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Local gluten-free community helping others find relief

Health & Fitness

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Jann Craig, owner of Mom’s Place Gluten-Free in Ammon, started her business after being diagnosed with celiac disease and wanting tasty and nutritious gluten-free options. | Carrie Snider,

IDAHO FALLS — Jann Craig was extremely sick all the time and didn’t know why.

She tried a million things, but nothing worked. Finally, in a last ditch effort to feel better, she visited the Mayo Clinic. It was there that she heard the words that would change her life for the better: “You have celiac disease.”

“Nothing tasted good. (The substitutes) tasted like old shoes.”

After her diagnosis, Craig had to figure out how to eat gluten-free when there weren’t many options substitutes for gluten-heavy food such as bread or noodles.

“Nothing tasted good. (The substitutes) tasted like old shoes,” she said.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. It affects one in 100 worldwide, and many who are suffering don’t even know it. Others don’t have celiac, but still have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. All people vary in their symptoms.

So faced with the prospect of a life filled with awful-tasting food, she started to experiment. She developed some recipes, and then others in the growing local gluten-free community kept asking her for information. After a while, Craig decided she could turn her gluten-free passion into a business and help people.

That’s when Mom’s Place Gluten-Free was born. Craig started small, but over time it has grown, and now she has a store at 3160 E. 17th St. in Ammon. The goal was to offer foods that actually tasted good but were gluten-free, in addition to other allergen-free options.

“I think what really sets us apart is love and passion,” she said. “We aren’t just jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon to chase a trend — we are developing food that tastes good, is nutritious and helps people feel better.”

“The gluten you eat today will cause symptoms a month from now.”

She is locally famous for her gluten-free flour mixes and many other mixes for people to make bread, cookies, cakes and just about everything else people are missing out on by eating gluten-free.

In the process of growing her store, Craig has met many in the local community who are also gluten-free.

So she started to teaching classes at her store and at a local college to help educate people about why gluten is a problem and what options are available. Education is a big part of being in the local gluten-free community, she said.

Skeptics don’t realize just how harmful gluten actually is to some people, she said.

Dr. Larry Evans, DO, of Grand Teton Gastroenterology in Idaho Falls, said even those who are diagnosed have trouble accepting celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

In patients with celiac disease, nutrients are not absorbed because of reduced surface area. A gluten-free diet leads to healthy intestinal villi, which help the small intestine absorb nutrients. | Stock photo

“Most of the patients I diagnosed with celiac disease have no prior inkling that gluten is the cause of their problems,” Evans said. “That is because the symptoms of celiac disease are not brought on immediately after eating gluten — eating gluten causes slow damage to the small intestine — as the damage progresses, the patient develops poor absorption which causes their symptoms. My celiac patients often say, ‘I can’t have celiac disease because it doesn’t hurt when I eat gluten.’ I explain that the gluten you eat today will cause symptoms a month from now.”

Monika Buerger, of Eagle Canyon Wellness in Ammon, speaking at conference at Life Chiropractic College in California. | Courtesy photo

Local chiropractor Monika Buerger of Eagle Canyon Wellness & Sensory Development said diagnosis is only the first step.

The next step is harder — convincing the patient to try a gluten-free diet.

Depending on the patient, Buerger will recommend they either slowly wean off gluten, or just stop gluten all at once. It’s all about patient success in the longterm and also their personal situation.

“Many of my patients ask if they have to go off of all gluten. Then I ask them, ‘How quickly do you want to feel better?’” she said.

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Some people feel better right away, but still for others—even stopping gluten altogether—it will take months for their symptoms to go away because it takes time for damage in the intestines to be repaired. It’s like when it snows. You can wait for the snow to melt, but there may be potholes,” said Buerger. So working with a medical professional to take the right supplements is key to that repair.

Buerger said it’s important to keep everything in perspective.

“This is a journey. You will mess up. But if you stick with it, you will feel different. Meal prep and planning is key for eating at home. As for restaurants, it’s always a good idea to look at the menu online before heading in, and calling or asking in person if you have questions,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Kelly Smith of Idaho Falls was diagnosed with celiac disease after years of stomach and skin issues. She has children who also have celiac and has become many people’s “go-to” person to help others who are just learning that they need to go gluten-free and are frustrated, angry and overwhelmed.

She said there’s a stigma attached to celiac disease.

“There are so many jokes out there about being gluten-free. But you never hear people make jokes about nut allergies,” Smith said.

Those who are skeptical are typically those who don’t know anyone personally with a gluten issue, she said. They haven’t seen just how sick someone can get, and how different life is without gluten.

Smith said you go through stages until you accept and change how you eat so you can feel better. She said feeling better is worth giving up gluten.

“You have to become an advocate. You’ll need to fight doctors and insurance. When you get the answer that it’s a gluten problem, it can be a laughing and crying situation,” she said.