A Lack of Transparency: Where Are All These Oats Coming From?

One of the top trends noted at Expo West this year was an exponential increase in oat-based products. Companies are adding whole grain oats to their products looking to create a more wholesome experience. These same products are being labeled ‘gluten free’ without an awareness or understanding of the oat controversy in the celiac community.

Oats have surpassed the breakfast category showing up in dessert mixes, ice cream, powdered drink mixes, and hot side dishes. These oat-based products could contain either mechanically sorted or purity protocol oats, but the type can’t be determined from the label.

Based on the current supply of purity protocol oats, it seems many of the new oat-based products are being made with mechanically sorted oats grown in fields with wheat containing grains without considering the valid safety concerns surrounding a ‘gluten free’ label.

Where does this leave the people with celiac disease who can tolerate only gluten-free oats? How does one find out where these oats are being sourced when the information isn’t being openly shared? Where is the accountability and testing results? Where is the transparency?

As an Expo West attendee for the past 15 years, registered dietitian Shelley Case has seen a huge growth in the number and variety of gluten-free products, especially in the oat category. “Oat-based beverages and creamers were definitely a hot trend this year” said Case. “I spent a lot of time asking each company about the source of their oats – whether from a purity protocol producer or one that did mechanically/optically sorted oats as well as what their testing protocols were.”

By now, people following a gluten-free diet are adept at label reading, but oats require another level of research due to the optical sorting machines begin used by large manufacturers. These machines are expected to remove wheat and barley seeds from oat seeds based on color, size and shape. But these sorted oats are processed and packaged on shared lines with wheat, one of the main reasons why the process is controversial and isn’t believed to be accurate by the celiac community. Furthermore, sorted oats are grown in fields with wheat-based grains, not in dedicated fields with oats only.

The new fruit and oat breakfast ovals from Enjoy Life Foods are a shining exception. They fully understand the oat controversy and proudly denote the use of purity protocol oats on their packaging. And if you head over to their website, they further disclose that they use organic, certified gluten-free rolled oats grown and manufactured using purity protocols for gluten-free foods.

The experience with Enjoy Life Foods isn’t the standard because many companies either don’t know where the oats come from or know that they test under 20 ppm of gluten and aren’t required to disclose the source of the oats. Processing oats in a dedicated mill is a great first step but knowing and sharing where were the oats were grown and sorted should be the next one. The source of these oats and the testing protocols should also available on the website.   

Because products containing oats can be labeled gluten free and certified by third party organization, gluten-free consumers need to be more diligent than ever to determine the source of the oats for a whole variety of new products.

A Slice of Gluten-Free Life: Top 3 Tips for Gluten-Free Living

In this episode of the monthly video series A Slice of Gluten-Free Life, chef, author, mom and video producer Jilly Lagasse shares her top tips for thriving on a gluten-free diet. 

 

Jilly was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004. To those who are navigating their journey with celiac disease, she advises finding a great dietitian or nutritionist and inspiring gluten-free cookbooks. She also says, “If you crave it, you can have it…I guarantee whatever you’re craving, you can still find.” 

Jilly’s cookbooks, which she mentions in the video, are The Lagasse Girls’ Big Flavor, Bold Taste–and No Gluten!  and The Gluten-Free Table: The Lagasse Girls Share Their Favorite Meals.

To send your questions to Jilly to potentially be answered in an upcoming video, email [email protected] 

A Slice of Gluten-Free Life: My Celiac Disease Journey

In this week’s episode of the monthly video series A Slice of Gluten-Free Life, chef, author, mom and video producer Jilly Lagasse shares her journey with celiac disease, how she was diagnosed and how she has learned to thrive with the autoimmune disease.

 

Jilly had a talent and passion for food that was evident from very early in her life and she enjoyed helping her father, Emeril Lagasse, in the pastry and dessert department in one of his restaurants and with his cooking events and one of his cookbooks. Jilly was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004, and in this video she shares how she finally discovered the cause of her symptoms. 

See the second video in A Slice of Gluten-Free Life here, and learn Jilly’s Top 3 Tips for Gluten-Free Living!

To send your questions to Jilly to potentially be answered in an upcoming video, email [email protected] 

Questions Gluten-Free Students Should Ask on College Tours

My college search process centered around two factors: academics and dining. When the tour guides asked for questions at the conclusion of their tours, I always chimed in with a question regarding accommodations for food allergies and gluten-free options. The well-meaning tour guides never failed to provide a response noting that “*insert school here* is great at accommodating dietary restrictions! As long as you contact the dining manager you won’t have a problem.”

At the time, this answer satisfied me and my parents, and we left every campus thinking that dining would not pose any major issues. After one semester of college, I can tell you that gluten-free dining is not that simple and even the best schools in the country have their downfalls.

Read Celiac in College: The Silent Struggles

Many people do not consider the fact that these college tour guides are full-time students as well. They have classes, extracurriculars and social lives distinct from their role as tour guides. They do not spend their spare time researching the intricacies of student life that do not impact them. If they give a one sentence answer enthusiastically proclaiming that their college does a great job at accommodating any needs, they likely lack concrete knowledge of the matter at hand. In order to gain a clearer perspective of how the college will accommodate your gluten-free diet, tailor your questions to target the guide’s personal experiences.

Read How to Talk to Your College Roommate About the Gluten-Free Diet

After reflecting upon my college search process, here are the questions that I wish I had asked on my college visits.

Do you or any of your close friends have experience with dining with food allergies? If so, what do the accommodations look like and how effective are they?

If the tour guide has any anecdotal advice regarding navigating the dining halls, this question should shed some light on actual details of the services provided. If not, there are still meaningful questions to ask that might provide insight to the accommodations offered by the university.

Is there clear allergen labeling or a separate serving area for students with allergies?

If the tour guide does not have personal experience, he or she may still be able to provide some information regarding details of gluten-free dining. While they may not use the services themselves, they have probably observed whether there is an allergy-friendly area of the dining hall or labels indicating the common allergens present in foods.

Clear labeling is important because it allows for on-the-go students to quickly identify safe options when they do not have time to speak with a dining manager or look online. My school labels food as vegetarian and vegan but they do not consistently label allergens, which has caused problems for me in the past.

How receptive is the administration to student feedback regarding living and dining?

The answer to this question will allow for prospective students to gauge the administration’s flexibility regarding students’ needs. While my school does not yet label dishes that contain gluten or other allergens, they do listen to student feedback.

As a member of the Student Faculty Committee on Dining, I have the privilege of working with the head dining faculty to reform the dining experience and make it safer for students with food allergies. The administration is great about listening to student feedback and they are actively working on improving the dining experience for those with dietary restrictions. So, even if the school does not currently have accommodations in place, this question should indicate the likelihood that the school is willing to accommodate your needs.

I focused my college search on small to medium-size private schools, so my experience with college tours may differ from someone looking at large state schools or small liberal arts colleges. Regardless, these questions should give prospective students a better perspective on how their life may look on a particular college campus.


Originally from Salado, Texas, Kayla Manning is a first-year student at Harvard. Following her diagnosis with celiac disease in 2013, she maintained a strict gluten-free diet with relative ease through her junior high and high school years. However, college life posed unfamiliar challenges and she struggled to adjust to her new dining situation. She hopes that sharing her experiences can help others with their transition to gluten-free dining in college.

Teen With Celiac Disease Lobbies, Advocates for Change in Schools

Josephine Taylor HeadshotMy name is Josephine Taylor and I am a 15-year-old  living with celiac disease.

I started my journey almost four years ago after being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease and celiac disease. This came with an avalanche of symptoms including swelling, an inability to focus, being tired all the time, headaches and more. I finally decided to see a specialist to get ahold of my symptoms. After finding nodules, I found I had a small chance of thyroid cancer, so my doctors decided on a full thyroidectomy in May 2018. While my surgery was life changing and I feel better each day, this only cured me of my Hashimoto’s and thyroid cancer but not of celiac disease.

For teens diagnosed with celiac disease, daily life changes dramatically. It took a while to come to terms with my disease and that this is a lifetime change not temporary. I found some relatives and friends did not understand my limitations with food.

Through my journey with celiac, I have realized that there is no availability for hot meals at school due to cross contamination in cafeterias. Prepackaged foods are the only option in most schools and those are usually not meals or healthy choices. Most schools only have cookies or chips that are available to gluten-free students. Schools can not afford prepackaged food or a dedicated kitchen space for celiac students. To go your entire school career and never have a hot lunch can be hard. To not eat a lunch like all of your friends also adds stress to any gluten-free child’s day. I realized there had to be more students like me and it was time to help them.

