Monday, June 29, 2009

Hot news, cold facts

“Hot” authors like Elisabeth Hasselbeck make news. The resulting publicity the gluten-free world has received from her new book, “The G Free Diet,” is welcome but for one glitch. Elisabeth Hasselbeck does not always know what she is talking about when it comes to gluten free. Still I respect her diligence, her sincerity, her ability to cope and her success in becoming a TV personality. So I was glad when Amy Ratner, our associate editor, said she was going to publish a book review. I even bought the book myself and labored through about half of it.

I say “labored” because the book did not hold my interest. There is nothing in this book that you can’t read elsewhere or find more accurately stated. If you are a new celiac, this is not necessarily the book you need to cope with a gluten-free diet. It might make you feel optimistic, as you should now that you are going to return to health, and that is a good thing. It might make you feel “hot” and that might be a good thing, too.

Informed is another matter. For that, I refer you to Peter Greens book, The Hidden Epidemic, and of course our magazine, Gluten-Free Living. I will take the opportunity here to note that we have a sterling history and reputation for getting things right. You can check that out. Dietary myths were exposed in the pages of Gluten-Free Living. We beat everyone to the punch – the national support groups, the dietitians, even the medical establishment, which still shows a remarkable ignorance of the diet itself.

Alas, we have yet to make Access Hollywood, but that has not been our goal. Our mission is to provide reliable information to help you cope with the demands of gluten-free living. Trust me, it’s not at all sexy or glamorous but we like what we do and we keep on going without the acclaim and with the knowledge that we bring some good into the world.

Amy’s review is now on our site at We are posting it because there has been a great deal of concern about the extent of Ms. Hasselbeck’s misinformation and the unintended consequences of making people think they can just adopt the diet like they might a new hairstyle, lose weight on the gluten-free diet so they look better in their bathing suits (not!) and live a happier life.

Nothing is that simple!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Here's to a healthy gluten-free diet

A few years ago at Gluten-Free Living we started focusing on the lack of vitamins and minerals in gluten-free products.

We launched a series of articles, called Neglected Nutrition, which covered topics like whole grains, enriched foods, fat content, vegetarian and gluten-free diets and healthy eating for kids. (You can order back issues with these stories at Gluten-Free Living)

As more gluten-free products became available, we wanted our readers to know the nutrition facts so they could choose food that was gluten-free and healthy.

So I'm happy others are paying more attention to the important issue of healthy eating and the gluten-free diet. I found evidence of that trend everywhere from the Digestive Disease Week medical conference, to a Harvard Medical School health publication to the Institute of Food Technologists convention.

At Digestive Disease week, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center presented findings of a nutrition study of about 100 men and women with celiac disease that showed most were not getting the daily recommend amounts of calcium, fiber and iron.

The study concluded it would be "sensible" to recommend a daily multi-vitamin for those who follow the gluten-free diet. (We'll have more on daily vitamins and the gluten-free diet in an upcoming issue of Gluten-Free Living.)

Food diaries kept by study participants showed they ate few healthy, gluten-free whole grains and that most of their foods were made from rice, potato and corn.

Meanwhile, in a recent article in the Harvard Health Letter Melinda Dennis, nutrition coordinator at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel, said gluten-free food made from rice, potato and corn starch lacks important vitamins and fiber. Dennis said gluten-free food makers have learned that adding xanthan and guar gums improves taste and texture of gluten-free foods made from nutrient-lacking starches. But these gums don't add any nutritional value.

So you end up with gluten-free food that tastes good, but is not really good for you.

Those who follow the gluten-free diet should eat "unconventional but nutritionally well-rounded substitutes," Dennis said. She calls them the super six - amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

Many specialty gluten-free companies sell baking mixes made with the one or more of the super six flours directly to consumers for home baking. But many ready made gluten-free products still rely on the trio of nutritionally weaker starches.

We might start to see that change.

At the recent food technologists conference, Conagra Mills announced the development of gluten-free, all-purpose multi grain flour that the company says is both healthy and works well in gluten-free products. It contains a proprietary blend of whole grains, plus tapioca starch. Conagra has previously sold amaranth, quinoa, millet and teff as individual flours, but the company said the blend will improve the quality of gluten-free products. The blend can be used to make bread, tortillas, muffins, snacks, coatings and cereals, according to Conagra.

If these flours catch on and if we start paying attention to all the advice to eat whole grains, as well as naturally gluten-free fruits and vegetables, nutrition for those who are gluten free won't be quite as neglected.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Culinary Pride

Typically in the back room of our board of education meetings, there is a platter of cheese and crackers, freshly cut fruit and chocolate chip cookies to sustain us through the long evenings. I always enjoy the havarti and gouda cheeses and the pineapple. I never care that I can’t eat the cookies or crackers. Nobody really needs chocolate chip cookies at midnight. Come to think of it, none of our arteries need cheese at that hour either.

Earlier this year a fellow board member and his son were diagnosed with celiac disease. That’s a tough transition for a kid in his sophomore year in college, but I guess he’s doing pretty well. Last night, my fellow board member brought us some gluten-free cookies for late night board meeting munchies that his son had baked! These were my very first cookies at a board of ed meeting and I was pretty impressed.

