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VeganMoFo: Jennifer Esposito and Celiac Disease/Gluten-Free Living

The “V” Word continues its celebration of VeganMoFo, the vegan month of food, with a bit of a twist. All month the theme has been “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” Today I’m writing about a celebrity who is not a chef, per se, but she does do a lot of cooking and posts recipes on her blog. All of her recipes are gluten-free and healthy and many of them are vegan. I’m speaking about the actress, Jennifer Esposito. She has a very inspiring story and a very important message she is trying to get out there.

Jennifer Esposito has been one of my favorite actresses for a long time. She’s been in multiple television shows and movies including Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Spin City, Summer of Sam and Crash. I became a big fan when she starred in the TV show Related (which I still miss including the theme song) and then Samantha Who? So I was thrilled when I saw Jennifer was part of the cast of Blue Bloods, playing Detective Jackie Curatola.

Then I found her web site, Jennifer’s Way, and began reading her blog. Jennifer Esposito suffers from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder and follows a strict gluten-free diet. Although I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, I choose to follow a (mostly) gluten-free diet in an effort to help my own autoimmune disorders. I wrote an article about my gluten-free diet here.
Jennifer went through hell until she was finally diagnosed. It took years of debilitating symptoms, tons of tests, many misdiagnoses, multiple unhelpful and unnecessary medications and over 5 years before someone finally tested her for celiac disease. Oh, and don’t forget the inevitable psychiatric diagnosis because when doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, they almost always think it’s just “in your head.”

When Jennifer received her diagnosis, she had a lot to learn. She hadn’t even heard of celiac disease and now she had to learn all about it and fast. She had to relearn how to eat. The problem was that there was a huge lack of information out there including among medical professionals. Jennifer made it her mission to increase awareness of celiac disease so other people might have an easier time than she did.

She began The Jennifer’s Way Foundation for Celiac Education (JWF). The non-profit foundation is dedicated to the advancement of awareness, research and education of celiac disease as well as advocacy programs. JWF supports “key opinion leaders and institutions working with regulatory agencies on the need to update laws pertaining to packaging, labeling, and marketing of gluten-free ingredients in consumer packaged goods and pharmaceuticals.” Jennifer does interviews and makes appearances at events and on TV shows to promote awareness. JWF has been honored by gluten-free companies such as Schar for its efforts to raise awareness and education for celiac disease.

Besides celiac disease, Jennifer also battles with Leaky Gut Syndrome, a gastrointestinal disorder where the intestinal lining becomes more permeable due to irritation. Less digested nutrients and toxins can pass through the lining and enter the bloodstream where the body sees them as “foreign invaders” and attacks them in an allergic-type reaction. This led Jennifer to discover the benefits of a food-rotation diet which she now follows.

Jennifer avoids many foods including gluten, dairy, soy, corn, refined sugar, eggs, almonds, chocolate, and avocados. Rather than feel deprived, Jennifer is creating many allergen-free recipes. Here is a sampling of some of Jennifer’s delicious vegan and gluten-free treats:

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

Hearty Vegetable Soup

Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Tomatoes

Blueberry Walnut Scones

Buckwheat Teff Pancakes

Sweet Potato Scones

Looks amazing, doesn’t it? And if you do gluten-free baking, you know 2 things to be true: first, gluten-free flour mixes are often not the healthiest. They tend to contain refined, white flours that are not nutritious or good for us. Second, gluten-free baking is a science experiment. You can’t just swap out one flour for another. There are formulas and then there are starches to add and guar gum and xanthan gum!

Well, Jennifer has the answer to these problems too. She offers her own mixes. Jennifer’s Way Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix lets you just make any recipe using her flour as a cup for cup substitute for any wheat flour. It’s made with nutritious flours and isn’t filled with starches and sugars. Jennifer’s Way Old Fashioned Pancake Mix lets you make pancakes, waffles, and crepes easily.

Both mixes are filled with healthy ingredients and let you easily create your favorite foods. They can be ordered online at the links provided or if you’re in certain areas, more and more specialty stores are carrying them. Some places are even using them to serve their brunches. I bought both mixes and used the All-Purpose Flour Mix to make my Banana-Walnut Muffins. They were the yummiest, moistest muffins I ever made!!

Sadly, CBS is now punishing Jennifer for being sick. On Saturday CBS released a statement saying that Jennifer “informed us that she is only available to work on a very limited part-time schedule. As a result, she’s unable to perform the demands of her role and we regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence.”
Jennifer responded via Twitter, “CBS put me on unpaid leave and has blocked me from working anywhere else after my doctor said you needed a reduced schedule due to Celiac. CBS didn’t listen to my doc and I collapsed on set. Which everyone saw! After a week off my doc said I could return to work but CBS implied that I was not truly ill and this was a scheme to get a raise! It’s been almost two months without bringing me back to work + keeping Me from working anywhere else!… Absolutely shameful behavior.”
This is shameful. Celiac disease is not just about changing your diet. It’s an autoimmune disease that is serious and can be life-threatening. Autoimmune disorders can be extremely debilitating; believe me, I know. A problem occurs when people who have what are known as invisible disabilities, meaning you can’t tell just from looking at a person that they are sick, are not treated as seriously as are people with more obvious diseases. CBS could certainly use some education about disabilities and sensitivity towards people who are ill. Hopefully, they will see the error of their ways, ask Jennifer to return to the show and accommodate her as they should under the American Disability Act (ADA). 

Whether you have celiac disease, are gluten-intolerant, know someone who is, or just want to make delicious, healthy food, Jennifer’s web site is one you should visit. Read her inspirational story, learn about nutrition, get some great recipes and if you have celiac disease, share your story. Order Jennifer’s Way mixes and bake some healthy treats for you or someone you love.

Jennifer Esposito is doing great things for the gluten-free and celiac communities. I hope she finds as much support as she is dedicating herself to giving to others. I’ll let Jennifer have the last words: “Find a sense of comfort, love and enjoyment in your food again. Ever Onward.”

The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.

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3 Responses to VeganMoFo: Jennifer Esposito and Celiac Disease/Gluten-Free Living

  1. Linda Court February 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    Linda February 24, 2015
    I started years ago, being gluten intolerant. Doctors did not want to deal with it. Friends tend not to believe you, and my health was declining and had to leave my business. Jennifer so happy you are cooking and baking, thank you for giving us more hope. I would like to see a cook book!

  2. Rhea Parsons October 23, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    Thanks Veganosaurus! There is a lot to learn and hopefully, with more awareness, people won’t have to learn it the hard way!

  3. Veganosaurus October 23, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    Great post, Rhea. There’s so much to learn about Celiac’s and gluten free food.

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