What it takes to live gluten free in the Gila Valley

A gluten-free support group will have its inaugural meeting Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. in the early literacy room at the Safford Library.


SAFFORD – You are what you eat, and your body can only handle so much wheat. That statement is true for many gluten intolerant individuals in the Gila Valley.

For those who don’t know, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Some may think going gluten free is one of the latest craze diets. However, the basic allergies and illnesses affiliated with gluten intolerance has been around for a long time. For certain individuals, gluten can cause health problems such as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, dermatitis herpetiformis, and basic wheat allergies.

A small group of individuals within the Gila Valley are gluten intolerant, and, for the first time, they will be gathering in a support group later this month. The first meeting will be Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. at the Safford City-Graham County Library in the early literacy room. Organizer Hannah Keir said the meeting is open for everyone, especially those who feel the need for support when it comes to maintaining their diets.

“You may bring a dish or snack to share,” Keir said. “Please be aware that with gluten problems come a host of other allergies, so if you bring a dish, include a list of ingredients or better yet the recipe to share.”

Nicole Wilson and her family have been living gluten free for nine years. At the beginning of their eating changes, Wilson said they dealt with skepticism from others in the community. This skepticism and lack of gluten-free foods available in local stores made things difficult. Wilson had to make most of their gluten-free food from scratch. However, in recent years, things have changed for the gluten-free community in the Gila Valley.

“I used to grind my own gluten-free grains and make my own blends, but gluten free has come a long way,” Wilson said. “I buy my flours in bulk online. My favorite are Pamela’s, hands down. The local stores have come a long way over the years. The gluten-free health trend has had a lot to do with this, and so I’m grateful.”

Although the gluten-free movement has proven helpful to those who have been living gluten free for a number of years, the fad is aggravating to some. Tunelle Von Tress and her son have Celiac Sprue Disease. If they even touch wheat, they will become severely ill. It aggravates her when individuals go gluten free merely to lose weight.

“It is very dangerous because they need to supplement their vitamin intake,” Tress said. “If they don’t, it can run their bodies down.”

Jennifer Hughes, another of the gluten-free group, said she hasn’t had much criticism for her diet. However, many individuals in the community do not understand the limitations of the diet.

“I don’t get too much flak,” Hughes said. “But when you tell people you don’t eat wheat or can’t eat wheat all they think of is bread.”

“Please let others know,” Keir said. “Bring a friend or family member who may also need or offer gluten-free support. If you truly had to go completely gluten free and had no idea how to do it, you would be glad for some help. Its seriously not as easy as just don’t eat bread.’”