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Wednesday, August 8, 2007
"What would you do if you couldn't eat wheat?"
About 10 months ago, my cousin Mark's mother-in-law, Kathleen Davis, was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. My cousin put us in touch with one another via email in November 2006 and we have been email friends ever since. Since her diagnosis, Kathleen has been very active in her local support group, the Chesapeake Tidewater Celiacs. She impresses me with the research she does and the information she has gathered in such a short time. Even a life-long Celiac like myself can learn something every day, and this information often comes to me from Kathleen. Kathleen is featured in today's Virginian Pilot Newspaper. I am happy to be able to share this article with the world and give kudos to Kathleen for all of her hard work and outreach in the Celiac community.

The Virginian-Pilot
Aug 8, 2007
Flavor 43
Story by: Jennifer Jiggetts

... OR BARLEY OR OTHER GRAINS? Those with an intolerance for gluten are finding innovative ways to eat well. Virginia Beach’s Kathleen Davis shares her discoveries.

KATHLEEN DAVIS STOOD in the pantry of her Virginia Beach home and pointed to the things she cannot eat.

Cheerios. The cereal contains wheat.

Campbell’s Tomato Soup. “Oh look, the third ingredient is wheat,” she said. Another no for her.

Davis has celiac disease. Anything she eats has to be gluten-free, meaning no wheat, rye or barley. Other grain products can affect celiacs, so to be on the safe side, Davis avoids oats, too.

When she eats foods that contain gluten, she gets sick; the gluten triggers a reaction in her small intestines. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, intestinal gas, distention and bloating, chronic diarrhea, constipation, anemia, and weight loss or gain. Nutrients can’t be absorbed.

The disease affects about 3 million people in the United States, said Elaine Monarch, executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation.

In Hampton Roads, more than 13,500 people have been diagnosed with it, said Trish Cyrs, a physician assistant with Gastroenterology Associates of Tidewater.

Many more local people have it but haven’t been diagnosed, Cyrs said.

The good news for people like Davis is that it’s controllable. Monarch said the disease can be managed through a proper diet and the elimination of wheat, rye and barley and sometimes oats, which can be questionable for some people. “It’s the chronic condition that must always be monitored,” she said.

A gluten-free, vegetarian diet has helped Davis control her disease.

She’s learned tricks for substituting other products for wheat.

For example: When making sauces, people normally use a flour-based roux. Instead of wheat flour, Davis said she uses either tapioca, potato starch or cornstarch.

Breading tofu or fish? Not a problem, Davis said. Quick grits or cornmeal get the job done.

Does she miss indulging in traditional desserts like chocolate cake? Not since she discovered a recipe for flourless chocolate torte that’s rich and creamy. (See today’s recipe.)

She is also careful to keep her food, utensils and cooking pots free of any traces of gluten. If her husband wants to make a meal with gluten in it, Davis said, he has certain pots that he uses.

Both are careful not to “double-dip” after each other, because doing so can contaminate her food.

Davis said she has had classic symptoms all her life, including constipation, iron deficiency, acid reflux and unexplained weight loss and gain.

“I was bloated,” Davis recalled, picking up a picture of her and her daughter to illustrate her point. Her body in the picture had a bit more weight on it than her petite frame does now.

But even with the symptoms, Davis’ doctors found it hard to diagnose the disease because they treated each symptom separately, or not at all.

“For decades, I told the doctor what was wrong and he told me it was all in my head,” Davis said.

That’s one of the problems for celiac disease sufferers, Monarch said.

Very few doctors specialize in the disease, and there’s no drug to treat it, she said. On average, it takes about 11 years to fully diagnose an adult, she said.

Dr. Pramod Malik of Gastroenterology Associates of Tidewater treats patients with celiac disease. He said symptoms can be subtle and varied, depending on the patient. “A lot of people misdiagnose celiac disease as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome),” he said. “It takes a long time for deficiencies to develop.”

Davis finally was diagnosed with celiac disease last October. She had never heard of it but soon educated herself.

Last year, she co-founded a support group, Chesapeake Tidewater Celiacs, the Celiac Disease Foundation’s local chapter. Cyrs is president.

The group meets once a month and has about 20 members. They trade gluten-free recipes, provide comfort and support, and share medical problems and updates.

The support has helped Davis.

She said she won’t let the disease slow her down or stop her from eating foods she enjoys, with creative substitutions. And she stays on alert for problem foods.

“When in doubt, cast it out,” Davis said. “That’s my motto.”

She said she feels hopeful.

“I call it the panacean disease because I’m not nuts,” she said. “I’ve had all these problems from minor to huge, and they’re all cured. It’s all under my control.”

Jasmine Facun

Kathleen Davis suffered many years before learning she has celiac disease – an intolerance for the glutens in wheat and other grains. Changing her diet changed her health for the better, she says. To help others, she help found a support group, the Chesapeake Tidewater Celiacs, which meets monthly. For information, contact Trish Cyrs at pcyrs@, or visit

Jasmine Facun

Katheen Davis of Virginia Beach, who has celiac disease, doesn’t miss indulging in traditional desserts such as chocolate cake – not since she discovered a recipe for flourless chocolate torte that’s rich and creamy.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Far reaching, always something new and interesting at your blog. You're the best! And well informed! Thanks.

Blogger ~M said...

Where is this chocolate cake recipe?

Blogger Mike Eberhart said...

That was a very nice article. Thanks for posting it Erin.

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