. "Low-carb is not fashionable anymore; it is the gluten."

Hunt, a slim, middle-age man, says his energy used to be in the gutter, he was utterly unmotivated, his stomach puffed out in an unflattering way. "Every time I ate, it would shut me down," he says. "I just wanted to crawl up in the bed."

But without gluten, Hunt insists, he not only feels and looks better, but he swears his voice (he's a singer) went up two octaves.

He's a regular at Sweet Sin Bakery in Remington, which uses rice, tapioca and bean flours to bake bread, cupcakes, muffins and cookies — all gluten-free. Recently it was offering decadent-looking chocolate Valentine's Day bombes filled with raspberry or peanut butter.

Owner Richard D'Souza says pizza is the biggest seller at Meet 27, his gluten-free restaurant that shares Sweet Sin's kitchen.

He says the inspiration for the bakery and the restaurant is his wife, Renee, who says her digestive system and her mood improved markedly since she gave up gluten. Though he has no problems with gluten, he eats it only rarely and calls it "cheating" when he does.

With his restaurant and lifestyle, D'Souza doesn't think he's being trendy — he thinks he's ahead of the curve. He's pretty sure the powers that be will soon be cracking down on gluten, they way they have on sugar, salt and saturated fat.

"I foresee this gluten-free is going to be a required thing," he says. "I see that's what is coming."

Woodberry Kitchen, one of Baltimore's most highly regarded restaurants, has offered a gluten-free menu since it opened four years ago. Chef Spike Gjerde, whose wife has celiac disease and knows how seriously some people have to consider gluten, is loath to call his accommodations trendy. He considers the move a community service.

He estimates that hardly a night goes by when someone doesn't request the gluten-free menu. And of all those orders, he knows some of them are from folks who could eat gluten but prefer not to.

"Who am I to say what's more real or what's more valid when it comes to these things?" he says.

So he strives to fill all gluten-free orders as if someone's life depended on keeping away from grains.

Fasano is from Italy, where the idea of cutting pasta and crusty bread from one's diet is almost sacrilege. Yet, immersed in the field as he is, he's seen how cutting those grains can help those who truly need to.

Between that and hearing how elite athletes have restricted their gluten intake to successfully increase their endurance, he decided he needed to walk the walk and go gluten-free, just for a while, so he could speak to his patients with firsthand experience.

After a couple of weeks of doing without gluten, he says, "I didn't see too much of a difference."

He might have felt a tad more energetic. Or not.

His bottom line to anyone who's considering going gluten-free, or to anyone who has already taken the plunge without consulting a doctor: Don't.

But Fasano can't say he's entirely disappointed with what the craze has brought to the marketplace. He remembers a time not long ago when he could literally count the available products on his fingers.

"If people are so nuts," he says, "if they drive the market for patients that really need to be on a gluten-free diet, I don't see anything wrong with that."

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts