In one of our 2009 issues of “The Gift”, we featured my friend, Krysten Hager, who gave us the ‘inside scoop’ about what it’s like to follow the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free diet (gf/cf). Krysten and I work together at WOW-womenonwriting.com and I tapped into her experience and knowledge because we started introducing gf/cf meals into our own diet plan to help Jaimie. She was very helpful with recipes ideas, meal prep and where to buy these products so I thought I’d share some of her insight with our readers.
Krysten agreed to sit with me for a chat about her diet and we hope it helps parents, teachers and others learn a bit more about the gf/cf way of eating, especially if any of you are wondering about it or even where to start.
CHYNNA: Thank you for chatting with me, Krysten. I know our readers will appreciate your knowledge. You’ve been on the GF/CF diet for many years. Did you want to explain the health issues you had/have that led to your needing to change your diet?
KRYSTEN: I had what my doctor thought were stress induced stomach issues because I was interning at a TV station where everyone there had some kind of stomach issue. It was a while before the dots got connected and we realized it was more than just stress causing me to be sick.
CHYNNA: I’ve heard of many people who’ve gone on this diet for the same reasons. It’s good that you figured it out quickly. Did you change your diet all at once or bits at a time?
KRYSTEN: I started off going completely gluten-free because I knew I wouldn’t heal at all until I stopped eating gluten. I only went casein-free a little over a year ago.
CHYNNA: Good idea! As you know, food is all around us, especially fast-food. How difficult is it to find foods you can eat? Are such foods readily available in grocery/specialty stores or are there online stores to shop through?
KRYSTEN: I used to eat at fast food places that provided brochures of what was GF, but got sick after eating at one. I wasn’t sure why, but I went back and ordered the exact same thing and watched them make it. It was then that I saw the woman who touched the lettuce, touched another person’s burger with a bun on it. So that pretty much ended eating at fast food places for me. Just because what you order is supposed to be gf, doesn’t mean there isn’t cross contamination.
Where I live now (on an island in Europe), it is difficult to find gf foods and I have to have family members send things to me. However, in the States, I was almost always able to find gf items. Even most of the grocery store chains now have at least some gf options often in the health food aisles and the frozen food sections. Safeway, Kroger, Spartan stores carry them as well as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and other health food stores.
I had never stepped foot in a health food store until I had to buy gf food & I was shocked at how much fun they could be! I thought they’d have nothing but wheatgrass juice in the non-gf aisle and I’d be eating tofu and crackers that tasted like cardboard, but there were brownie mixes, cakes, pizza, and the best gluten-free dairy-free dark chocolate (Tropical Source brand) that I had ever eaten. It spoiled me for all chocolate. Who knew health food stores had treats?
CHYNNA: That’s awesome to know! I mean, there are fantastic cookbooks out there but it’s great to know we can go out and get treats following the diet that don’t skip the taste. And thanks for the insight about the fast-food places. That’s very valuable advice on how important it is to ask questions—just like with allergies. Now, how has it been cooking GF/CF? Eating out?
KRYSTEN: I don’t mind cooking now because I’d rather know what ingredients are going into the food than to be nervous about how it’s being prepared, etc. I no longer eat out since I had issues even when ordering off a gluten-free menu. One restaurant swore up and down they gave me a gf meal, but I had eaten there they night before (I was on vacation) and knew the chicken had no coating on it. The waiter took it back. After I said how I wanted to tell his manager how on top of things he was—I always go out of my way to be gracious and praise the wait staff so they’re more likely to help the next person who comes in who needs to eat gf. Anyway, my meal came back and this time no coating on the chicken and the waiter and manager both admitted it looked completely different. You have to be so careful.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck has a book out now that stresses the importance of making sure you don’t cross contaminate your kitchen and kitchen utensils. Her book was very helpful to me. And she explains the importance of a gf toaster, etc.
CHYNNA: Wow, Krysten. That’s pretty scary. You almost have to look at it like a life-threatening allergy, don’t you? For some on the diet we’d only feel the difference from not having such foods in our diet; for you, it makes you sick. Restaurants and groceries should be more aware and knowledgeable for sure. Krysten, we have a lot of parents reading the newsletter who are considering changing their child’s eating in order to help ease their sensory symptoms. Do you have any suggestions how to get started on the diet? How to help stick to it?
KRYSTEN: My advice would be to completely cut out wheat and gluten since just “dipping your toes in the pool” isn’t going to help much. The biggest challenge with going gf is the texture in breads and cakes, etc. Thankfully, gf food has come a long way since I started eating this way. I once ate a hot dog bun with a texture of Styrofoam! But now the mixes you can buy are so good! I make brownies, cakes, and cookies that people don’t even realize aren’t gf. My aunt said the gf brownies I made were the best she ever ate.
It might take some testing to see which kinds of breads and pastas your child likes. When I first started, a friend of mine said the white rice pasta was tasteless and she recommended the corn pasta. However, I found brown rice pasta to be delicious (and more nutritious) than even regular gluten-y pasta. I recently found a corn pasta that I love, too. Your child might not be a fan of one type of pasta, but I’d continue to try a few different brands to see what he or she responds to.
