Be Your Own Guinea Pig To Test Your Gluten Tolerance

Christine Bollier and her husband, BJ, taught a session on gluten intolerance at the recent Women’s Wellness Forum.

Christine Bollier and her husband, BJ, taught a session on gluten intolerance at the recent Women’s Wellness Forum. Photo by Alexis Bechman. |

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With more and more people being diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance, it was one of the hot topics at this year’s Women’s Wellness Forum at Payson High School March 29.

It didn’t hurt that they were also handing out free samples.

Women tasted crispy eggplant Parmesan; soft, decadent brownies; and a new twist on garlic bread.

And it was all gluten free.

BJ and Christine Bollier’s mission was to present tasty, easy to prepare gluten free dishes that were not loaded up with expensive and processed gluten free products.

The Bolliers, owners of Vita-Mart, were among several presenters at the annual wellness event. During a breakout session in the school’s cooking classroom, the Bolliers shared what worked for them during a 30-day gluten free challenge they recently completed.

While neither has gluten intolerance, a growing number of their customers do and the Bolliers wanted to experience firsthand what it is like to live gluten free.

What they discovered was that their line of gluten free products was lacking. Although it is possible to cook delicious meals sans gluten, many products have gluten hidden in them, including soy sauce and salad dressing and there isn’t a really good gluten free bread out there.

They also realized how overwhelming it feels to cut such a huge staple out of your diet.

“There is nothing worse than coming from your health care provider and being diagnosed with this, walking into a store like mine or Safeway and going, ‘Look how expensive all this stuff is. How am I going to do this?’” BJ said.

When the Bolliers taught a vegan class at last year’s Women’s Wellness they avoided using food like products that are like hot dogs, for example, but made out of soy.

This year, they continued that with gluten free. Instead of using gluten free products, which are processed and more expensive, they looked for recipes and foods that naturally don’t have gluten in them.

“So often when people get diagnosed with this and they say I can’t eat this and I can’t eat that anymore. But there are so many things that don’t naturally contain gluten that you can enjoy,” BJ said.

The only gluten free product the Bolliers used in their demonstration was gluten free bread, which they crushed up as breading for eggplant Parmesan. Christine, a self-proclaimed bread-aholic, said she was underwhelmed at the gluten free bread options, which lacked the right taste and texture for sandwiches. Not wanting to waste the bread though, she looked for alternative ways to use it in recipes.

For the Bolliers the number of customers they see with gluten issues has grown exponentially since they opened Vita-Mart in 2007.

And the trend is worldwide — it’s estimated that 1 in 133 people in the U.S. have celiac disease, an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance. The number of those with non-celiac, but gluten sensitivity, may be six times higher, Christine said.

And most staggering, only 5 percent of people with celiac disease have been diagnosed.

“So most people that have it don’t know that they have it,” Christine said.

There are three tests for celiac, but a lot of times people don’t test positive for the disease. That doesn’t mean that aren’t sensitive to gluten.

The Bolliers suggest anyone who thinks they might be gluten intolerant to give it up for a month. Cut out breads, baked goods and pastas — the major gluten products — and see how they feel.

“I implore you to guinea pig yourself,” he said. “A lot of times you didn’t know how bad you were feeling until you feel better. They call that rearview mirror data. You get so accustomed to feeling one way, an ache or pain, not sleeping real well, bloating after meals, and you just take that as normal and it is not.”

While it may seem like going gluten free is trendy right now, for many people it is a matter of staying well.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac include abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, tingling/numbness in the hands and feet, chronic fatigue, joint pain and low bone density.

Several of the Bolliers’ customers have gone off gluten even though they tested negative for celiac.

One was having digestive issues and another neuropathy. After just a month off gluten, both felt better.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley that lends it elasticity — the glue — to hold it together.

Some people are unable to digest it.

But why such an increase in the number of people that can’t digest it?

Christine believes it is partly because wheat has been altered by scientists to grow easier and more hardily.

But it is not just wheat. Genetically modified foods (GMO) are more prevalent than ever as well as processed foods.

“Our food has changed so much from the ’50s to today,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t understand why you are avoiding GMO foods. I have been eating this way for 60 years.’ No, you haven’t. GMOs only came out in 1996. We have only been eating this way for 18 years and we still don’t know what the long term effects of genetically modified foods are on our system.”

“In this day and age we value our food dollar per calorie. And in the dollar per calorie argument the fast food company wins every time because you cannot get more calories than you can in a dollar hamburger,” BJ said. “If we switch our focus to the nutrient value per dollar that is where we make the quantum switch.”

Flourless chocolate almond brownies – gluten and dairy free

1/2 cup ground almond butter

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4) cup agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4cup chopped almonds or nut of your choice

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir almond butter, applesauce, agave nectar and vanilla until blended. Add cocoa powder and baking soda and mix. Spread batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 20 minutes. Brownies will be set, but fudgy looking.

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