Gluten-Free Goodies | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Gluten-Free Goodies

Campbell’s Bakery makes gluten-free treats that appeal to folks with several types of dietary restrictions, such as celiac disease.

Campbell’s Bakery makes gluten-free treats that appeal to folks with several types of dietary restrictions, such as celiac disease. Photo by Trip Burns.

It was a lazy Friday after school when my son and I wandered into Campbell's Bakery for gluten-free Friday, planning to pig out big time. The display case closest to the door was stocked with a selection of gluten-free goodies, from cupcakes to some giant chocolate-chip cookies.

My 4-year-old carefully selected two gluten-free treats, a lemon cupcake and a chocolate chip cookie, and two with-gluten treats, a frosted sugar cookie and a petit four (merely for scientific comparison, of course). Neither of us is sensitive to gluten, and some of the gluten-free baked goods I have tried at friends' homes have honestly tasted a little off to me. But everything we sunk our teeth into at Campbell's was divine. I could not have picked a favorite, and I could not have said which items had gluten and which didn't. They were also comparable in price—fortunate, since sometimes gluten-free items can be expensive.

So what is this gluten-free diet that everyone is talking about? It isn't the latest fad diet or a weight-loss secret. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Some doctors recommend that patients with celiac disease (an immune-system disorder in which the body has an intestinal reaction to gluten) avoid oats as well.

Celiac disease is a serious ailment that can have a wide range of symptoms, from weight loss to weight gain, rashes, bone density change, joint pain and a host of other things so random that the diagnosis can easily slip under a doctor's radar. Once suspected, a blood test and an endoscopy in can confirm the diagnosis.

Some folks who do not have celiac disease can still be sensitive to foods that contain gluten and might have digestive symptoms or other problems when they eat foods with gluten (similar to being lactose intolerant). Some people who are not diagnosed with celiac disease until adulthood have problems with eating other foods, such as dairy products, as a result of long-term digestive tract damage from gluten consumption that inhibits digestion of other proteins like lactose. Those who eat gluten-free also need to monitor their diet to be certain that they get enough fiber, vitamins and minerals after removing some whole grains from their diet.

One of the most difficult things about diseases like celiac disease and conditions like food allergies is constant vigilance. It can be difficult to eat out at restaurants, school, church, friends' homes, or even birthday parties or weddings. Potlucks are a minefield. A lot of extra planning is often needed for things like travel.

When my son had a dairy allergy (which he fortunately grew out of at age 3), I felt like I could barely leave the house without packing a cooler so that he would have safe, healthy food to eat wherever we went. We couldn't just grab something at the last minute, because dairy is in so much of the food we eat—even fast-food French fries, for example, have whey protein. Well-intentioned friends, relatives and food service staff may lack the knowledge to read food labels well enough to serve foods that are safe for consumption, so it is often up to the people with celiac or food allergies to do the research for themselves and their families.

But fortunately, as awareness about celiac disease and food allergies increases, more and more local stores and restaurants are responding to the need. Campbell's Bakery is expanding from gluten-free Fridays to offer gluten-free choices on a more regular basis. BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar is another local establishment to offer a surprisingly extensive list of gluten-free options, in addition to its vegan night. With places like these, kids (and adults) can take a break from being the person who has to ask a litany of questions and just enjoy a delicious chocolate-chip cookie like the rest of us.

Kelly Bryan Smith is not a medical doctor—please consult your physician before making lifestyle or dietary changes.

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