Sweet potatoes and the gluten-free life

When I was a child, I hated sweet potatoes. My grandmother, an Irish immigrant who lived with us, loved them. So she was zealous in her efforts to get her five grandchildren to eat them. We were steadfast in our efforts to resist them – into adulthood in my case.

Then I was diagnosed with celiac disease and things gluten free took on a new cast, including sweet potatoes. Now I eat them from time to time and have become more and more aware of how nutritious they really are.

With this background in mind, I was interested to receive a PR email entitled “5 things to know about sweet potatoes.” I get many more messages each day than I could possibly read. So I suppose I stopped for this one because it reminded me of my grandmother.

The five things didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about sweet potatoes. But it’s good to be reminded that they exist since sweet potatoes really are a nutritional powerhouse and, in addition, are easy to cook or to sneak into a variety of dishes. And, of course, they are gluten free.

My poor grandmother would probably have done well to eat even more sweet potatoes than she did. Plagued with gastrointestinal upsets much of her life, she spent a lot of time going to doctors, and subsequently complaining about how she felt. Naturally I suspect that she had celiac disease. But had I been savvy enough to suggest that when she was alive, I am sure the suggestion would have been met with disdain in my family. Frankly, that disdain would have existed even after one of my sisters nearly died in infancy. She was saved at the eleventh hour by a diagnosis of celiac disease, which no one had ever heard of.

One thing that may not get mentioned enough in the new gluten-free world is the number of marginal lives that are improved by a CD diagnosis. My grandmother escaped from poverty in Ireland, immigrated to the US, worked as a maid in various homes of the rich and famous, married, raised a family and then helped raise her grandchildren.

But somewhere along the way, she sort of retreated from life. The spunk and energy that drove her out of Ireland to a better life, left her at some point in middle age. She was constantly tired, constantly not feeling well, and always reluctant to do much of anything. In fact, she spent her senior years lying on the couch watching an endless schedule of game shows and soap operas, which were her favorites.

We loved her and thought that’s what grandmothers did. But in hindsight I wonder what she could have done had she felt better. And I wonder if she really did have celiac disease. But even today, the suggestion on my part is always met with disdain.

Our next issue, currently on press, contains an article called “All in the Family: Tension Free Ways to Encourage CD Testing.” It is designed to help you surmount the disdain you may get if you suggest that someone in your family be tested for celiac disease. This is a dicey issue in most families and that’s unfortunate. But I don’t think we should give up trying. And this article might provide some tips you haven’t thought about.

Finally, don’t forget to eat your sweet potatoes. My grandmother was right in this case. Sweet potatoes are great for everyone. And they are made in heaven for the gluten-free diet.

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  • This is a very good article with an important point. My mother died of pancreatic cancer but prior to this she was bedridden with exhaustion and a collection of various medical diagnosis’s. When my daughter and I were diagnosed I urged both of my brothers to get tested as well but they both have shrugged off this suggestion. Talking to family about Celiac disease can be very challenging.