When it comes to mealtime, Plymouth resident Samantha Peterson isn’t your typical 11-year-old. She’s an active participant in meal plans, helping her mom try to new recipes, researching local blogs and often recommending a new fruit or vegetable to try. Both Samantha and her mom April eat gluten- and dairy-free, a surprisingly common approach to diet when it comes to diagnosing and combatting intolerances, celiac disease and other food allergies.
Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley and most oats. Lactose is a sugar that’s found in whey, the protein in cow’s milk. These two proteins are similar in size and shape, so people who can’t tolerate one often find they can’t tolerate the other.
In the case of Samantha, the intolerance is severe. When she was 2 years old, she stopped growing, was paler than even a typical Minnesotan in winter and came down with severe cases of the stomach flu every other month. “The last time she [got sick she] was hospitalized,” April Peterson says. “After that, doctors did testing, and we learned she had celiac disease,” an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. Peterson immediately removed all gluten from Samantha’s diet, and within weeks she started to get color back in her cheeks.
Six months later, Peterson herself was tested for celiac disease, which is hereditary, and the results came back positive. “For most of my life I had issues with acne, indigestion and migraine headaches,” Peterson says. “Doctors would tell me I was just stressed.” She says after she went gluten-free, her symptoms dissipated.
Plymouth nutritionist and naturopath Dawn Swanson became interested in the gluten-free approach in 2006 after she visited a naturopath and discovered her own gluten and dairy sensitivities. “Originally I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome,” she says. “And I had a racing heart because of the medications I was on.”
The issue was even more personal for Swanson; she’s Peterson’s mom and Samantha’s grandmother. After seeing her entire family wade through the process, Swanson knew she had to help others who had been suffering just like them—which is when the former mortgage company executive went back to school to become a naturopath.
“I honestly don’t know if I’d still be alive if I continued down the path I was on,” Swanson says. Now a traditional naturopath with a naturopathy degree, she owns New Dawn Health, a holistic health and natural medicine clinic in Plymouth. “I spent so many years and different medications trying to figure out what was wrong with me. [Once I discovered what was wrong and changed my diet accordingly], in a month’s time, I got better.”
Kim Collins has celiac disease and has been gluten and dairy free for the past 13 years. She wanted to be proactive with 2-year-old daughter, Emma, creating healthy habits as early as possible.
Swanson did biofeedback testing on Collins. “This technology establishes two way communication between your body and the computer,” Swanson says. “It measures stress patterns of the organs and systems in the body.” Collins, who says living gluten free now is much easier than it was 13 years ago, feeds Emma lots of whole foods like unprocessed fruits and veggies. “The advantage for me starting this early is that she’ll never know the difference between eating gluten or gluten free,” Collins says. “This is just what her palate knows.”
Collins uses almond flour, rice flour and coconut flour, and scours the aisles at grocery stores to find gluten-free brands. But both she and Swanson are cautious when it comes to a simple gluten-free label.
“Lots of gluten-free products are packed with sugar,” Collins says. Swanson agrees. “Don’t replace all gluten foods with gluten-free foods,” she says. “Instead, I encourage clients to eat whole foods in their whole format—fruits, veggies, chicken and fish.”
The good news, Swanson says, is that there are so many more gluten-free and dairy-free options today than there were even five years ago. For the Collins and Peterson households, this means fewer headaches when it comes to making (and eating!) dinner—literally—and more time spent enjoying meals around the table.
Helpful Tips from Gluten-free Plymouthites
> Find Me Gluten Free, a free iPhone and Android app, helps you find gluten-free restaurants and products.
> Udi’s, a leader in gluten-free bread and baked goods, is a favorite in the Collins and Peterson households and can be found at Target, Rainbow, Lunds, and Fresh and Natural Foods.
> Namaste Foods is one of Emma Collins’s favorites, offering a variety of gluten-free mixes including brownie, pizza crust and muffin mix. Namaste Foods can be found at Fresh and Natural Foods.
> Against All Grain, a blog written by author and photographer Danielle Walker, is a source for recipes, tips and even online cooking classes for all things grain and gluten free.
New Dawn Health, 11440 42nd Ave. N.; 612.209.1527; newdawnhealth.com