They were an oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie and they had a chewy, chocolate taste. I think it is very exceptional that a 20 year old man experimented in the kitchen to come up with a cookie. His dad said he went shopping at Whole Foods for ingredients and then whipped up a batch.

It served as a reminder that I need to further encourage the kitchen experimentation of my own celiac. Cooking is an important survival skill for someone with celiac disease. My son’s favorite snack is to “bake” himself a Food Tek cinnamon coffee cake. It’s a few simple steps…adding water into the mix, pouring the batter into the mold and hitting start on the microwave. The important thing is that a nine year old can do it all by himself and he is very pleased with the warm cake that he makes.

There is a bit a pride that goes into fending for oneself. It doesn’t have to be culinary artistry, sometimes an invented cookie recipe or a microwave cake is satisfying in more ways than one.
Kendall Egan

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gluten free - getting it right

In the new summer issue of Gluten-Free Living, I review Elisabeth Hasselbeck's book, The G Free Diet.
I won't repeat what I say in the review here, but I wanted to comment on some of the things I've been reading about it on other blogs.
Some bloggers write that we should overlook inaccuracies in the book because it will still bring lots of attention to the celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
Others say despite mistakes, it's a decent beginners' guide to the gluten-free diet.
At Gluten-Free Living, we have the advantage of the long view of celiac disease and eating gluten free. We've been publishing for 13 years. My daughter was diagnosed nearly 17 years ago and editor/publisher Ann Whelan at about the same time.
So we know the damage done by inaccuracies, big and small. From the beginning, our goal has been to give people the best information so they can live a happy, health gluten-free life.
By that we mean a life unfettered by needless worry over ingredients and foods that are questioned for no reason. Or those that have so little potential to contain gluten that finding even one example would be as rare as getting criticism of an American idol contestant from Paula Abdul.
And we've found lots of example of needless worry over the years -vinegar, maltodextrin, citric acid, glucose syrup - to name a few. When Gluten-Free Living was started, all of these were on lists of ingredients that you had to stay away from or question. Now, we know all are safe (Malt vinegar is an exception). Some got crossed off the list because of research we did at Gluten-Free Living. Others, like caramel color and modified food starch, were clarified by the allergen labeling law that requires wheat to be labeled when it is used in most foods. We now know that wheat is rarely used in either ingredient.
To me, accurate information is essential for my daughter and everyone like her to be healthy and gluten free.
So every time someone, especially someone new to the gluten-free diet, gets bad information that makes the diet more difficult to follow, a minor mistake grows into something larger and more limiting.
Is it a big deal to incorrectly tell someone struggling to figure out the gluten-free diet for the first time that the declumping agents in spices almost always contain wheat, that you have to worry about additives in modified food starch, that you should stay away from all marinades?
I think of all the ways this makes living gluten-free much more difficult. My answer is yes, it is a big deal.
Why all the fuss about calling celiac disease an allergy when we are getting all this free publicity from Hasselbeck?
Because celiac disease is not an allergy and it does not really help spread the word when we confuse waiters, chefs and food makers by using the wrong explanation. More than 15 years ago when Amanda was diagnosed, hardly anyone had heard of celiac disease. When we used the words in a restaurant or when talking to a teacher or the parent of child who had invited Amanda to a birthday party, the response was usually a blank stare. Now, because so many people have painstakingly spread awareness and because so many more have been diagnosed, the reaction is more likely to be, "Oh, my friend just found out he has celiac disease."
Why turn the clock back to a time when you sometimes needed the crutch of saying it's an allergy? Plus, it's one thing to use "allergy" on a small, personal scale. It's another to declare that's what celiac disease is in front of millions of television viewers you are lucky enough to reach because of you are a television celebrity.
Finally, what's the big deal about diagnosing yourself with celiac disease and going on the gluten-free diet without benefit of the much improved testing and diagnostic tools available today? Some bloggers say there are cases where this might work.
For one, as long as you don't have a real diagnosis of celiac disease, you can't be added to the official number of those in the US who have it. If you can't be counted, the celiac community as a whole loses a little bit of clout in lobbying for improved labeling on foods and drugs, more money for research that might one day result in a cure, more access to gluten-free food in schools, colleges, hospitals and nursing homes. And when food makers start tallying up the people who are surely going to stick with the gluten-free diet and buy gluten-free products for life, they might not count you either.
Celebrity and publicity are the popular kids in today's culture. It makes sense to use them whenever we can to create a better life for anyone living the gluten-free lifestyle. But this isn't high school and they don't get a free pass. Accuracy matters too.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Grossology 101

I had a college reunion this past weekend, as did my husband. He is a graduate from the same school in the same year, so getting out the door and off to the reunion was an absolute feat in the middle of spring sports madness with my children.

Last Wednesday I realized that my pantry of gluten-free foods was precariously low and while that wouldn’t stress out my celiac, it would stress out his Grandma who was babysitting. I went shopping at night since I was going straight from a meeting to catch a train on Thursday.

