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King George woman has become an international presence in the gluten-free world
Braden is known internationally for her blog on living gluten-free. She also hosts a monthly support group in her home.
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"Before gluten is out of your system, you're in constant pain," Braden said. "I didn't know how badly I felt for all those years."
Until 10 years ago, medical schools taught that gluten intolerance, which can lead to celiac disease, was rare and affected only children and young adults, according to the website celiac.com.
Today, the National Institute of Health estimates that celiac disease affects 3 million Americans. That's more than epilepsy, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.
There's no drug to treat gluten intolerance. Those who suffer from it have to remove gluten from their diets.
Braden was scared to learn she couldn't eat the grains and cereals she grew up with. She mourned that she would never bake again, and baking--and entertaining--was a big part of who she was.
But as the King George woman started thinking about gluten, she realized there were a lot of products that didn't contain grains. Meat and fish, vegetables and fruit, eggs, nuts and rice were all fair game.
Braden tells people to think "BROW" to remember products with gluten: barley, rye, oats and wheat.
As Braden searched for baking mixes or products labeled as gluten-free, she found that the packages contained a lot of preservatives she didn't want to eat. And they were expensive.
So she came up with her own substitutes so she and her husband and son could continue eating the type of meals they always had.
She made pizza crust from cream cheese, parmesan and seasoning. For other baking, she mixed rice flour with cornstarch and added xanthan gum, a corn-based sugar that provides the same binding element as gluten.
She came to realize that a gluten-free lifestyle wasn't the horrible nightmare others made it out to be.
"My big push is to show people how easy it can be," Braden said. "Once you figure it out, that you can do it another way, why would you want to eat processed food that has all this other stuff in it that's not good for you?"
The Food and Drug Administration doesn't have a definition of gluten-free, so any producer could put the label on items, Braden said.
Shirley Braden speaks locally and across the country about her efforts to stay gluten-free easily. She regularly teaches sessions at the Fredericksburg-area Women's Forum and has spoken at school health fairs.
Later this month, she'll emcee and do a cooking demonstration at the Gluten-Free, Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago. She'll do the same at the group's October gathering.
In November 2010, she was one of 10 bloggers invited to General Mills' test kitchens in Minneapolis. A year earlier, she went to California on an all-expenses paid trip as part of the Pomegranate Harvest Tour.
She also hosts the monthly King George Gluten Intolerance & Celiac Group in her home and does cooking demonstrations.
Shirley Braden posts at least twice a week on her blog, glutenfreeeasily.com. During the holidays, when people spend more time in the kitchen, she posts more often.
She averages about 25,000 page views a month. On a typical day last month, she had 900 page visits. Of those, 822 viewers were from the United States, 10 were from Great Britain and the rest were from 33 different countries. "Isn't that something?" Braden said.
Most people look at gluten-free recipes that Braden tweaked herself or borrowed from other bloggers. She includes dozens of colorful photos with each, gives step-by-step details about the process--and pitfalls to avoid--and lists specific brand names that work best. She also provides contacts for other bloggers.
Her most popular recipes are for pumpkin pie, oatmeal cookies, pizza and peanut butter cookies.