Archive for March, 2011

Gluten-Free Adventures at Expo West…and an Ode to Bloggers

Eight years ago, I started the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to make “gluten-free” a household word.  Our goal was to raise awareness of celiac disease so we could have a voice:  increase availability, affordability, safety, tasty and understanding… and eventually fund research.

Well, the market for gluten-free foods has soared.  We are currently a $2.64 billion industry, and the marketplace is expected to double in the next 4 years.  15% of all consumers are looking for gluten-free foods, and at Expo West, gluten-free labels were EVERYWHERE!

Jillian Michaels at Expo West

Yep, that's fitness buff Jillian Michaels!

On the convention floor, I stood in amazement of the rows of gluten-free products. I didn’t know which way to turn. To the right for Rudi’s great gluten-free grilled cheese and chicken sandwiches; to the left to Glutenfreeda’s  fabulous new Pizza Wraps; down another aisle to Kettle Cuisine’s unbelievable Thai Curry Chicken Soup.  Haine Celestial’s booth was piled high with sections of gluten-free products.  I even found a new meal replacement protein drink called Svelte. It was heaven on earth.


My new gluten-free find: Svelte!

All three gluten-free presentations were standing room only.  When I stepped down from the podium, people asked questions for a ½ hour.  They even followed me out the door.

At one point in the day, I was speaking with Anne Whalen, editor of Gluten Free Living, and renowned dietitian Shelley Case. We all agreed: Our time has come! We have all dreamt of this day, and it’s finally here.

Of course, this couldn’t have happened without the help of a very dedicated group: the bloggers. Thanks to their daily posts, rapid-fire tweets and enticing recipes, gluten-free has nestled into solid ground online and in stores.

Gluten-Free Bloggers

My "New York Crew" of gluten-free gals!

So, to the blogging community: Thank you for making a difference for all of us. Thank you for being such passionate advocates; we now have a voice!  We can and are bringing about change. Awareness and interest have driven the growth of gluten-free products, making our lives and the lives of others better.

Basically, you all rock! And I especially enjoyed spending time with you over the past couple weeks.

(Stay tuned to Celiac Central: Bits & Bites. These fantastic celiac and gluten-free bloggers will be making an appearance in May!)



March 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm 1 comment

I Did It!

Such a buoyant cry of delight!

This past weekend, I visited my family in Virginia which really means I went to see my two small grandsons: Max, age 2 ½, and Mason, 15 months.  Yes, they are terribly cute and amazingly clever little boys!

To keep Max amused while I was making lunch, I suggested that he work on a puzzle. It was one of those lovely wooden ones with farm animals and tractors.

Max went about his business of puzzle assembly and I turned to the niceties of kids’ lunches. All quiet on the home front.

Suddenly, I heard, “Nana, I did it!” Hands raised as if celebrating a touchdown, Max had a moment of total joy and triumph.


Little Max. Isn't he a doll?

If you can believe it, his accomplishment made me think of all of the folks who have been struggling with undiagnosed celiac disease and, having finally learned the cause of their suffering, are moving into a reclaimed gluten-free life. I guess it was being in the kitchen that brought this association to mind.

We all know that this is not the easiest transition to make. After acceptance comes the search for how best to live happily in a new world. Lots of questions about what is gluten-free, followed by the search for tasty and healthy products.  At first, most women wonder about the hazards of dining out and wonder if they will ever again enjoy a lovely evening on the town. Men want to know what beer they can drink. Yes, these sound like stereotypes, but based on questions that come through our info line (, they’re true!

Before long, with help, the gluten-free diet becomes routine, and life improves.  And, one day, there comes a moment of realization that, in fact, a shift has been made to a “new normal.” In short, they did it.

Lunch over, Max enlisted me to “play soccer.”  His parents are athletes, so Max has been kicking the soccer ball around since he could walk. He has a child-sized goal and loves it.

So, out we went to pass the ball around and see how we would make out. Within minutes, Max had the ball in the goal.

You guessed it. “Nana, I did it!”

What is your “I did it!” moment?


If you have a personal victory related to your health recovery, whether it’s a new outlook, a change in habits or a successful business venture, share it on the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ Celi-Acts page.

If you have a question about the gluten-free diet, submit it to Ask the Dietitian.

March 18, 2011 at 10:02 am 1 comment

Making “Small Changes” in Health and Wellness

Just 2 weeks after signing up for the Philadelphia Blue Cross Broad Street Run, one of the largest ten-mile road races in the U.S., I began the month of February ready to start logging miles on the treadmill.

My schedule, however, had a different game plan. The short month became filled with lunch meetings, late nights at the office and weekend trips back home. The next thing I knew my after work and weekend trips to the gym were sidelined. And that’s not even mentioning my birthday celebrations (gluten-free carrot cake, anyone?). So with a sweet tooth that kicks in every now and then and my gym trips dropping off, my usual healthy habits seemed to fly right out of the window.

