Abby Helman Kelly holds a master’s degree in counseling, but the Simsbury mother of four owns a business helping people in another way — by providing resources in the ever-growing world of gluten-free living.
Kelly, gluten-free since 2012 after blood tests showed she had a sensitivity to gluten, sees many similarities in the professions.
“I run my business a lot like a non-profit. I want my events to help people,” said Kelly. “I love connecting the community. It’s very gratifying.”
In 2016 Kelly founded what is now called, “Gluten-Free New England,” a fast-growing online resource guide for gluten-free and allergen-free living, as well as events.
According to Gluten-Free New England’s website, gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Those with Celiac disease, a disorder in which the immune system attacks normal tissue, eating gluten can cause abdominal cramping, vomiting, failure to thrive, osteoporosis, diarrhea and other issues, the site states.
A gluten-free diet is not optional for people with celiac disease, as the gluten damages the small intestine and leaves sufferers at risk for significant nutritional deficiencies, the site states.
Some people without celiac have a gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy and experience adverse reactions, and so they, too, feel better with a gluten-free diet.
The number of people being diagnosed with celiac and sensitivity to gluten is “skyrocketing,” Kelly said.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “research suggests that about 6% of the U.S. population is gluten intolerant.” About 1% of the U.S. population holds a diagnosis for celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Kelly’s company is holding a gluten-free expo at the Danbury Sports Dome, 25 Shelter Rock Lane, Danbury, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on April 1. Thousands are expected to attend and there will be vendors, exhibitors, information, lots of food, and a talk by Dr. Anthony Porto, Medical Director of Yale New Haven Hospital’s Pediatric Celiac Program.
Porto said the popularity of gluten-free diets is on the rise even though only 3 to 5% of the population “need” to be gluten-free.
Porto said 20% of the people in the United States are following a gluten-free diet and 33% of millennials follow the diet. People follow the diet for both medical issues and because of the perception that gluten is unhealthy, he said.
He said it’s important if one has symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues that they are tested for celiac before going on a gluten-free diet, because once they are on the diet, they won’t test accurately.
It’s also important, Porto said, that a doctor or nutritionist be on board if one is going gluten-free, to assure that nutritional needs are being met. He said gluten-free can be a healthful diet, especially if one is eating naturally gluten-free foods such as meat and vegetables.
But he said there can be nutritional deficiencies when eating gluten-free processed foods because those foods can be higher in fat, lower in protein and may not contain essential nutrients such as zinc, iron and fiber.
Porto said he wouldn’t recommend children go gluten-free unless they have been diagnosed with celiac. In addition to the nutritional risks, the diet can have psychological impact as well, including depression, “because being on a diet lowers quality of life,” Porto said.
Porto, who is partially gluten-free himself, but does not have celiac or sensitivity, said the expo is a “great idea,” because it informs families of what resources are available.
Nicola Lightner of Simsbury, who has been gluten-free for two years after being diagnosed with a sensitivity, said she’s been to past expos by Kelly and is looking forward to April 1. Since going gluten-free her upset stomach has gone away and so has the inflammation that made her sore.
What does she like most about the expos?
“There’s just so much food. A ton of food to eat,” Lightner said, adding that she always comes away with a big bag of samples. “I think it’s just so much fun to try so much in a little area.”
She said gluten-free living is much easier than in the past because gluten-free is a “hot topic.”
One vendor at the expo will be John DePuma, owner of DePuma’s Gluten Free Pasta, now located in Milford and formerly of North Haven.
DePuma distributes 16 pasta products in Connecticut and out of state, in addition to online sales.
It all started when he was a chef who experimented with a mix of different flours to create a gluten-free pasta recipe after his wife was diagnosed with celiac. He came up with a recipe that gave his product just the right taste and texture, he said.
At the expo he’ll sell and offer samples.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” he said of the expo. “It’s a great way to reach a new prospective customer base.”
Kelly said eating gluten-free can be “overwhelming” because it affects everything, including parties and restaurants.
“We provide information for everybody,” and facilitate Facebook groups on gluten-free living, she said. There can be a lot to consider, including whether foods are made in a gluten-free kitchen.
Kelly began the business as a hyper-local directory of gluten free offerings and it went so well, the business expanded to New England. Covid slowed the growth, but now they’re preparing to expand again outside New England.
The expo typically attracts thousands, Kelly said, noting she likes the freshness of small brands.
“Gluten free is not going away,” Kelly said.
News Source: https://www.courant.com/2023/03/11/a-simsbury-mom-has-a-sensitivity-to-gluten-heres-what-she-doing-to-help-thousands-learn-to-be-gluten-free