After my thyroidectomy, I decided to do something different and entered a local pageant with the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, receiving the title Miss Pinal County’s Outstanding Teen. I wanted a change and to do something different. My platform with Miss Arizona has empowered me to talk about celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases with principals, superintendents and legislators across Arizona.

I have advocated to school districts throughout the state of Arizona for accommodations like having a dedicated microwave in a nurse’s office for an easy and cost effective way for a student with celiac disease to have a hot meal. While I do have a 504 plan, it does not cover “hot” meals.

It is important for students like me to feel comfortable in school and get the same availability as other students.

Everyone has been very receptive to the idea of change but without legislation guaranteeing accommodations, but there is still a long way to go.

I recently went to the Arizona state capital and spoke to representatives and senators to lobby for microwaves in every school in the state. I got some amazing feedback and am working with a few now to get a rider attached to a bill to guarantee a gluten-free microwave in every school. This solution to accommodate celiac students is not only cost effective but also quick and easy. Schools may be able to apply for grants, fundraise or take out of there budgets. I have recently been in touch with Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office here in Arizona and am hoping to take this fight to the national level.

Parents and teens need to speak with their school nurses and principals to advocate for more change for students with celiac disease. When more parents speak up, the schools will want to help more. I am not alone in my school with celiac, there are several more students who have this disease. The benefit for one becomes the benefit for all of us.

I don’t want just a microwave in my school, I want one in every school across America. I am very hopeful that we can make this a national solution to a national problem.

There are 3 million people in the U.S. who have celiac disease and hundreds of thousands of them are kids in school. I want future kids to not have to go through the struggles that I am going through and that’s why I am fighting so hard for change.


Josephine Taylor is a 15-year-old student living with celiac disease in Tucson, Arizona. She is Miss Pinal County’s Outstanding Teen 2019 with the platform When Organs Attack: Understanding Autoimmune Diseases. Josephine is competing for the state title of Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen in June. When not lobbying for change for students with celiac disease, Josephine is a varsity cheerleader, International Baccalaureate student and fundraiser for CMN hospitals. She has four siblings, a dog named Jovie, and her favorite food is still macaroni and cheese.

Celiac in College: The Silent Struggles

As soon as your lecture wraps up, you power walk straight to the dining hall. Lunch today lacked appetizing gluten-free options, so you are starving. Your club meeting tonight will have pizza for dinner, but you have to eat now because the group always forgets to order gluten-free crust and you don’t want to bother them about your special order again. As you wait at the salad bar, you see someone drop a crouton into the lettuce bin. No salad for you. You settle for a bowl of plain rice with some grilled chicken, praying that no one contaminated the dish prior to your arrival. Looking around, you realize that you lost your friends in the madness of finding a safe meal, so now you must eat your bland food alone. Better luck tomorrow.

Want to learn more about attending college while following a gluten-free diet? Read “Gluten-Free College Students Living Off Campus” and “How to Talk to Your College Roommate About the Gluten-Free Diet.”

While typical college dining halls are often difficult to safely navigate for students with celiac, less obvious but equally important issues exist beneath the surface. Research indicates that students with celiac face greater struggles in academic and social settings, regardless of their adherence to the gluten-free diet. The condition’s far-reaching impact on the lives of college students creates unique academic and mental-health challenges for the affected students, but recognizing these risks can help them prepare for when they strike.

The hidden challenges

Brain fog

Following gluten exposure, students with celiac often experience “brain fog,” a state of cognitive impairment that hampers both the ability to perform everyday tasks as well as academic work. Because the reaction lasts for weeks, this symptom may interfere with students’ ability to produce high-quality work by the required deadline.

Lower GPAs

A study found that independent of gluten-free compliance, female college students with celiac had an average GPA of 3.30 while female students without celiac had an average of 3.45. So while gluten exposure may worsen the academic difficulties experienced by students with celiac, it appears that something about the nature of the disease itself must be causing this significant difference between the GPAs, since it exists regardless of dietary adherence.