Alice and Kristin in DC

Busy, busy! Alice and I during our trip to Capitol Hill.

Fortunately I knew where to look for help. One of the things I enjoy most about my job here at NFCA are the opportunities to meet with a wide variety of healthcare professionals, including dietitians, physicians, naturopaths and even physical therapists.

About 2 months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Keri Gans, MS, RD, CON, via phone one Friday afternoon. (If you don’t already follow Keri on Twitter, I suggest you start. She tweets around the clock and always has a fun fact or tidbit to share. Check her out: @kerigans). We chatted about nutrition, both gluten-free and mainstream, and a week later I had a preview copy of her upcoming book, The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You, waiting for me on my desk.

Small Change Diet

Keri's book is all about making "small changes."

After flipping through Keri’s new book, two chapters in particular caught my eye.

  • Small Change 8: Tame Your Sweet Tooth and Your Salt Shaker
  • Small Change 10: Get Moving

Keri shares research-based tips and advice in each chapter, complete with situational Q&A to challenge the daily, common concerns we all have regarding diet and exercise (kind of like NFCA’s Ask the Dietitian blog). Here are three bits of advice from Chapters 8 and 10 that hit home for me.  See my full review of Keri’s book on NFCA’s product review site,

Small Change 8: Tame Your Sweet Tooth and Your Salt Shaker

Common Concern: “I can’t kick my cravings no matter how hard I try. I think I’m addicted to sugar.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for ice cream, rice pudding, and any coconut-type dessert. Fortunately, I’ve also always been active so too much of something has never been a problem. But when your hand begins to reach for the candy bowl that sits on a coworker’s desk (thanks, Whitney) a few times a week, and sometimes more than once a day, you know you’re in trouble. With a little extra push from Keri, I’ve re-introduced apples, baby-carrots and grapefruit as my mid-day snacks.

Common Concern: “I’ve been under so much stress lately. I deserve a little reward.”

I’ve already admitted that my sweet tooth has been known to get the best of me, but I haven’t mentioned that at times I have followed the “you deserve it” method. It’s easy to use this excuse when things get busy and you’re coming to the office early but still leaving late. But it’s time we all take Keri’s advice: “Food is not a reward. I repeat: Food is not a reward.”

Small Change 10: Get Moving

Keri opens Chapter 10 with: “It’s been said that exercise is like a savings account: The more you put in, the more you get back – with interest.”

Within the last 2 weeks, this line alone has pushed me to pack my gym bag in the morning, walk through the gym doors after work, and schedule time to run on the weekends. It can be easy to let the ball drop after a few weeks veering off course, but when you already know what results you can expect, taking the initiative becomes a lot easier.

What “small changes” will you make this weekend?


March 11, 2011 at 11:51 am 1 comment

From Pizza Ovens to Capitol Hill: Celiac Awareness on the Move!

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease 17 years ago (by my dog’s vet, mind you), I had to order my food from Canada or purchase products at our support group meetings. Gluten-free foods were hard to come by, unless they were naturally gluten-free (eggs, milk, meat, veggies and the like).  It took me hours to shop; I wandered up and down the supermarket aisles, only to end up purchasing a few items.

Over the past several years, we at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and others have had the opportunity to work with Walmart, Wegmans, Wholefoods, Stop and Shop, ShopRite and Giant. Now, I walk up and down the aisles and just stare in amazement at the shelf tags calling out “Gluten-free!”  What a hoot…so life-altering.

The same was the case at restaurants. When I was first diagnosed, you’d think I was speaking another language when I asked the waiter if he or she knew what gluten-free was. The blank stare spoke volumes.

Even 5 or 6 years ago, if a fortune teller said that I would be speaking about Gluten-Free Foodservice Opportunities at the International Pizza Show, I would have thought she had a defective crystal ball. Yet there I was, just last week.

And this time, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay there.

Celiac Awareness at the International Pizza Expo

Had such a blast at the International Pizza Expo!

Our gluten-free presentation was noted in an industry article following the Pizza Expo. The article explained how offering gluten-free options can help a restaurant gain loyal customers from the celiac community. It was more proof that gluten-free has not only become mainstream, but is also here to stay.

Now, the message I really hoped to drive home during my presentation was how important it is to know what you’re doing when it comes to gluten-free preparation and serving. To all the pizza professionals and restaurateurs out there: Please do not advertise that you serve “gluten-free” unless you really practice proper protocols. Gluten-free food can be delicious, tempting, safe, and a good business opportunity – as long as it’s done right.

