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Gluten-free Austin: Transition Me Gluten Free

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

In yesterday’s features section, I told you about the Martinez family, who in the past year have transitioned to a gluten-free diet as three members of the family discovered they either have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It’s been a rocky year for them, filled with many tears, especially for the two youngest kids, 12-year-old Andrew and 9-year-old Mary Elizabeth.

Experts estimate that 1 in 133 Americans have celiac, and many more have some other form of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, which means thousands of Austinites are dealing with the same struggles as the Martinez family.

Three years ago, Kim Foxhoven set out to help them.

Before she started a health coaching business, her three kids were constantly sick with one ailment or another, and she finally took them to get tested after her daughter’s stomach pain got so bad that she couldn’t go to school.

Foxhoven’s pediatrician had insisted that her daughter was simply constipated, but the test confirmed that it was an intolerance of gluten that was causing such drastic problems.

She decided to start Transition Me Gluten Free to help newly diagnosed Austinites do everything from grocery shopping and identifying cross-reactive foods in their diets to finding a nutritionally focused health care practitioner.

“People freak out,” Foxhoven says, and being juggled between half a dozen doctors doesn’t help. ‘They’ll say, ‘I just got four tests back and everyone has different sensitivities. How am I going to deal with this?’”

Foxhoven says that even though there is still plenty of misinformation, doubt and negativity about what it means to be gluten-free, “people are becoming more understanding.” Just looking at the school her children attend: “Every year, it seems like there are more gluten-free kids.”

Foxhoven says that one of the biggest misconceptions is that people can just switch to buying processed foods that have “gluten-free” on the box and suddenly get healthy.

“I try to give them an idea of what is good, what gluten-free foods are worth spending your money on,” she says, but she tries to help people avoid falling into the trap of eating already prepared gluten-free foods or mixes, which can have the same pitfalls as other processed foods.

The quality of gluten-free staples, like breads and pizzas, has improved over the years, and food manufacturers are only going to continue to increase their share of what has become a $4.2 billion industry.

Deciphering labels is one thing and learning how to keep a gluten-free kitchen is another, but what about trying to eat food from kitchens other than your own? “The biggest challenge isn’t going gluten-free because there are lot of products out there,” she says. “But finding out where gluten hides is difficult for people, especially when they go out to eat.”

Even mainstream restaurants have started offering gluten-free menus, but customers still need to ask about how the staff has been trained to reduce the chances of cross-contamination, Foxhoven says.