In 1994 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which led me to create Celiac.com in 1995. I created this site for a single purpose: To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives. Celiac.com was the first site on the Internet dedicated solely to celiac disease, and since then it has become an invaluable resource to people worldwide who seek information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
In 1998 I created The Gluten-Free Mall, Your Special Diet Superstore! which was also another Internet first—it was the first gluten-free food site to offer a shopping cart-style interface, and the ability for people to order gluten-free products manufactured by many different companies at a single Web site.
I am also co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.
Outback Steak House was the first large restaurant chain Kupper worked with to develop gluten-free menus. “We definitely made some new friends!” stated Thomas C. Kempsey, Director of Culinary for Cheeseburger in Paradise, speaking of the gluten-free menu Kupper helped the chain launch in February. Cameron Mitchell’s Fish Market, Bone Fish Grill, Carrabba’s, Bugaboo Creek, and many others have worked with GIG to develop gluten-free menus. The program has been very successful for restaurants involved with GIG’s outreach project, states Kupper. The patrons are happy and the restaurants see a growing number of loyal customers.
GIG promotes safe and healthy dining through education of restaurants and consumers. Many restaurants have developed gluten-free menu options. Some individual restaurants are part of a program GIG will soon manage called the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (www.glutenfreerestaurants.org). Both this program and GIG’s corporate program have strict guidelines for inclusion. Many restaurants have the potential to meet the needs of persons with food sensitivities, however not all are willing to take the extra steps necessary to do so.
Many people with celiac disease are afraid to eat away from home for fear of getting sick according to research. To know that restaurants offer gluten-free choices, verified by trusted sources is a big deal for these people. For people who travel, places like McDonalds and Outback become their safety nets and they will not eat anywhere else, states Kupper. Parents want their children to have options like other kids, so McDonald’s is a perfect fast food choice. Not all fast food restaurants use dedicated fryers and some use fries that are treated with wheat flour – an absolute ‘must avoid’ for celiacs.
Unlike other acute allergies, such as peanut allergies, celiac disease is a chronic condition that can cause damage to the intestines, malabsorption and malnutrition by eating gluten (proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and hybrids of these grains). Celiac disease is a life-long disease that can be diagnosed at any age. The only treatment for the disease is the strict avoidance of gluten. Celiac disease affects nearly 3 million people in the US and 1:250 people worldwide, yet it is the most misdiagnosed common disorder today.
The Gluten Intolerance Group, based in Seattle WA, is a national nonprofit organization providing support and education to persons with gluten intolerances in order to live healthy lives. GIG is the leading national organization for gluten intolerances with a dietitian on staff daily to work with consumers. Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) works with restaurants to offer gluten-free dining options for persons with celiac disease.