Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Gluten Free Cooking Spree comes to Atlanta!

Once I felt comfortable with my new diet and gluten free life, I wanted to do something to help others who were going through what I did, upon getting that dreaded Celiac diagnosis. I researched several national groups, that are all doing great things for the Celiac community, but I chose to align myself with The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. They are a non-profit organization, founded and run by Alice Bast, whose heartbreaking Celiac story really touched me. Alice decided no one should ever go through what she endured, and vowed to make a difference. And oh what a difference she's made! You see, Alice is a 'think outside the box' kind of person. She came up with the brilliant idea of having an 'Iron Chef' type competition - only with gluten free food. She even thought to get doctors involved in the cooking!

Here's the basic concept - you team a local chef, a medical doctor and media representative up on cooking teams, and give them only gluten free ingredients, which they use to create fabulous gourmet dishes. Then you let a panel of judges (a medical doctor, media representative and a child with Celiac) choose the winning dish. The doctor of the team that wins, gets funding for a Celiac awareness campaign, for the hospital they are affiliated with. It's the perfect storm of Celiac awareness - we need doctors to stop resisting testing for, and diagnosing Celiac (they hate to prescribe restrictive diets). We need Chefs to learn how to cook gluten free food not only safely, but creatively as well. Last but not least, we need the media to publicize this effort so word gets out to everyone possible.

Last night, the Atlanta Gluten Free Cooking Spree was held at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. The venue was perfect since the CNN meeting space allowed people to wander by the event, and wonder 'what in the world is a Gluten Free Cooking Spree?'! You can find a write up of all the dishes made at later this week. I'll just say that though everything I tasted was fabulous, I was shocked that the Maine Lobster Chili didn't win the contest. It's one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth - gluten free or not! Chef Robert Gerstenecker from Park 75, at The Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, created that entry, and I could have eaten it until I made myself sick - seriously. Chef Robert you were robbed!

Event attendees not only got to taste all the dishes the competing teams made, but also many other gluten free foods, from vendors all over the country. Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse goods were well represented - including a pecan pie that I hate to admit rivals my own homemade version. There was a vendor I'd never heard of from CA - Azna Gluten Free - who had everyone raving over her cinnamon muffins and various scones. Bountiful Harvest Bakery ( from Chattanooga, brought scrumptious cakes made with almond flour, which were also sugar free. My absolute favorite pasta joint, Saba (, served up two yummy pasta dishes - one was dairy free as well. Chow Baby ( handed out tiny Chinese take out boxes with a spicy noodle dish - complete with chopsticks! The Brazilian Cheesebread Company ( was there with their addictive cheese rolls in several flavors. And last but not least, there was a local restaurant I've never patronized called Ritters (, serving a vegetarian pasta dish and chocolate cake. The latter was the best chocolate cake I've ever tasted in my life. It's not just the best gluten free chocolate cake - no - it's the best chocolate cake ever - period.

Outside of a support group meeting, the event last night was the first major social event or party I've attended, since my Celiac diagnosis in early 2006, where I could eat all the food offered. No playing 20 questions with the server - just walking up and asking for a sample of whatever looked tempting and eating it. You know - like most people do every day, everywhere they go. It was a little slice of gluten free heaven, to say the least. So for me, Christmas came early this year indeed. I literally felt the same excitement, in seeing all the delicious food that I could actually eat, that I felt when I was a young child creeping into the living room on Christmas morning, to see what Santa had brought the night before. Oh and meeting Dr. Sanjay Gupta and chatting with Heidi Collins (both of CNN) was just icing on the (gluten free) cake. The entire evening was a magical and exuberant experience - one that I will never ever forget!

Thanks to both Alice Bast, and CNN's Heidi Collins (the NFCA's National Spokesperson) for being a part of this fantastic night. Also, special thanks go out to two NFCA staffers - Vanessa Maltin, whose enthusiasm for for helping others is contagious, and Stephanie Kleinman, whose dedication and hard work behind the scenes helped make this magical night come to fruition. Ladies - you all did a terrific job and you deserve a gigantic pat on the back. Atlanta's gluten free community is most appreciative of your efforts, and we thank you for including our fair city in your fabulous event!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The connection between Celiac and mental disorders

Most people who know anything about Celiac, know it usually affects the digestive system in some way. People are typically misdiagnosed with IBS for instance. In my case, my only outward symptom was anemia. But once diagnosed, I was able to connect the dots, realizing my intermittent painful bloating and stomach aches were all due to me eating gluten. As I delved into more Celiac research I discovered some interesting peer reviewed, and published medical studies, that noted connections between some mental disorders and undiagnosed Celiac. A few of them are : anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, dementia and even schizophrenia. I'm no doctor and can't begin to list everything listed in the studies and please understand - all people with these conditions do NOT have Celiac, of course. But some do, and in many cases, one can't rely on a US doctor to figure this out. In many cases, patients who adhere to the gluten free diet get rid of all their symptoms and also get off rx meds they might be taking for the issue. Worst case they can reduce their doses, and therefore any side effects of the drugs.

Recently there was a listserv posting regarding an article about Celiac and schizophrenia. Some studies indicate that almost 25% of patients with that disorder benefit from being on a gluten free diet because they in fact, have Celiac disease. Think about that if you're supposed to be gluten free and are tempted to cheat on your diet. There is no way you can know how gluten will choose to attack your body. The way it reacts this year, won't necessarily be the same next year, or the one after that.

Most of you are probably aware that many kids who have Autism, do very well on the gluten free/casein free diet - some returning to 'normal' behavior patterns eventually. But you might not know this - a few US doctors believe that a percentage of the kids thought to have Autism, have been misdiagnosed and actually have Celiac disease. No one is suggesting it's a huge percentage, but how is this happening in America? This is ridiculous, unbelievable and so very sad for all those parents out there struggling to pay for expensive therapies when some of them have kids who just need to go off gluten to lead healthy, happy lives. What is going on? It seems to be very hard to get tested for Celiac in many places here. People are having to demand to be tested and doctors are so reluctant to look for Celiac, it's crazy!

In many parts of Europe, testing for Celiac is routine - when you test for it, you find it in one percent of the population - it's that simple. When a doctor isn't looking for something, they surely won't find it. And that's what is happening here in the US. Docs are told they'll never have a patient with Celiac so they never do - to their knowledge anyway. This has GOT to change and people with Celiac are the ones who need to be speaking up and talking about Celiac and gluten until everyone in the US knows what those words mean.

October is Celiac Awareness Month so if you have Celiac, or are gluten free for other health reasons, please do your part by telling people about it at least once this month. Or else, please don't complain that it's hard to eat out here or find great food. Gluten free fairies aren't going to bring delectable gluten free goodies to your local grocery store by chance. You have to ask for what you want in life - even if it's just fabulous gluten free food! I have rarely asked a food store to carry something for me, that they weren't able to get eventually. Ask and you shall receive - it really does work - even for gluten free food!

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