‘Gluten-free’ a growing population

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that inhibits the absorption of the protein gluten which is found in wheat, barley and rye. It may be inherited but because symptoms are not always present or consistent in all patients, the disease can be difficult to diagnose.  

Some of the common symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, decreased or increased appetite, diarrhea, lactose intolerance, dental enamel defects, depression and fatigue. Many people with negative test results for celiac disease may still suffer from gluten intolerance and greatly benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t have grains. You can still eat pancakes, waffles and breads as long as they are made with gluten-free flours. There are a number of gluten-free flours on the market today that utilize grains that do not have gluten such as wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, teff, oats, soybeans and sunflower seeds. 

Gluten-free diets should also be made up of high amounts of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and beans. Unfortunately many people who go “gluten-free” do not get the necessary nutrients from these foods and suffer from poor nutrition.

Gluten-free doesn’t have to be a deprivation sentence. There are many new products on the market that cater to the growing gluten intolerant population. Whole food markets and health stores have a variety of gluten-free products. More and more gluten-free products are appearing on the local supermarket shelves. This is making it easier to find foods that are commonly purchased by consumers.  However, gluten-free products can be pricey, so if you are considering making a change to a gluten-free diet, you should be prepared to absorb a higher cost in your grocery bill.

There are also many cookbooks on the market with gluten-free recipes as well as trusted resources written by registered dieticians. You can even join local support groups for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Conway resident Stephanie Crockett and her husband, Glenn, both live a gluten-free lifestyle. Stephanie found out she was gluten intolerant about five years ago. She admits that living gluten-free is a total lifestyle change. In the beginning, finding bread she liked or a recipe for bread was one of her biggest challenges because she loved bread. 

There have also been some social challenges. “It is difficult to explain to friends when they invite you out to eat or over to their house for dinner. Gluten is not just in flour or breaded things. It’s in spices and sauces too. You really have to know what you are eating and how it is prepared.”  

Another caution that Stephanie gives is product recognition. “You have to check every product in a line.  Brand names may have items that are gluten-free, but that doesn’t mean all items in the line are gluten-free. Products also change and you have to be aware of those changes.” However, there is a growing market for gluten-free products and more brand names are developing their own lines of gluten-free items.

Glenn said he is starting to notice that more restaurants are also becoming aware of gluten and offering gluten-free menus.  

“Even though there are challenges in being gluten intolerant and eating gluten-free, the benefits of feeling better far outweigh the challenges,” said Stephanie.  

To learn more about a gluten-free diet, gluten intolerance and celiac disease, contact the Faulkner County Extension Office at 501.329.8344 or check with a local dietician.

Stephanie was happy to share one of her favorite recipes with 501 LIFE readers.

Stephanie’s Gluten-free
Toffee Cheesecake

Gluten-free vanilla cookies
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 container (8 oz.) sour cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup (8 oz. pkg.) toffee bits, divided*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare cookie crust: 
Combine 1 ¾ cups vanilla cookie crumbs (about 60 cookies) and 2 tablespoons sugar; stir in 1/3 cup of melted butter. Press onto bottom of a 9” springform pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes while preparing the cheesecake mixture.
Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl on medium speed of mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add sour cream and vanilla; beat on low speed until well blended. Pour half of the cheese mixture into crust. Sprinkle toffee bits over cheese mixture, reserving ¼ cup toffee bits for topping; spoon in remaining cheese mixture. 
Place the springform pan on a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) and bake 1 hour or until middle is set. Cool 15 minutes and sprinkle remaining toffee bits over top. Loosen cake from the side of pan with a knife. Once cooled completely, remove side of pan. Cover; refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. 
Note: Always check to make sure each ingredient is still gluten free.  Most of the above are naturally gluten-free. Gluten-free graham crackers, ginger snaps or chocolate cookies can be substituted. 
Toffee bits can be omitted and fruit added on top after baking. (I use Heath Toffee Bits.)
I also have frozen the cheesecake in slices and taken a slice with me to enjoy while others are enjoying a non gluten-free dessert.