CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kristin Mallory could barely keep up with her two young children after she and her husband moved from Maryland to Charlotte, N.C., in 1996. The "tender stomach" she'd had since childhood flared into full-blown gastrointestinal issues.
"I was exhausted. I'd have the children in a room and just pass out," she said. "I knew there was something wrong. What do you turn to when you're not feeling well - comfort food."
She felt even worse after she ate a comforting diet filled with bread and pasta. When she described her symptoms to a doctor, she was told her problem was probably caused by an intolerance to wheat, more specifically the gluten found in it. Mallory was relieved to hear that she had celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that was much less frequently diagnosed then than it is today. The disease is four times more common today than it was in 1950, according to celiac.com.
People who have celiac disease can't process and absorb nutrients from gluten in the intestine. Instead, gluten passes through the intestine, resulting in gas, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea and constipation, among many other symptoms. The only cure is to not eat any grains or products with gluten.
"I said, 'Really, that's all I have to do? Quit eating wheat?'" she remembers saying.
It was a little more complicated than that. The first few trips to the grocery store took hours as she scrutinized every food label for the terms like "starch," "modified starch," "thickening agent" and "malt." Those terms are red flags for wheat products. Naturally, bread and pasta were out. A dietitian advised her to shop around the outside perimeter of the store, avoiding processed foods.
The labels held many surprises. Campbell's soup and Kikkoman soy sauce contained wheat products. The Kroger variety of soy sauce did not. Kikkoman introduced a gluten-free version last year. As demand for gluten-free products rose, many manufacturers developed a wider variety of gluten-free products.
The Mallorys moved to Charleston in 1997. At that time, few people had heard of celiac disease, and many didn't realize how serious the condition was, including restaurant servers.
"When I would ask if an item contained wheat and they rolled their eyes, I would tell them that I didn't want to die there," she said. "Of course, I wouldn't die." She needed to get their attention.
Servers and restaurants are more accommodating. Awareness of celiac and the importance of a truly gluten-free diet drastically increased three years ago when Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the hosts on "The View," revealed her decade-long struggle with celiac disease.
More and more restaurants provide nutritional and ingredient information. Chefs are often willing to prepare an item without wheat when requested.
At first she shopped at health food stores to find bread, pie crust and brownie mixes that substituted combinations or rice, tapioca and potato powders for wheat flour. She trusted one cookbook, "The Gluten-Free Gourmet" by Bette Hagman, for reliable recipes.
"When I first attempted to bake, it just didn't taste good," she said of the limited products available. "Now things are really tasty."
Still, there's a difference. Sometimes, the smell of something in the oven entices her children. They'll ask for a bite, then say, "Wait, is this gluten-free? No thanks."
"They think my taste is warped. They're probably right," she said. "It's been 15 years since I've had a doughnut or wheat pasta." When she makes pasta and sauce for her family, she usually steams green beans and pours the sauce over the beans for her own serving.
Mallory baked bread and brownies because most manufactured baked goods were out of the question. Now manufacturers such as Udi's produce racks of gluten-free breads and cookies.
It's not enough for the label to say "wheat-free." Gluten-free assures the customer that the manufacturer doesn't process the products on the same equipment used for wheat products, which causes cross-contamination.
Can such minute amounts really cause trouble? "Absolutely," said Mallory. She once enjoyed a pot of chili at a church pot luck supper after asking the cook if she used any wheat products when she made it. As she began to feel ill, she questioned the cook more closely about the recipe, which started with a can of Campbell's tomato soup.
When she starts to feel the effects of mistakenly eating a wheat product, Mallory goes home, curls up on her bed and waits for the symptoms to pass. "It makes you so miserable."
Mallory travels frequently in her position of vice president of academic and student affairs at Bridgemont Community and Technical College. Although many of the conferences she attends offer vegetarian meal plans, she rarely encounters gluten-free options. That's changing, too.
"I recently was offered a gluten-free muffin at a meeting. It was very nice. I'm not used to having that. I usually just do without," said Mallory, who always carries gluten-free protein bars with her.
Because many gluten-free products are high in calories, Mallory limits her intake of processed foods. She's always liked fruits and vegetables and eats them for every meal. She advises people who are recently diagnosed with celiac disease to look for appetizing substitutes for wheat flour products so they don't feel deprived.
"It is a life change. On the positive side, I don't have to take medicine to control the disease," she said as she pulled out her lunch of Udi's bread, grapes, a cheese wedge, cottage cheese and an apple.
For information on gluten-free diets, visit www.celiac.com.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Simple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Kristin Mallory
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
(mini's work best)
MIX together first three ingredients with a wooden spoon. Stir in chocolate chips.
DROP on ungreased cookie sheet.
BAKE 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool on sheet 2 minutes before removing.
San Francisco Fudge
From a Ghirardelli Chip bag - Kristin Mallory
Yield: 36 to 64 squares.
2 1/4 cups Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup mini marshmallows
11/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
COMBINE chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and marshmallows in microwave safe bowl. Heat on medium (50 %) power for 30 seconds, stir.
REPEAT process until mixture is smooth (about 4 to 5 minutes). Stir in vanilla, salt and walnuts, if desired.
POUR mixture into an 8- by 8-inch pan lined with wax paper.
REFRIGERATE for 2 hours, until firm. Cut into squares.
STORE at room temperature.
Modified from Taste of Home's 1999 Quick Cooking Recipes - Kristin Mallory
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed (or peeled) and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup ranch salad dressing, or 2/3 cup ranch and 1/3 cup fat free sour cream
1 teaspoon salt