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Gluten-free food attracts a growing crowd

Gluten-free food attracts a growing crowd

More than 1,000, many with celiac disease, sample products for those with autoimmune disorder

The 2010 Gluten-Free Food Faire attracted more than 1,000 visitors - almost double last year's attendance - to Christ Community Church Saturday.

The event at 7801 E. Kenyon Drive featured 27 vendors, one from as far away as Boston, offering samples of gluten-free foods. Some were gone well before the 1 p.m. closing.

"We're trying to introduce gluten-free products to the celiac community," said Cheryl Wilson, president of the Southern Arizona Celiac Support Group, which put on the gathering.

Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease, triggered by gluten in food, that causes a myriad of symptoms. Wilson called it the most common under-diagnosed disease.

"One in 100 have celiac disease. One in 10 are gluten-intolerant," she said. "Ninety-seven percent of people who have it are not diagnosed, and - this will astound you - with 1 million people in Pima County, 10,000 have celiac disease and 100,000 will be gluten-intolerant or react to gluten." To address that, Saturday's event offered 200 free blood screenings.

Among the crowd was Mike Taraba, who took stock of the offerings with his wife, Jennifer, and their four sons, three of whom have celiac disease. Their father has it, too.

"It's really good," Taraba said of the faire fare. "I found out 13 to 15 years ago (about having the disorder), and the change has been amazing. The number of available products and how many stores have got gluten-free products available has grown."

The diagnosis and diet changed his life. "I was sick for 18 years, deathly ill," he said. "I'm great now. I lost weight, I run marathons. I feel great."

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Contact photographer Kelly Presnell at or 954-1974.

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The event included free screening for celiac disease with vendors from around the country offering gluten-free food silent auction and more.

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