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Going Gluten-Free

by Vaun Thygerson
Staff writer and mother of three

Gluten-free is a new buzz word in diet plans, and the demand for this type of food product has been increasing.  However, for some people, adhering to a gluten-free regimen is a necessity due to a real medical issue not just a fad diet.  When they eat gluten, it causes painful side effects.  Whether people have celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can be as harmful on their bodies as ingesting poison.  

The Celiac Disease Awareness Foundation (CDAF) states that one out of 133 people in the United States is affected with CD, and it occurs in 5-15% of the offspring and siblings of a person with this disease.  It is not a food allergy but rather an autoimmune disease.  

According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects one to three percent of the adult population.  This kind of gluten intolerance is harder to diagnose, because there are no gene or diagnostic markers to prove it.

Kim's Flour Mixture: 2 cups white rice flour + 2/3 cup potato starch + 1/3 cup tapioca flour. Mix together. For every one cup of flour mixture, add 1 tsp. xantham gum.
People with CD and non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot digest certain grains.  They should not eat the following items:  barley, rye, triticale, wheat (durum, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt), and malt, malt flavoring, or malt vinegar.  

Kim Trovato, mother of two, Abby, 10, and Tate, 7, made her house gluten-free almost three years ago.  She has seen such a drastic improvement in her family’s health, she knows it’s working.  “Without a doubt, it’s worth it.  There is no way I would choose to eat gluten,” she says.  “If we eat gluten, we get sick.  If we don’t eat gluten, we’re healthy.  We’re good.”

Before they made the dietary switch, Kim’s dermatitis herpetiformis, known as a gluten rash, covered her body.  She was anemic, fatigued, having irregular periods, bowel issues, joint pain, and bruising without cause.  Her daughter, Abby, suffered prolonged nose bleeds.  Tate, her youngest, was small for his age, had a chronic stomach ache, purple under his eyes, a bumpy rash on his trunk, and even tested positive for Cystic Fibrosis.  “Since we went gluten-free, Tate’s a completely different child,” Kim says.  “He grew two sizes, and his stomach pains are gone.  He’s growing, happy, and healthy.”  He has since been retested for Cystic Fibrosis, and the result was negative.

Making the change to a gluten-free diet is not easy, and it may take up to three months of dietary restrictions to see a change in your family’s health.  “It’s a decision you have to make mentally,” she says.  “And, it’s a decision you have to make 100 percent.  You can’t have a little gluten.  It’s got to be 100 percent gluten-free, or you won’t notice a difference.”

Kim says maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle starts with becoming an expert label reader.  CDAF recommends reading the labels every time you purchase foods, because manufacturers can change ingredients at any time.  As of 2006, wheat used in products have been identified on the label.  

No matter how carefully she scrutinizes labels and recipes looking for gluten, she can still ingest it from cross contamination.  For example, French fries are gluten-free, but if they’re cooked in the same oil that the restaurant uses to cook other food, they are contaminated.  “You have to know the right questions to ask,” she says.  

Look out for hidden sources of gluten, too, which may include: natural and artificial colorings and flavorings, clarifying agents, dextrin, emulsifiers, starch & modified food starch, hydrolyzed plant & vegetable proteins, maltose and dextrose, stabilizers and broths.
When in doubt, you can always verify ingredients by calling or writing a food manufacturer.  Kim says the list of prohibited foods can be confusing, and the labels are hard to interpret.  “I know what main items we can’t consume,” she says.  “But, the problem is that some of these items can be hidden in other items.”  Their household rule of thumb:  “If we’re unsure if it contains gluten, we just don’t eat it.”

When Irma Noguchi, mother of two, Tyler, 10, and Brayden, 8, decided to implement a gluten-free diet, she says deciphering the labels was the hardest part.  Gluten-free for almost a year now, Irma says she felt overwhelmed in the beginning of making the switch.  “I could spend hours in the grocery store looking at nothing,” she says.  “I’ve learned that I have to read every label, and it’s gotten easier with time.  It becomes such a part of your routine, that it doesn’t seem like hard work.”

Irma decided to go gluten-free after years of acute pain, bloating, and constipation.  “Almost immediately, I had a regulated digestive track, my stomach went flat, and I had no pain,” she says.  “It’s a miracle!”

After she saw how much it helped to improve her health, she decided to have her son, Brayden, try the dietary restriction.  He was receiving growth hormones from an endriconologist and also having stomach issues.  After implementing the diet, he has a regulated digestive track, and he even had a growth spurt.  “He is thriving better than ever,” she says.  

Irma says that Brayden has seen such a difference in how he feels that he doesn’t cheat, even when he’s tempted by his friends who are eating foods he likes.  She makes sure to pack him his own food for school and birthday parties where they will serve treats, and he knows to eat his own food.

The availability of gluten-free products has increased dramatically.  When Kim’s family changed to a gluten-free diet three years ago, finding these specialized products required more searching and buying from online vendors or health food stores like Lassen’s.  Nowadays, she can find a lot of name-brand products at local stores like Costco, Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s, Wal-Mart, and Von’s.  Some stores like Fresh ‘n Easy have dedicated “Gluten-Free” sections.  She can even order gluten-free meals from local restaurants like Rusty’s, Luigi’s, and more.  One of her families’ favorites is Mountain Mike’s gluten-free pizza.  She also subscribes to a monthly magazine made for gluten-free families entitled, “Delight,” where she tries recipes and learns tips from others in the same situation.

Kim didn’t want her family to miss out on anything, so she has taken great strides to make sure they still have normal meals and desserts.  She even learned how to modify her husband Joe’s favorite apple pie recipe using her own homemade flour mixture (see sidebar).  She makes cupcakes, chocolate cake, tortillas, enchiladas, and they love having people over for dinner.  “We eat everything everyone else eats,” Kim says.  “We are just careful with our ingredients.”

For more information about CD or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, please visit ; To find gluten-free recipes and tips, visit

Remember naturally gluten-free foods:

• Don’t forget about fruit and vegetables, which are naturally gluten-free. Since adults and kids alike get board with the same-old apples and bananas, mix it up with pears, grapes, berries, oranges, pineapple, watermelon, and kiwi. For younger kids, cut some fruit, such as pineapple and watermelon into fun shapes, or squares, circles, and triangles for a surprise for your little one. Pair veggies with hummus, gluten-free bean dip, or gluten-free salsa. 

• Dried fruit and nuts are a perfect lunch box addition, but again, check labels to make sure these are gluten-free. Some dry roasted nuts do contain gluten, but most nuts do not. If snack time is a part of your child’s school day, nuts and dried fruit can fill in here too.

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