Anxiety and depression

Students with celiac exhibit greater susceptibility to anxiety and depression compared to their peers without the condition, independent of dietary adherence. However, researchers did find a direct correlation between performance anxiety and the duration of a gluten-free diet — patients who had followed the gluten-free diet for a longer period of time exhibited greater levels of performance anxiety. College students already have to deal with the rigorous academic demands of their coursework, and performance anxiety only adds to the difficulty.

A step in the right direction

While colleges can easily address dining-related issues through tweaking their protocols, solutions for the academic and mental-health difficulties are much less straightforward. However, acknowledging the existence of these challenges prepares both students and universities to take action when these issues present themselves. For example, the campus accessibility office should clearly articulate academic accommodations to account for cognitive difficulties following gluten exposure. Also, universities and students can identify problematic behaviors and direct students to the appropriate mental-health and academic resources in the case of anxiety, depression or unusual academic struggle.

I attend college for the academics, so it is frustrating when my disease interferes with my learning. Personally, I do not feel that celiac has hurt my overall academic performance, but brain fog following gluten exposure undoubtedly interferes with my ability to sit through a lecture and complete schoolwork. As much as I would like to say that I have a clear-cut solution for the academic and mental-health problems arising from celiac, I am no researcher and I can only write from my personal experiences. However, I do know that raising awareness of these issues is a step in the right direction to improve the lives of students with celiac.

Originally from Salado, Texas, Kayla Manning is a first-year student at Harvard. Following her diagnosis with celiac disease in 2013, she maintained a strict gluten-free diet with relative ease through her junior high and high school years. However, college life posed unfamiliar challenges and she struggled to adjust to her new dining situation. She hopes that sharing her experiences can help others with their transition to gluten-free dining in college.

10 Gluten-Free Personal Care Products to Add to Your Routine

If you are a fan of gluten-free toothpaste, deodorant and lip balm, or if you would like to make the switch to more natural personal care products, you’re not alone. Many people find that personal care products with harsh ingredients irritate their skin and some people with celiac disease find the gluten causes an adverse reaction.

At the present time, a significant study has not been conducted on the effects of topical or airborne exposure to gluten. However, a sizable amount of people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have reported skin reactions when using products containing gluten. For more information on this, click here.

For those who are curious about gluten-free, natural personal care products, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 of our favorites. Check it out and you may find room in your medicine cabinet for a new must-have item.

1. Native DeodorantStick of NATIVE Deodorant

Native deodorant, body wash and bar soap are free from aluminum, parabens and sulfates. The products are formulated to keep consumers feeling and smelling fresh, with natural ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter and tapioca starch. The deodorant is cruelty free and comes in plenty of wonderful scents (we’re partial to Blackberry & Green Tea). Shop here.

2. Life Elements CBD & Honey Bath Bombs

CBD and honey bath bomb for menThe CBD & Honey bath bomb for men is free of harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrance, foaming agents or colorants. It has a soothing aroma of a pine and cedar forest, is an excellent muscle relaxer and contains 200mg of CBD. Shop here.

 

 

3. Dirty Girl Farm Skin Care ProductsDirty Girl Farm skincare products

Dirty Girl Farm is a line of all-natural skincare products and holistic apothecary. All products are free from chemicals, toxins and gluten and are not tested on animals. The items are vegan and organic, smell amazing and leave skin feeling soft and fresh. Our personal favorites are the Rose Quartz Body Wash and Moth Bean Retinol Lotion. Shop here.

4.  Puracy Natural Liquid Hand Soap

This hand soap has it all: natural, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, vegan, gluten-free, biodegradable and made in the USA. It’s formulated to moisturize, soften and balance all skin types, leaving hands feeling amazing. Since the ingredients are so good for you, you won’t have to worry about cross contamination, so put these all over your home. Shop here.

 

5. Cali White Toothpaste

This toothpaste uses natural ingredients to freshen breath and whiten teeth, including activated charcoal, organic coconut oil and baking soda. It’s vegan, fluoride free, peroxide free, gluten free and safe for kids. The Pacific Mint flavor is refreshing and naturally flavored with xylitol and peppermint oil. Shop here.

6. eos Lip Balm

The cutest lip balm packaging comes from eos, bringing a product that is enriched with jojoba oil, shea butter, Vitamin E and SPF 15. It’s fun to apply and keeps lips soft and smooth all day. Finding a trustworthy gluten-free lip balm is crucial since it’s one of those products you’re most likely to ingest accidentally. Shop here.

