After long-term suffering from symptoms including bloating, fatigue and psoriasis, Erin McKenna was diagnosed with a wheat allergy. She received a suggestion from a holistic doctor that completely transformed her health: Switch to a gluten-free diet.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats; it gives dough its elasticity and is found in many baked goods and processed foods. It can cause trouble for some people, ranging from minor indigestion for those with a mild gluten sensitivity to catastrophic illness for those with the most severe form of gluten intolerance, celiac disease, says Los Angeles-based dietitian, Ashley Koff, R.D. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, gas, indigestion, weight gain, weight loss and sometimes skin disorders; the severity of these symptoms worsens depending on a person’s intolerance level.
For McKenna, finally having a diagnosis was a relief, and her symptoms began decreasing immediately when she eliminated gluten. The longer she went without it, the better she felt, but she didn’t want to give up her beloved baked goods. Convinced there were others like her who didn’t want to deprive themselves, she dreamed of opening her own bakery. The shop would serve absolutely delicious gluten-free treats; an admittedly tall order, because most baked goods are loaded with gluten. In 2005, BabyCakes NYC came to fruition. “Until a few years ago, I think there was a quiet sense of desperation among those of us who can’t eat gluten,” she says. “Now there are lots of ways for us to help each other out.” If you can’t visit BabyCakes NYC (now also in downtown Los Angeles) in person, put on your apron and get baking. Here, McKenna shares three recipes from her first cookbook, BabyCakes: Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery (Clarkson Potter).
Celiac disease vs. gluten intolerance
If you suffer from some of the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, take them seriously, suggests dietitian Ashley Koff. They can lead to inflammation of the digestive tract, which damages the immune system. Celiac disease “If you have chronic digestive problems, go see a physician for a simple blood test,” recommends Koff. If your test shows high levels of the auto-antibodies that attack gluten proteins and damage the villi in your intestines (preventing proper absorption of nutrients and leading to conditions such as anemia), you may be diagnosed with the genetic autoimmune disease called celiac. Eliminating gluten from your diet will prevent further damage and allow the intestines to heal. To learn more, go to celiac.org.
Gluten intolerance If the test shows lower levels of antibodies, your symptoms are likely due to gluten intolerance, which is neither genetic nor autoimmune related; it simply means your body has trouble breaking down gluten proteins. Current research suggests it may be triggered or made worse by the stress hormone cortisol or low levels of gutfriendly probiotics. “We really have been overwheated,” says Koff, referring to the amount of gluten-loaded wheat products on the market and the increased amounts of gluten in some genetically modified wheat crops. “Though researchers don’t believe a diet high in wheat products actually causes gluten intolerance, these foods can make it worse,” she says.