Central Pennsylvania Gluten-Free Expo draws large crowd

STATE COLLEGE – The Central Pennsylvania Gluten Free Expo drew more than 1,000 people to the Ramada Conference Center Sunday afternoon in State College, event organizer Matt Bolich said.

The expo featured more than 30 vendors offering gluten-free cookbooks and food to sample or purchase.

Keynote speaker Alice Bast, the president and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, shared her experience with Celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disorder that causes people to have severe reactions to foods containing gluten.

Bast said she suffered three miscarriages, a full-term stillbirth, and then gave birth to a two-pound baby and lost 25 pounds.

“I thought I was dying of cancer. I went to 23 doctors before our family veterinarian asked if the food I was eating might be causing my problems,” she said. That was 21 years ago.

Ten years ago she established the National Foundation for Celiac Awarness, hoping to advance research and teach people about the disease.

“I have been traveling around the country visiting colleges and trying to make them more accommodating for people with Celiac,” she said.

Her hour-long presentation offered tips to people with Celiac disease, as well as to people who are gluten sensitive. Because of the large turnout, Bast repeated her presentation for a second group of attendees.

She also explained that going gluten free isn’t a weight-loss technique.

“It is not a weight-loss diet. A lot of gluten-free foods are higher in calories and fat,” she said.

In fact, Colleen Klinger, of Cogan Station, said it was another diet she went on that made her discover she was sensitive to foods that contain gluten.

“I really didn’t know it was gluten until I took a 30-day healthy-eating challenge. As soon as I finished my 30 day challenge and introduced dairy and wheat back into my body, I was stricken with lethargy and stuffiness,” she said.

Klinger said she has been gluten free since May and is happy her family doesn’t mind trying new recipes without gluten.

The event was sponsored by Central Pennsylvania Newspapers, which includes The Sentinel, and the State College Celiac Support Group.

For more information about eating gluten free and Celiac disease, visit National Foundation For Celiac Awarness website at www.celiaccentral.org.