Nearly Normal

Nearly Normal

It took years for Jules Shepard to discover that she was, in her own words, “nearly normal.”

For most of the 1990s, Ms. Shepard struggled with a host of gastrointestinal symptoms. Treatments had little effect until she was accurately diagnosed with celiac disease in 1999. That was a life-changing moment that closed the door on a decade of health problems, and opened another door on a daunting challenge: She would have to completely change her diet in order to stay healthy.

Over the next seven years, Ms. Shepard successfully overcame that challenge, and in the process produced a valuable tool for other celiac disease patents and their families.

Walk it off

As I’ve noted in previous e-Alerts, celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten (a component of grain) obstructs absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Untreated, chronic CD can lead to malnutrition, cognitive decline, poor blood sugar management, headaches, fatigue, and severe gastrointestinal problems.

There’s no way to prevent celiac disease because it’s an inherited condition. But the health problems associated with CD can be prevented by avoiding gluten – which is easier said than done. The high gluten grains can easily be remembered with the acronym “BROW,” or barley, rye, oat, and wheat (although recent studies have shown that wheat-free rolled oats may not cause problems.) But avoiding these grains is just the start, because gluten is often hidden in binders, fillers, and flavorings in processed foods, and is also common in soups, soy sauce, and low-fat or non-fat products.

So – how does someone with celiac disease begin a zero-gluten diet? One place to start is with Ms. Shepard’s cookbook titled “Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten-Free Eating.”

A few days ago I happened to catch an interview with Jules Shepard on a local television broadcast here in Baltimore. Ms. Shepard noted that gluten-free meals tend to be fairly unappealing. So over the past few years she’s developed more than 145 of her own recipes for nutritious, tasty meals that can be prepared without resorting to specialty ingredients. Her cookbook also offers a recipe for all-purpose gluten-free flour, which she developed herself. In addition, the book contains a reference guide to safe grains and alcohols, and general advice about how to cope with CD.

You can find more information about celiac disease and Ms. Shepard’s cookbook on her web site:

During her TV interview Ms. Shepard mentioned an upcoming Walk for Celiac Disease, sponsored by the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. This “walk” is actually several walks being conducted over the next few weeks in cities all around the U.S. You can find out more information about a walk near you at

A little something extra

A number of studies have shown that a plant-based enzyme called Aspergillus oryzae may be effective in helping protect the intestine from the effects of gluten.

Long time HSI members may recall a Members Alert we sent you in June 1999 with an in-depth look at how enzymes impact our health. Here’s an excerpt.

“Modern food processing has largely obliterated the natural enzyme content of our foods. Enzymes cannot survive at temperatures over 118 F, which means that, except for fresh fruits and vegetables, almost all of the food we eat is completely enzyme-free.

“Plant-based enzymes remain stable and active through a wide range of acidic and alkaline environments. The enzymes can be taken with no encapsulation whatsoever, dissolved in juice or water, for example. Unaffected by the high acidity of the stomach, these enzymes can begin digesting proteins, fats, and carbohydrates while still there, continuing their work in the small intestine.

“Taking enzyme supplements with meals can greatly increase digestive efficiency, breaking down potentially irritating food compounds and eliminating bloating, gas, and heartburn.”

Talk to your doctor about enzyme supplements before adding them to your daily regimen.

HSI members can read this article in its entirety in the Members Alert archives on our web site:

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