A Simsbury mom has a gluten sensitivity. Here’s what he’s doing to help thousands learn to be gluten-free

Abby Helman Kelly has a master’s degree in counseling, but the Simsbury mother of four owns a business that helps people in another way — providing resources in the ever-growing world of gluten free life.

Kelly, gluten-free since 2012 after blood tests showed she had a gluten sensitivity, sees many similarities in the professions.

“I run my business very much as a non-profit. I want my events to help people,” said Kelly. “I like to connect the community. It’s very rewarding.”

In 2016 Kelly founded what is now called “Gluten-Free New England,” a fast-growing online resource guide for gluten- and allergen-free living, as well as events.

According to Gluten-Free New England website, gluten is a protein compound 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 problems, the website site.

A gluten-free diet is not optional for people with celiac disease, as gluten damages the small intestine and leaves patients at risk for significant nutritional deficiencies, the site says.

Some people without celiac have a sensitivity to gluten or an allergy to wheat and experience adverse reactions, and thus feel better on a gluten-free diet.

The number of people being diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is “on the rise,” Kelly said.

Second at the Cleveland Clinic, “research suggests that approximately 6% of the US population is gluten intolerant.” About 1% of the population of the United States has a diagnosis of celiac disease, according to at 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 am to 4:30 pm on April 1. Thousands are expected to attend and there will be vendors, exhibitors, information. , lots of food, and a speech by Dr. Anthony Porto, Medical Director of The Pediatric Celiac Program of Yale New Haven Hospital.

Porto said that the popularity of gluten-free diets is growing even though only 3 to 5% of the population “need” to be gluten-free.

Patrick Raycraft/praycraft@courant.com

Abby Helman Kelly of Simsbury

Porto said that 20% of people in the United States follow a gluten-free diet and 33% of millennials follow the diet. People follow the diet for both medical reasons and because of the perception that gluten is unhealthy, he said.

He said that it is important if one has symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems that they are tested for celiac before going on a gluten-free diet, because once they are on the diet, they have not tested precisely.

It’s also important, Porto said, that a doctor or nutritionist be on board if going gluten-free, to make sure nutritional needs are met. He said that gluten-free can be a healthy diet, especially if you eat natural gluten-free foods like meat and vegetables.

But he said that there can be nutritional deficiencies when eating processed foods without gluten, 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 going gluten-free for kids unless they’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease. In addition to the nutritional risks, the diet can also have a psychological impact, including depression, “because being on a diet decreases the quality of life,” said Porto.

Porto, who is partially gluten-free but does not have celiac disease or sensitivities, said the exhibit 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 has been to Kelly’s past shows and is looking forward to April 1. he has the inflammation that made him sick.

What do you like most about the exhibition?

“There’s so much food. A ton of food to eat,” Lightner said, adding that he always comes with a big bag of samples. “I think it’s so fun to try so much in such a small area.”

She said living gluten-free is much easier than in the past because gluten-free is a “hot topic.”

A 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 mixture of different flours to create a gluten-free pasta recipe after his wife was diagnosed with celiac disease. He came up with a recipe that gave his product just the right flavor and texture, he said.

At the exhibition he will sell and offer samples.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” he said of the exhibit. “It’s a great way to reach a new base of potential customers.”

Abby Helman Kelly of Simsbury, founder of Gluten-Free New England.  Contributed photo
Abby Helman Kelly of Simsbury, founder of Gluten-Free New England. Contributed photo

Kelly said eating gluten-free can be “spooky” because it affects everything, including parties and restaurants.

“We provide information for everyone,” and facilitate Facebook groups about gluten-free living, he said. There can be a lot to consider, even if the food is made in a gluten-free kitchen.

Kelly started the business as a hyperlocal directory of gluten-free offerings and it went so well, the business expanded to New England. Covid has slowed growth, but now they are preparing to expand outside of New England again.

The expo typically draws thousands, Kelly said, noting that he likes the freshness of small brands.

“Gluten-free doesn’t go away,” Kelly said.

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