Gluten-free: Just a fad or healthy option?

C.O. businesses say it's gaining popularity; dietician weighs in

POSTED: 12:54 PM PST January 30, 2013    UPDATED: 9:28 PM PST January 16, 2013 
Central Oregon joins gluten-free movement
BEND, Ore. -

From pizza, to beer, to everything in between, Americans are going gluten-free.

And here in Central Oregon, the possibilities are endless.

"It's a mixture of different flours -- rice flour, tapioca flour and molasses and stuff like that -- that's mixed up, so just staying away from gluten," John Morris of Bend's Pizza Mondo said Sunday about his parlor's gluten-free crust.

The restaurant has carried gluten-free crust for a few years, but manager Morris told NewsChannel 21 that lately, their selling double the gluten-free pies.

"They are liking to get on the fads and people are into eating gluten-free. It goes fast -- a lot of people are giving us calls," Morris said.

Deschutes Brewery makes a Northwest gluten-free ale, and it's growing in popularity at their pub in Bend, along with the restaurant's gluten-friendly menu.

Manager Allison Leach said most customers who go gluten-free are not allergic to wheat -- they're just trying to eat healthier.

But registered dietician Annie Baumann said it's not always healthier to go gluten-free.

"There really are no health benefits for people who aren't gluten sensitive," Baumann said. "They aren't going to have as much fiber and some of those vitamins and minerals. And also, with some of the gluten-free foods, they can actually be higher-calorie than their gluten-containing counterpart. "

Baumann said more patients these days are asking about going gluten-free, and for many, it seems to be all about calories.

"They're hoping they are healthier than a regular diet or going on them in hopes to get the weight loss," she said.

But no matter where you stand on the issue, you can't deny this trend is selling. Just ask store manager Diana Franko of C..E. Lovejoy's Brookswood Market.

"They would come in and say, 'Hey, do you have a gluten-free section?' So we decided to take some space out of the store and create a whole gluten-free section for our customers," she said.

The market's gluten-free section is only about six months old, and isn't going away any time soon.

"They (customers) come over here and get excited about, 'Oh good! You have this all in one place for me!'" Franko said.

And while gluten-free products might help you lose weight, there's one thing that will definitely be lighter -- your wallet. If you jump on this bandwagon, you can expect to pay more for food.

"A lot of people complain that eating healthy is expensive," Baumann said. "And gluten-free foods can be almost twice as much as regular gluten-containing foods."