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Dozens of vendors to present gluten-free options at Monroeville event

Naomi Poe knows living a gluten-free lifestyle can be a challenge, especially to those newly diagnosed with an allergy to the protein.

As someone who cannot tolerate gluten and is a mother to two boys with the same condition, Poe, 34, of Altoona, spent years seeking satisfying gluten-free products with little success. In 2006, the frustration led Poe to develop her own flour mix, and her company, Better Batter, was born.

"Desperation breeds creativity," Poe said. "So many people in the gluten-free community have experienced that."

Poe is just one of the 40 local and national vendors participating in the 2012 Celiac Awareness Tour making a stop in the Monroeville Doubletree Hotel on Saturday. The event will include demonstrations by chefs, presentations from celiac experts and samples of products.

People such as Poe, who have celiac disease, cannot tolerate gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Symptoms can include abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss.

More than 2 million people in the United States have the disease, or about 1 in 133, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A decade ago, finding gluten-free food often required a trip to a specialty store, and eating out was a gamble. Today, mass-market food producers, including General Mills, sell gluten-free products, such as Betty Crocker cake mix and Chex cereal, at local grocery stores. Some restaurants, such as Eat'n Park and Uno Chicago Grill, offer designated celiac menus or gluten-free versions of their meals.

Dr. Paul Lebovitz, medical director of West Penn Allegheny Health System's Allegheny Center for Digestive Health, said while progress has been made, "We have such a long way to go still.

"Even today in 2012, it's still a big lifestyle change. It would be nice for it to be a little less dramatic for the patients," he said.

Poe said her sons Zion, 10, and Caedon, 8, enjoy everything from pizza to soft tacos now that they've found a mix of flour that works for them.

"They like to eat everything," she said. "They went from being very self-limiting to having anything allowable."

Lebovitz said living with celiac disease is "all about education."

"You need to talk to someone who really understands the substitutes and alternatives," he said. "I really believe the most important thing you can do is self-educate."

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Additional Information:

If you go

What : The 2012 Celiac Awareness Tour, sponsored by Giant Eagle

When : 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Where : Doubletree Hotel, 101 Mall Blvd., Monroeville.

Admission : $10. Children under 12 are admitted free. Tickets are available at the door or at online .

Donate : Those attending can bring gluten-free products for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

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