is it for you?
What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet for you and your special child? We speak to a behavioural therapist to find out.
gluten-free Gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — causes adverse reactions in some people. It’s easy for families to opt for a gluten-free diet.
TEACHING has always been at the back of her mind, but life and work got in the way. Low Hooi Bee was then with the marketing department of a nutritional supplement line. For five years, her responsibility was marketing fish oil supplements targeted at children with dyslexia.
In the course of her work, she got to know many parents who had children with dyslexia, learning disorders or autism. It sparked her passion. She started finding out more about the disorders and discovered a programme called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which is tailored to kids with developmental disabilities and autism. She studied to become an ABA therapist.
In 2008, she left her marketing job to become a full-time therapist. She started working with kids with autism and dyslexia.
“Doing the programme changed my priorities completely. I wanted to do something for the kids, and it became a big part of my life,” she says in an interview at her home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Currently, the 40-year-old, who is single, works with three special kids. She also does marketing for a child development centre called Kidz grow in Selangor.
As she learnt more about the kids’ conditions, she started researching the effects of food on behavioural disorders.
“I have cooked since I was 19. I hosted a cooking show called Menu Asia on RTM1 back in 1991. This time, I started looking at glutenfree cooking. Through research I discovered that a casein-free and gluten-free (CFGF) diet is beneficial for kids with autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). There were vast improvements in their behaviours,” she says.
(According to Wikipedia, gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.)
In layman’s terms, gluten makes the body release hormones called gluteomorphin, which has the same properties as morphine. It affects them neurologically. It leads to hyperactivity and mental slowdown ( see sidebar below).
When autistic kids or kids with ADHD were fed a gluten-free diet, Low could see vast improvements in their behaviours and they developed faster mentally.
Last October, she decided to start cooking classes that taught parents how to prepare simple, fast and nutritional meals for their kids. She holds her classes at At 19 Culinary Studio in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. Her aim is to equip new cooks with the confidence and skills to cook a nutritious meal for the whole family.
“Many people don’t realise that the Asian diet actually uses very little gluten. Rice is our mainstay, not wheat, so having a nutritious gluten-free meal is easier than you think,” she says.
“As long as you avoid anything that uses flour. The only pitfalls you have to watch out for are the hidden gluten in things like oyster sauce, soy sauce and canned food,” she continues.
On the availability of gluten-free products, Low notes that there are lots out there in organic shops and such. “But I usually try to buy local, everyday food. People don’t have to hunt for it. It’s readily available, like fresh local produce and meat.”
Pricing is higher than non-organic stuff, up to twice or three times more.
Low also urges parents to learn to read labels.
“There’s a lot you can find out from the labels on the can. If you see anything that says ‘flour’, ‘ modified starch’ or ‘thickener’, the food contains gluten. If you see ‘ textured vegetable protein’, that’s actually MSG!
“We’re very blessed because we have at our fingertips dishes like kuay teow (flat rice noodles) and chee cheong fun (steamed rice noodles). We have delicious produce like sweet potato and potato. The key is to indulge in whole, fresh foods, and to stay away from processed foods,” she says.
Low thinks it is great that just by being a little mindful with food preparation, parents can see a world of difference with special kids. Even in the average household, she thinks whole, fresh food is the way to go. Processed foods often have preservatives and added sugar, which are obviously not good for kids.
“At my classes, which are three hours long, I teach busy mothers and new cooks how to make balanced meals. A lot of people think cooking is difficult and time-consuming, and when they hear the term gluten-free cooking, they’re even more put off. It’s not. You can make a (gluten-free) meal out of very basic ingredients. It beats any meal you can have outside,” she says. n For more information on Low Hooi Bee’s classes, visit www.at19culinary.com/. Check out gluten-free recipes courtesy of Low on page 4.
Golden Wedges With Fruity Sauce
1 medium sweet potato (cut into chips) ½ tsp salt (optional) ½ tsp pepper (optional) 2 tbsp cornflour (for dusting) 200ml oil for frying Half cup sesame seeds
Sauce 1/3 large can tomato puree 2 tbsp raisins ¼ tsp five-spice powder 2 tsp sugar 1 tbsp vinegar 100ml water 2 tbsp cornflour Microwave or boil the sweet potato chips until about half-cooked. Drain and dry.
Season the chips with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a wok or deep pan. Lightly dust the chips with cornflour and then put to fry once oil is hot. Adjust the heat.
When chips turn golden brown, remove and drain. Roll or toss in sesame seeds.
For the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat.
Vegetable And Chicken Patties
300g minced chicken 1 onion (puree) ½ carrot (puree) 50g spinach (puree) ½ tsp salt ½ tsp pepper 1 egg 1 tbsp cornflour Mash the onion, carrot and spinach purees and add to the minced chicken.
Add salt, pepper, cornflour and egg. Mix until well combined.
Using wet hands, shape the mixture into patties about 4cm in diameter and about 1cm thick.
Heat up three tablespoons of oil in a large pan or skillet and fry the patties over medium heat.
When patties are browned, remove and drain off excess oil.
Silky Smooth Tofu And Egg Combo
1 box/tube white Japanese tofu 2 eggs ½ carrot (finely chopped) 3-4 shiitake mushrooms (diced) 50g prawns (chopped) ½ tsp salt Pepper to taste A few drops sesame seed oil 2 sprigs chopped spring onions In a bowl, mash up the tofu. Beat the eggs. Add the vegetables, prawns and seasonings. Combine with the mashed tofu and mix well.
Transfer to a bowl or steaming plate and steam in wok for about 10 minutes or until set over moderate heat, OR microwave on medium for about 10 minutes or until set.
Sprinkle spring onions just before serving.
Fast and good: Low Hooi bee (centre) teaches parents how to prepare simple and nutritional meals for
Complete meal: Vegetable and chicken patties, served with golden wedges with fruity sauce, and fresh vegetables.