 

 

7. Everyone Lotion

Everyone lotion does it all, with a three-in-one product that can be applied to face, hands and body. It’s gentle, cruelty free, paraben free, gluten free and uses ingredients that are natural and organic. The non-greasy formula is available in a wide range of fragrances and this lotion is sure to mend cracked. broken skin without breaking the bank. Shop here.

8. Herbal Essences Shampoo and Conditioner

Herbal Essences offers a line of gluten-free hair care products that aren’t harsh on hair or the scalp. Ingredients like aloe and sea kelp leave hair moisturized, soft and shiny. The line is also color-safe, pH balanced with no parabens, glutens or colorants. Shop here.

 

 

9. Knocked Up Nails Nail Polish

If it’s safe for pregnant women, you can be pretty sure it’s a good-for-you product. This nail polish, available in a wide variety of shades, is vegan and gluten free, cruelty free and long lasting. The polishes are formulated to be safe for pregnant women, allergy sufferers, cancer patients and kids. The polish does not contain toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) or camphor. Shop here.

10. Rugged & Dapper Shaving Cream

This shaving cream works for all skin types, whether sensitive, acne prone or dry. It is professional quality, ultra-lubricating and full of natural ingredients like aloe vera, sage oil, olive oil and sea buckthorn oil. The vegan, gluten-free product smells great and will leave skin feeling soft, smooth and nick-free. Shop here.

64-Year-Old Uses Gluten-Free Meal Planning Service to Maintain Active Life

Being gluten free and 64 years old doesn’t stop Mary Creel one bit. She has logged 63 marathons (and counting) and four Ironman long-distance races, and credits a large part of her success to switching to a gluten-free diet 12 years ago.  

Creel, who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, is a registered dietitian and former editor of the magazine Cooking Light. Currently, she works as a dietitian for eMeals, a digital meal planning service that provides weekly inspiration, recipes and shopping lists.

When Creel was in college in the 1970s, she said she studied celiac disease, but most students brushed it aside.

“It was one of those diets where everybody puts it in the back of their notebooks and says, ‘We’ll never get a patient with that in the hospital,’” Creel said. “It’s like getting a leper in the hospital.”

But when Creel’s sister was diagnosed with celiac disease after years of symptoms, so “out of solidarity and sympathy” for her, Creel joined the gluten-free journey with her sister, and she never looked back.

When Creel stopped eating gluten, her gassiness, headache and fogginess all went away and she realized she had a gluten sensitivity. Once she cut out gluten, she began to evaluate all her health choices.

“It made me take a look at everything that was in my daily regimen,” she said. “I wasn’t just eliminating gluten, but I was making sure I got enough protein and things like that.”

 As for her interest in running, “you naturally perform better when you eat better,” Creel said, and with the newfound energy that a gluten-free diet gave her, she was able to pursue her passion for running marathons.

Of course, making the change to a gluten-free diet after decades of eating gluten did have its challenges. Creel said there were times when she wondered if the diet was necessary, but when she would try gluten all her symptoms would come back. Twelve years ago, there were fewer options for people avoiding gluten.  

“One of the things I noticed was that gluten-free products that were out there were like eating cardboard and there weren’t that many options,” Creel said. Over the years, she has “endlessly educated” friends, relatives, co-workers and wait staff about gluten and how it impacts her body.

She also struggled at social gatherings because “you felt like you were the special needs guest,” but she learned to let her host know about her dietary restrictions or bring food with her that she could enjoy during a party. In 2019, there is more awareness and knowledge about gluten and better gluten-free food options on the market.  

“Now pizza places are even offering gluten-free pizza, which was unheard of,” Creel said. 

Though the adjustment wasn’t always easy, Creel said she feels it wasn’t as difficult since she was older when she cut out gluten from her diet.  

“Sometimes it’s easier for an older person because they have the knowledge and the resources to learn and the desire to clean up their diet,” she said.

Creel is thankful for the opportunity to make gluten-free eating easier for people in her work at eMeals. eMeals offers gluten-free and paleo meal plans, and Creel selects recipes each week that have been tested in their kitchen.

The meal plans focus on using fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, legumes and very limited use of eMeals logogluten-free processed foods. Once a week, eMeals provides seven meals for the week and an accompanying shopping list that details everything needed for the week. Creel uses eMeals herself to maintain a gluten-free diet and keep from growing bored with what she eats.

