“Do you carry gluten-free products?” It’s a question more and more food establishments are hearing these days. Restaurants and health food stores across the North Fork say gluten-free foods are in high demand. And while most people know gluten-free eaters have to skip creamy pasta dishes and fluffy white bread, most don’t know just how tough it can be to follow a gluten-free diet.
“Gluten is a protein, it’s not a carbohydrate,” said Dr. Mark Coronel, gastroenterologist and director of endoscopy at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. It is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats, and is difficult for the body to break down. It is what makes the foods light and fluffy, among other uses.
Beer, chicken stock salad dressings and more contain this protein, according to Marlisa Brown, a registered dietitian in Bay Shore who specializes in treating patients who cannot process gluten.
Gluten is commonly associated with celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder in the small intestine. Those with this disease get an allergic reaction to the protein, Dr. Coronel said. It inhibits the absorption of minerals such as iron, which can lead to anemia and malnutrition. About 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the disorder, he said.
Two other groups are negatively affected by gluten-filled foods, Brown said: About 4 to 7 percent of the population has allergies to wheat, causing such symptoms as rashes and anaphylactic reactions; and about 5 to 6 percent has some other sensitivity to gluten—often associated with gastrointestinal problems, she said.
Brown said she herself has sensitivity to gluten, and has written an informational book about the gluten-free lifestyle, “Gluten-Free Hassle-Free.” She has another edition coming out this December. “Gluten is the largest protein known to man; it is difficult for anyone to digest completely,” Brown said.
Those who must avoid gluten have to maintain a healthy diet from gluten-free foods, which can often be high in starches, said Josef Rosenfeld, food distributor to Green Earth Natural Foods in Riverhead.
Rosenfeld said it is important to look at ingredients on the back of the package. “[Shoppers] go to the gluten-free section and if they don’t pay attention they can pick up products that are mostly starches and sugar. They don’t get the vitamins, they don’t get the fiber,” he said.
“You can end up eating a very processed diet,” said Ann Silver, dietitian in Riverhead. “There are a number of other products added to these products to make them palatable.”
Brown said you cannot always rely on product labeling either. Labels on food packaging are must specify wheat as an ingredient, but not so with rye or barley. “Sometimes they might write malt,” she said. “So people think they are picking up something gluten-free, but they are not.”
Gluten-free diets have also become something of a fad, with weight-loss a goal, making it even more important to check labels. “In terms of weight management, they’re always looking for the quick fix—what’s the latest trend in the book,” Silver said. “Gluten-free is not a quick fix.”
For those looking for gluten-free options, the North Fork has plenty of them.
“It was a shock to me when we opened Reddings that a lot of customers were asking for gluten-free options,” said Marie Eiffel, owner of the market on Shelter Island. “I was speaking to the ex-owners this fall and they said they never had that challenge. Now the amount of people asking for gluten-free is growing and growing.”
Reddings offers fresh seafood salads and quinoa salads with vinaigrettes on the side for customers who want them gluten-free. Its bakery sells a number of gluten-free desserts — cakes, brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Gluten-free flour is available so customers can make their own goodies at home, Eiffel said.
According to chef Rosa Ross, Scrimshaw, the waterside restaurant in Greenport, offers a number of gluten-free options, including fillets of cod and salmon, a Hong-Kong-style bouillabaisse, and a lentil salad. Combining Western and Asian culinary styles, she is able to offer creamy seafood chowder free of flour. “Using reduction techniques you can get a delicious, rich, cream-based chowder,” Ross said.
Shelly Scoggin of The Market health food store in Greenport said her shelves are stocked with gluten-free options. Many of her customers come in looking for breads, and she offers popular gluten-free brands such as Glutino snacks and pretzels, Udi’s breads and snacks from Enjoy Life Foods. Gluten-free pasta is among her best selling products, she said.
NOSH, a new eatery in Greenport’s Stirling Square offers gluten-free cookies in fun flavors such as lavender, almond basil and chocolate mint. They carry a peach-berry pie along with salads and other seafood options, said Kathryn Scinto, general manager at The Square.
It also features NoFo Square summer rolls in different flavors such as local organic veggie with cilantro and mint, salmon and also shrimp options—depending on what is fresh and available daily. Scinto said NOSH is looking into expanding its gluten-free options, recognizing a dietary requirement that is becoming more popular.
Whether you suffer from celiac disease, are allergic to wheat or simply want to avoid gluten for health purposes, there are plenty of options on the North Fork. But be careful to not substitute one unhealthy thing for another.