If that wasn’t enough action in a week, I attended the Digestive Disease National Coalition (DDNC) Policy Forum in Washington DC over the weekend. Three years ago, when I first landed in front of our nation’s representatives, their legislative assistant’s eyes glazed over at the words “celiac” and “gluten-free.”  Even more upsetting, the physician on my committee didn’t even know that celiac was so prevalent!

Last year, I was grouped with the same physician, and his entire attitude had changed.  At the time, he was diagnosing two patients per week and was excited to tell the celiac story.

Rep. Stephen Lynch

I got to speak with Rep. Stephen Lynch about celiac and gluten-free needs.

Today – get ready for this – that same physician has his daughter on a gluten-free diet, one of the legislative assistants has celiac, and another is getting her boyfriend tested.  They were interested and hungry to help. That’s progress!

What changes have you noticed that show progress in celiac and gluten-free awareness? I always love hearing success stories!


March 10, 2011 at 10:26 am 1 comment

Eating Gluten-Free at an Event: Ask, Ask, Ask

I’m a sucker for food-centric events. When my mom organized the high school PTA’s annual fundraiser, an evening of restaurant tastings, I wished I would hurry up and turn 18 so I could attend. When I go to festivals downtown, I’m more interested in the food booths than the boutiques. So when my first Appetite for Awareness rolled around this past October, I was ecstatic. Feet-swelling busy, but ecstatic. Table after table of gourmet food and new snacks to try – I didn’t know where to start.

gluten-free bites

This delectable bite was literally at Appetite for Awareness 2010. Literally.

That’s the beauty of Appetite for Awareness: You can start from anywhere in the room. It’s all up for enjoyment, without the constant questioning of “What’s in this?” or “How did you make that?”

At mainstream events, it’s a different story. I learned that quickly when I attended Philadelphia magazine’s Philly Cooks last week.

Like Appetite for Awareness, Philly Cooks pits restaurants head-to-head in the fight for best dish, as determined by attendees’ votes. But unlike Appetite for Awareness, the dishes can contain whatever the chef pleases, so gluten is often on the menu.

I went there to scope out new restaurants and possible recruits for Appetite for Awareness. It was also a chance to see who really knows what about gluten-free. I don’t have celiac disease, but I went there with the community in mind, so I was prepared to speak up.

gluten-free Philadelphia rolls

These yummy Philadelphia rolls were gluten-free

At each table, I asked whether the particular dish was gluten-free, or whether they had gluten-free options at their restaurant.  While there weren’t too many gluten-free options there, I was pleased to find that many restaurants seemed knowledgeable about the need. The chef at Funky Lil’ Kitchen from Pottsdown, PA, instantly responded when I asked about his dish, which turned out to contain farro. “The grain isn’t gluten-free,” he said, hovering a hand over the table. I appreciated his confidence, something I know the community values when dining out.

I also chatted with a knowledgeable chef from Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, based in Glen Mills, PA. I was tipped off about their celiac-friendly offerings by Gluten-Free Philly. The chef said their upcoming spring menu would feature a number of gluten-free dishes, and special icons would make it easy to distinguish them. I can just imagine the fall fare he’d whip up for Appetite for Awareness (hello, pumpkin), so I’m hoping his schedule will be free.

While moseying down one of the aisles, I spotted an actual, full-fledged sign that declared “Gluten-Free” at one of the tables. I bounded over and discovered it was Margaret Kuo’s table, where she was dishing out Edamame and Baby Shrimp sautéed with Jasmine Rice.

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kup

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kuo

The gluten-Free dish was also dubbed “Heart Healthy,” as determined by Main Line Health. And who was standing right next to the table? NFCA friend Dr. Keith Laskin, gastroenterologist with The Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital in Paoli, PA. It was wonderful to see a member of the medical community there to represent gluten-free needs. He even had pamphlets from The Celiac Center so he could spread the word about celiac disease.

But the night’s winner, at least according to my new gluten-free friend, Kristin, was 333 Belrose Bar & Grill from Radnor, PA. The chef there not only explained how she often accommodates gluten-free eaters, but also informed me that her dish that night was gluten-free. It was Red Chili Spiked Tuna Tartare, served on a tortilla chip. Creamy. Crunchy. Yummy.

Of course, not everyone was able to answer my questions with such gusto. A few servers said they weren’t sure, but confirmed with the chef – a wise response. One or two tables gave the dreaded “Um, yeah. I think it is.” To be fair, it was a pretty hectic scene, so they may have been flustered or didn’t hear my question clearly. But in the end, I certainly didn’t feel confident in their response.

It all goes to show that, while many restaurants are coming around to gluten-free needs and really learning how to serve safe, there will always be someone to teach. That’s why GREAT Kitchens exists. Is it fun to ask question after question? No. But with enough people asking, chefs are finally turning an ear.

Have you ever been to a food-centric event? How do you find the courage to speak up about gluten-free needs in public?


March 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

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