MARIETTA - Some of life's most popular treats can be the worst to eat for more than 2 million people across the United States.
Celiac disease, a genetic disorder affecting the intestines that interferes with the absorption of nutrients, means that for those people everything from mom's apple pie to pasta is off limits.
"The reason why the disease happens is because when someone ingests gluten the body develops an inappropriate action to the gluten, which harms the small intestinal lining," explained Marcus Nichols, a doctor of internal medicine and pediatrics with the Memorial Health System.
Rossi Pasta retail clerk Linzy Smith stocks the store’s new gluten-free line of pastas at the store on Front Street. Gluten-free products are becoming increasingly popular as awareness of digestive diseases such as Celiac disease increases. (Photo by Kevin Pierson)
It can lead to numerous health conditions such as fatigue, arthritis, headaches and depression, according to health officials.
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat products as well as rye and barley.
Nichols has diagnosed patients with Celiac disease, but noted even as awareness of the disease is increasing it is still one of the most under-diagnosed health issues plaguing American citizens.
"The doctor needs to have a high index of suspicion to diagnose the disease," Nichols said.
As more doctors become aware of Celiac disease and its effects on the body, more and more patients are being diagnosed.
Treatment for the disease consists of a gluten-free diet, which is not always easy to maintain given the prominence of the protein composite.
In 2010, sales of gluten-free foods increased by 16 percent, according to a Nielsen Company survey.
Locally, businesses such as Rossi Pasta are beginning to offer their own lines of gluten-free products.
"As more is known about Celiac disease, there are obviously more people diagnosed with it and they actually have to give up pasta," said Leah Harris, marketing director for Rossi Pasta. "We've had lots of requests over the past couple years for a good tasting, gluten-free pasta."
Pasta is one of several different types of foods that contain wheat and as such are rich in gluten.
There are other foods such as beans, seeds, nuts in their natural form, eggs, fresh meats, fruits and vegetables and most dairy products that do not contain gluten and fit perfectly into the gluten-free diet.
"The good news is products made out of corn and rice are gluten free, as well as potatoes," Nichols said.
But for many people, giving up their favorite treat isn't easy, which is why Rossi Pasta spent nearly two years developing three flavors of gluten-free pasta including classic, tomato basil and spinach basil radiatore.
"The feedback we've had already, people are just so excited they can eat pasta again," Harris said.
Cost for the gluten-free pasta in a 12-ounce package ranges from $7.75 to $8.50, about $1 more than the regular pasta, Harris said.
"Really what we ended up with was something that was far more superior than I expected," said Brandy Dibert, director of sales for Rossi Pasta. "The gluten-free pasta we have has a texture like regular pasta."
While Celiac affects more than two million people across the United States, or about one in every 133 people according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, not everyone going to the gluten-free diet suffers from the disease.
Some people are opting to go with the gluten-free diet in an effort to be healthier, but that's not entirely necessary, Nichols explained.
"I would not extrapolate that everybody should start cutting gluten out of their diet," Nichols said. "It's more of a condition specific to Celiac."