There are also mainstream food companies who have some gf food. Hormel will provide a list of gf foods and if you call you can find out what contains casein. Their pepperoni, one of their pot roasts, and one of their stews are marked gf. They have other gf items, too. Rice Chex is now gf, too.
For me, it’s easy to stick to the diet because I know how awful I’ll feel if I go off it, but also the damage it’ll do long-term. I don’t think it makes any sense to try to slowly add gf food in while still leaving wheat in the child’s diet, because you won’t see if the diet is working unless the child has been gf for a while.
CHYNNA: I had no idea there was so much variety out there now. Thank you for all of that. I’m definitely going to check some of those things out. Do you have any advice on how parents can make others understand the importance of helping the child stay on the diet?
KRYSTEN: That’s probably the hardest since I still have relatives who point out, “You used to eat that.” I found when I first started the diet, a relative of mine would respond to my diet as, “Did a doctor tell you that or did you just read that somewhere?” When I explained that a doctor actually advised me, she still wasn’t convinced. Finally, I fudged a little and told her he had given me a very specific list (which most doctors don’t do, since you’re expected to figure it out on your own) and that I had to follow it. I also know many people who also fudge and refer to it as an “allergy” instead of intolerance, etc. I’ve heard from so many people that they feel they have to do this since people hear words like, “intolerance” and think, oh, she’ll just get a little tummy ache or the child will just get what is similar to a sugar rush. I hate having to use a word like “allergy” to get my point across, but trying to explain these things is time consuming and some people are very set in their ways or don’t care enough to listen.
I’d simply say to a grandparent or other person trying to give the child a treat, “He/she can’t have that or she/he’ll get very sick and it could also have long-term consequences.” People don’t always understand and it is hard when last time they saw you, your child was munching on a donut. And they have no problem reminding you of that! It also helps to have a snack in your purse so when the child can’t have the yummy looking treat the other person is offering, you have a backup treat right there to replace it with.
CHYNNA: Thank you for that advice. I agree with you 100% on how set people can be. Our children depend on us to watch out for their healthy choices until they can do it on their own. I’m proud that Jaimie has no problem saying, “I can’t eat that.” no matter who is offering the treat/food. Do you have any favorite recipes or foods to share?
I love Tinkyada pasta and Pamela’s gf brownie mix. I also eat Amy’s frozen bean enchiladas (the non-dairy ones). I make a lot with pastas and use rice pastas as well as corn ones and one that is a mix of potato, rice and soy. Because You’re Special makes a great line of mixes from breads, to muffins, pancakes, and more. and Kinnikinnick has a great line of frozen breads, muffins, hot dog and hamburger buns, etc. I also like Enjoy Life products, particularly their Very Berry Bars which make a great snack to stick in your purse. Enjoy Life products are free of a lot of allergens. Ian’s makes good gf frozen chicken nuggets, turkey corn dogs, and fish sticks, just check the box because they make non-gf ones, too.
CHYNNA: Thank you for all of those food options. I’m going to make note of those because Jaimie likes nuggets, pasta and bread and I’ve been experimenting with different recipes/products. Do you have any final thoughts, advice or pearls of wisdom?
KRYSTEN: It might take some time to find foods your kids will like, but it will be worth it. For a long time I never thought I’d taste a normal textured and tasting cookie, but then I got a mix from Gluten-Free pantry and made the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever tasted. GF/CF foods have come a long way since I started out eating sponge-y hot dog buns and what they were trying to pass off as a brownie/chocolate cake!
One tip I’d give is that if you buy frozen gf bread, only defrost what you’re going to use that day. I usually break the loaf up while frozen and then put up to four slices in the microwave for a minute or two. That keeps the bread sponge-y and tasty. If you defrost the whole loaf, in a day it’ll get hard and stale. You can bring it back with a little water and heating, but it’ll be much better if you do a few slices at a time. Also, when making a birthday cake, I don’t frost the whole thing unless I know it’ll all be eaten that night. Cakes lose moisture fast, so cut pieces, frost them separately, and then tightly wrap the cake to put in the fridge.
The best advice is to call or look online at the company’s website (usually under FAQ’S or the contact us sections) to determine if something is safe. Sometimes reading labels is not enough. I had a jar of what seemed like perfectly safe peanut butter with just peanuts and oil as ingredients, but I e-mailed to make sure it was safe and got a response that said it was not gf.
I know snack times at school can be difficult for kids when everyone else gets to have the pre-made snack, but most schools are becoming very aware and often let a parent of a gf/cf kid leave snacks there in case a treat is brought in. If a kid (like an adult) feels they’re being deprived, then the change will be harder, but with all the yummy GF/CF options out there, there really is no need to feel deprived.
Krysten is also an amazing writer. You can check out some of her latest work in the new anthology "Patchwork Path: Friendship Star" as well as her contributions to “Pop Syndicate”.? Also be sure to check out her wonderful blog. Thank you so much, Krysten, for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with our readers here on "The Gift."