by Tina Ding

After receiving a flu shot, Lisa Helseth’s heart began racing. She reached out for medical help. However, following numerous doctor appointments and emergency room visits, her health continued to decline. She sought medical treatment for a host of symptoms including her unexplained weight loss. Eventually Helseth turned to Mayo Clinic where she was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Helseth learned the villa in her small intestine had become damaged by the disease – preventing her body from absorbing nutrients into her bloodstream. She researched and discovered she’d need to completely eliminate gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley and rye) from her diet, since celiac disease can lead to a number of other disorders, including cancers, autoimmune diseases and anemia.
Armed with knowledge and prepared to adopt a new gluten-free diet, she shopped local grocery aisles for both foods and products without gluten. Discouraged and frustrated, she read label after label – discovering the harsh realities of her disease. Nearly everything she picked up held gluten in the form of one wheat product or another. From shampoos and toothpastes to obvious breads, pastas and processed foods, her shopping cart stayed empty. Five hour trips to grocery stores were cumbersome and depressing.

Unrealistic preparation of two different menus at each meal added to her burden. Even the smallest particles of gluten can cause health problems to those with gluten intolerance/sensitivity or with celiac, contributing to bowel damage and creating an immune-mediated toxic reaction. Cross-contamination while preparing foods posed a serious risk; her home became gluten-free and her husband Jay joined her new nutritional plan.

Still, they struggled with purchasing foods locally. They journeyed to Minnesota frequently to purchase safe foods for her and found they shared a deep desire to help make a difference not only in their household, but into the Bismarck-Mandan community of gluten-intolerant individuals, those with gluten-sensitivity and those diagnosed with celiac disease. They knew the difficulties of seeking gluten-free products and now recognized the severity of a diagnosis without treatment.

“Learning I had celiac disease gave me hope. I finally knew what was wrong with my body,” Helseth said. “Yet there were few options for us locally. We knew the ultimate option for us was to establish a gluten-free store.”

When both her son and sister were diagnosed, she moved on her decision to make life simpler. She and her husband Jay seriously began hunting for a store front so they might bring these products to our area – under one roof.

They considered locations in both Bismarck and Mandan before selecting a location with ample parking and windows. Located at 211 E Main Street in Mandan, the shelves are stocked with gluten-free foods and products as well as dairy- and peanut-free foods. Shoppers no longer need to scrutinize labels; every item at Lisa’s holds no gluten.

“We knew it was larger than the two of us when our son became diagnosed. I was no longer alone in this journey and began to fully understand the dynamic of this being an inherited disease,” Helseth explained. “Our grandchild also holds the gene.”

Gluten exists in all forms of wheat, inclusive of durum, spelt, rye, barley, semolina and more. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, celiac disease affects one out of 133 Americans. When consuming gluten, ingested protein interferes with the absorption of nutrients. A genetic disorder, the diagnosis can be tricky. Symptomatic individuals may approach their physician to request information and may undergo blood work or a biopsy to determine celiac disease or to learn of gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity.

“Recovery from this lifelong disease means never eating gluten again,” Jay Helseth said. “We chose to invest in a store; we are the only gluten-free store in North Dakota. Our goals are first to be a resource to friends and family with this disease, and secondly, we strive to make gluten-free products available in our area, our community.”

While recovering, Lisa has grown intolerant of both dairy and corn. She now finds herself more appreciative of other food allergies or intolerances. She tucks away ideas, recipes and tips from various customers – with every intention of sharing them. “Play-doh and licorice contain gluten,” she said. “Who knew?”

Lisa’s Gluten-Free & More holds replacement products for everyday all-purpose flour so baking and cooking is possible. Multiple pasta brands, flours and condiments as well as some chips or crackers fill the shelves. Baking ingredients such as yeast, baking soda and baking powder can contain gluten. Her stock items do not.

“Opening this business has been so rewarding to me,” Helseth said. “Seeing repeat customers and knowing they are now able to eat healthier and overcome this disease has been very fulfilling. It’s developed into a family business. And we like that. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”