“It’s a solution for a lot of people who are faced with having to cook for somebody in their family that has a gluten intolerance or they get tired of eating out,” she said. “We know as dietitians that people eat healthier and eat fewer calories and meals that are lower in sodium and fat when they cook at home.  

A subscription to an eMeals plan is $5 a month for a 12-month subscription and the first 14 days are free. For an example of the meals chosen, for a week in December, the gluten-free meal plan offered Glazed Bacon-Wrapped Chicken, Vegetable Skillet Lasagna, Salmon with Corn, Black-Eyed Peas and Tomatoes, Cincinnati White Chicken Chili, Sheet Pan Meatball-and Zucchini “Spaghetti,” Warm Roast Beef Sandwiches with Balsamic Onions, and London Broil with Creamy Lemon Sauce. Additionally, side dishes were included for almost every meal. Creel said she picks out options that are varied every week.  

eMeals offers many weekly plan options, including gluten free, vegan, diabetic, Mediterranean, vegetarian and low calorie. For more information, visit emeals.com.

7 Celebrities With Celiac or Gluten Intolerance

If you sometimes feel like you’re the only person living a gluten-free lifestyle, take heart. With an estimated 3 million Americans affected by celiac (an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten) and potentially another 18 million who have gluten sensitivity, there are others out there. With numbers like this, it’s no surprise that famous people are among the gluten-free ranks. From athletes to actors to chefs, learn about seven celebrities with celiac or gluten intolerance.

Drew Brees
Drew Brees (Photo: Mitch Gunn / Shutterstock.com)

1. Drew Brees
Former quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2011 and helped lead the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2009. Brees is allergic to gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs and nuts, and the star athlete eats primarily vegetables and various proteins. “Now when I cheat and eat things I’m not supposed to, I’ll toss and turn and kick in bed and my wife knows I’ve been eating something I shouldn’t. She has extra incentive to keep my diet in check,” Brees told The Wall Street Journal.

Then and Now: How Being Newly Diagnosed with Celiac Has Changed Since 1997

 

I can hardly believe it has been 20 years since my celiac disease diagnosis. If you had told me then that I would turn that life-altering diagnosis into a career as a writer, consultant and natural foods buyer, as well as an advocate for the gluten-free community, I would have laughed. But somehow it happened. I managed to go from a state of feeling alone, overwhelmed and hungry to one of belonging, achievement and satisfaction, including a job that gives me as much joy today as it did back then.

After the initial shock subsided of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease almost no one had ever heard of, I learned how to feed myself safely—a journey filled with mistakes, inedible food and plenty of tears.

Things were different back then

Perhaps the most notable difference is that the medical community as a whole did not have much knowledge about celiac disease 20 years ago. It took an average of seven to 11 years to receive a celiac diagnosis. A great deal of uncertainty led to ingredient misinformation. For example, at the time, vinegar-based products were considered unsafe, so I didn’t eat pickles, salad dressing or ketchup for five years. The myth that envelope glue and stamps contained gluten was alive and well, and even most dietitians weren’t particularly helpful.

In 1997, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was still seven years away from being enacted. This act guarantees that if food contains wheat in any form—including any ingredient like modified food starch or hydrolyzed vegetable protein—the word “wheat” will appear on the label. No certification system such as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization existed, and very few items were labeled gluten free. Safeguards to hold manufacturers accountable for the allergen status of products didn’t exist, either. For example, labels didn’t list the source of food starch, cereals didn’t identify barley as a byproduct of wheat, and there was no information about what was kept in the manufacturing facility or whether products were run on shared lines. One could only contact the manufacturer to obtain these answers. And no one was talking about the risk of cross-contamination.

Grocery stores offered, at best, a quarter of the gluten-free products on shelves today, and many of those products were subpar, to put it as diplomatically as possible. The selection of gluten-free products at health food stores was also limited because they didn’t carry a lot of products with sugar or additives. Online shopping wasn’t centralized, meaning gluten-free items had to be ordered directly from manufacturers, and typically that dictated paying exorbitant shipping costs for food that tasted only slightly better than cardboard.

