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Gluten-free living

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BAXTER — A year ago Genesis Sparks made a decision that has changed her life.

Sparks, a 32-year-old Baxter mother of two, felt terrible after her son, Cavan, was born in April 2010. She had constant stomachaches, fatigue and headaches and started researching her symptoms online. She had gained 100 pounds during her pregnancy, just as she had when she had her daughter, Vayda, now 5. It was a strange thing, since she didn’t eat any differently during her pregnancy. It took her two years to lose the weight she gained during her pregnancy with Vayda.

She read about how some people are sensitive to gluten, the protein in grains that create dough, and she thought that might be what was happening to her. So Sparks decided to try a traditional gluten-free diet in November 2010, eating products like breads and pastas that are labeled gluten-free and was starting to feel better. She was given a blood test and a biopsy of the intestine to test for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction in the small intestines to gluten proteins, but the tests came back negative.

Sparks went off her gluten-free diet in December 2010 and felt even worse and lethargic.

“I immediately felt like I was going to die,” she said. “I could barely get off the couch.”

Another biopsy for celiac disease came back negative. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis and ended up with psoriasis and eczema after she had her son. She began breaking out with blisters on her hands and losing her fingernails because of the blisters underneath her nails. She even started having memory problems.

One of her doctors told her that she without a doubt had symptoms of celiac disease but the tests were negative. Sparks said she has read online that the tests aren’t always accurate and that there is gluten in some products that are labeled gluten-free. So in January 2011, Sparks decided it was time to take back her life.

She quit eating corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye and rice. She decided to eat more of a Paleo-type diet, which includes mostly meats, fruits and vegetables. Her daughter also was showing signs of a gluten intolerance so she also went gluten-free.

“It was really hard,” Sparks said of last January’s gluten-free New Year’s Resolution. “I almost went through a carb withdrawal. But I immediately started feeling better and better.”

That first month she lost 20 pounds just by cutting out gluten. By the end of December 2011, she had lost 75 pounds. She hasn’t done any exercising, other than playing with and chasing her children. Her New Year’s Resolution this year is to start to working out.

“My goal wasn’t to lose weight but the pounds were falling off,” said Sparks. “It’s not as hard as you think. I just wanted to feel good. I was 30 and felt like I was 80.”

Sparks said her daughter had sinus problems for a year. When she was taken off gluten, those sinus problems disappeared, as well as some behavioral issues Sparks believes is related to a gluten sensitivity.

“Grains are really inflammatory,” said Sparks.

The Sparks family, including her husband Tim, eat and use a lot of coconut oil, which is supposed to help raise your metabolism. Their children get a teaspoon of it daily. She also started cooking with coconut flour and made a delicious chicken and dumpling soup using coconut flour recently, she said. She also makes her own homemade gluten-free dressings.

“It was really good,” said Sparks. “We’re just always kind of researching and trying new things.”

Vayda said she doesn’t mind eating gluten-free. It makes her feel better.

“I get sores in my mouth,” Vayda said when she eats gluten.

Sparks always went dairy-free and the family likes to drink smoothies made with coconut milk, fresh berries and bananas. The family buys grassfed beef.

Sparks said she has accidentally consumed gluten and now, especially since she’s gluten-free, it really affects her health.

“You can pretty much bet you’re not going to feel good for a week,” said Sparks.

Sparks suggests to those who aren’t feeling well and suspect they may have a gluten intolerance try going gluten-free for a month and see how you feel. Then go back on gluten.

“If you feel sick right away, that’s your answer,” said Sparks. “Trust your body.”

Sparks said she isn’t an expert on the topic but she has done a lot of research. If anyone would like to email her with questions, she’d be happy to help if she can. Her email is