This gluten friendly store was calm and quiet at that point of the evening so I cruised quickly around the aisles. I also picked up a couple of quick dinners and some extra milk. In the vegetable section, I had a seriously eye opening experience.

As a lazy cook, I always buy my lettuce shredded and pre-washed whenever available. I scooped up a bag of mixed field greens and smiled to the guy who was waiting for my tongs. I stepped aside to tie my bag in a knot and he scooped up some greens as well. I moved down a bit to carrots and a woman moved into the lettuce section as the gentleman tied up his greens in the bag.

All of a sudden, she reared her head back and sneezed loudly. People sneeze all the time, it was just completely horrifying because she didn’t cover her mouth and she projectile AH-CHOO’d all over the pre-washed, pre-shredded mixed field greens that I had just scooped into my bag.

My jaw dropped to the ground and I sounded like the girls in the “Baby Got Back” video…”OH. MY. GOD. I can’t believe you just did that.” The guy was so repulsed he just dropped his bag on the floor and walked away.

I was thankful for all of my boxed and wrapped gluten-free goodies that were protected from sneeze germs and I re-washed all of my pre-washed, pre-shredded greens when I returned home.

Kendall Egan

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gluten-free Pierogi triggers memories

There are few foods I'm more emotionally attached to than pierogi.
So I took notice right away when I read that Conte's Pasta Company is going to feature gluten-free pierogi at the upcoming All Things Organic conference.
In my family just the mention of pierogi triggers strong craving and even stronger memories.
When I was growing up, the first sign that my grandmother was about to make this traditional stuffed Polish dumpling came when a sturdy, white station wagon pulled up in front of her small yellow brick house on hilly Tenth Avenue in a steel mill town 20 miles from Pittsburgh.
A woman we called "the Farmer Lady" drove the station wagon and she was delivering - yes delivering - raw milk from her farm. My grandmother, my mother and sometimes her sisters would use the milk to make what we called "Farmer Lady Cheese."
The process was a bit of a smelly mystery to me, but I know in the end there was always a tasty mound of white cheese swaddled in gauzy cheese cloth.
Once the cheese was done, my grandmother mixed it by hand with salt and pepper, egg and green onion in a big ceramic bowl.
Then dough was made from scratch by mixing flour, egg and sour cream. The team work in my grandmother's tiny kitchen really began when super-ball-sized pieces of the dough were rolled into thin little pancakes. Some of my grandmother's friends rolled all the dough out at once and cut circles with a glass, but my family always preferred to roll each pierogi individually. My mother and aunts got the dough so thin it was almost translucent. A dollop of the cheese mix was plopped in the middle and the pancake folded over to make a half-moon pocket. Then the seam was pinched tight.
Next the pierogi were boiled, though this was only a preliminary cooking step. The finish came later, when we sizzled butter in a frying in pan, then sautéed a precious pierogi or two until it was golden brown - ok so maybe it was usually three. Frying the pierogi gave the dough a little crunch along with a little color and the smell that filled the kitchen could bring all my grandmother's grandchildren running.
You don't have to go back too many years to find food far removed from the processed and packaged items we use so prolifically today. But pierogi-making was so labor intense that it occurred only a few times a year. The pierogi were divvied up among my grandmother's children, and they then divided them among their children and grandchildren.
We each tallied and guarded our shares carefully. Woe be unto anyone who left theirs in the refrigerator where my younger brother could find them. When it came to pierogi, he did not respect any boundaries. Once I grew up and moved out-of-state, my portion was hidden in the freezer until I could come home and get it.
Whenever the subject of pierogi comes up - as it did recently at a gathering of my Baltimore neighbors of Polish and Slovak descent - the farmer's cheese filling is see as an oddity, since most pierogi are filled with sauerkraut or mashed potato and cheese. From the time I was a kid, I always thought it made ours taste best.
But my own daughter, born into my Polish family as a fourth generation girl, never had a chance to taste one of these wonderful creations. Amanda was diagnosed with celiac disease right after her second birthday and since the dough was made from wheat flour, pierogi were off-limits.
So I thought the Conte's pierogi, though they are filled with potato and onion, might at least provide Amanda an introduction to a food that carries so much meaning for me. I'm encouraged that the ingredient list includes egg in the dough, which is made with rice flour and cornstarch, since my mother says egg was an important ingredient in my grandmother's original recipe. (You can order online at or
My grandmother died 10 years ago and each of her daughters has had health concerns in recent years so it has been a really long time since I've had a homemade pierogi. When I started to crave one after talking about them with my neighbors, I bought Mrs. T's brand for myself (They are not gluten free). I have to admit they were about close to my families' recipe as instant coffee is to Starbucks.
So it might seem backward to think packaged gluten-free pierogi would be the best way to introduce them to Amanda. But even their existence has me thinking we might be able to make a gluten-free version of the taste and smell and tradition that I remember. We could start slow, try the packaged ones and then tackle my grandmother's original recipe.
I'll keep you posted.