Gluten-free bakeries were about as common as a purple unicorn, so baking had to be done at home. Gluten-free flour blends didn’t exist, but rice flour was prevalent. My boyfriend (now husband) had a terrible time trying to bake me a cake doing a one-to-one flour substitution. No one knew how to use xanthan gum, making us dependent on the few available gluten-free cookbooks to figure out how much to use. Add too much xanthan, and the cookies wouldn’t even spread when baking; too little, and they would disintegrate after just one bite.

 After recognizing that I really didn’t know how to cook, just how to boil and heat, I spent Saturdays going from health food store to health food store for ingredients, then home to cook and pack lunches for the week. I got very cozy with my George Foreman grill and learned how to make cheese sauce, chop vegetables and prepare meals.

What I ate

I had a very regimented diet that consisted of key products like macaroni and cheese mix with the starchiest rice pasta ever, flimsy and tasteless brown-rice crackers, Lundberg rice cakes, lots of Amy’s Kitchen’s enchiladas, and Food For Life rice bread toasted and topped with peanut butter. Pamela’s Products’ chocolate chip and shortbread cookies were a bright spot in my day and remain a trusted brand. Fresh fruit, vegetables, rice and meat rounded out my daily caloric intake. Boring, but safe.

It wasn’t until I found Kinnikinnick Foods, which only charged—and still charges—a flat $10 shipping rate, that I discovered gluten-free bread could taste good without toasting. The company also offered waffles, doughnuts and many other tasty treats made in a dedicated facility for people with celiac. 

What has changed

If you had told me in 1997 that following a gluten-free diet would become a trend, I would have laughed in your face. But that is just what happened when celebrities began recommending that people try the gluten-free diet to lose weight, sleep better and feel more energized. Why anyone would choose to pay two to three times as much for a loaf of bread is beyond me.

Now, too, people who don’t have celiac but benefit from a gluten-free diet are diagnosed with the relatively new condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Of course, as you probably know, in spite of all the progress that has been made, misinformation abounds. People still mix up the terms “gluten intolerant” and “gluten sensitive,” which describe two entirely different ailments. And while often referred to as an “allergen,” gluten in fact triggers an autoimmune reaction, not the histamine response characteristic of allergies.

As a result of this “trendy fad diet” nonsense, servers at restaurants ask diners if they are gluten free by choice or for medical reasons. And manufacturers slap a gluten-free label on pretty much everything that is made with gluten-free ingredients, like canned corn and ketchup. Times are better, and yet somehow there is still much confusion.

FALCPA is in full effect, with manufacturers practically overcommunicating the allergen status of products. We are even seeing a return to natural products made without additives, artificial colors and flavors, and unnecessary fillers. And with the priority placed on gut health, products are now often fortified with nutrients such as protein, fiber and probiotics.

it’s a lifestyle, not a diet

Pretty much any food product you can think of is probably available in a gluten-free version at any health food or grocery store in town—or ordered from online retailers like Amazon. In stark contrast to 1997, Atlanta alone boasts six gluten-free bakeries, four dedicated gluten-free restaurants and a slew of places to dine on gluten-free fare. Health food stores and even mainstream grocery stores label their gluten-free products with shelf tags, making it easier to quickly identify suitable items. That’s right—for those of you who remember what it was like back then, today there is no need to shop only the perimeter of the store because aisles contain gluten-free products made by both start-ups and established companies. And believe it or not, prices have stayed about the same, but are beginning to increase as manufacturers search for organic sources of raw ingredients.

Product certification is at an all-time high, with national support groups leading the charge. The Gluten Intolerance Group and Beyond Celiac both offer product and restaurant certification programs with steadily growing clientele.

I dine out more now than I did before my diagnosis, and I have traveled across the states and abroad enjoying the most gorgeous and readily available gluten-free cuisine. The natural products industry is exploding with innovation that can be seen in categories across the board. Twenty years ago, the idea of a portable device that can identify gluten in food sounded like something from science fiction—and today, the first of its kind is making headlines for its impact on gluten-free living.

Celiac awareness is at an all-time high and diagnosis times have decreased. While it’s not perfect, I will take an eye roll from a server about my gluten-free status any day over the blank stares of 20 years ago. However, the stigma attached to the gluten-free diet needs to fade away pronto.

News Editor Jennifer Harris is a gluten-free consultant and blogs at gfgotoguide.com.