Heidi Collins: News Anchor, Mother, Wife, and Gluten-Free Guru
By Vanessa Maltin Weisbrod, Delight Executive Editor
“Heidi Collins” has become a household name. The real-life Heidi Collins is an acclaimed news journalist who spends her days interviewing world leaders, reporting the news for FOX 9 in Minneapolis, and managing a gluten-free diet. In between being nominated for Emmy Awards and winning Edward R. Murrow awards (three so far) for her in-depth coverage of major news events, she somehow finds time to expertly read every food label to keep herself and her celiac son safe in the kitchen and on the go.
I first met Heidi Collins in November 2006 at the International Celiac Disease Symposium in New York City. We immediately bonded over gluten-free food and the desire to help everyone in the United States with celiac disease receive an accurate diagnosis and, of course, find the best gluten-free food out there.
Heidi’s passion for helping people with celiac disease comes from more than a decade of suffering debilitating symptoms and, like so many other women with celiac disease, losing a child.
After her horrible loss, Heidi continued visiting doctors until finally, after 15 years of one health problem after another, her general practitioner diagnosed her with celiac disease. Through one simple blood test, Heidi had a diagnosis that would allow her to work toward a cure for her chronic medical conditions as well as an answer to why her pregnancy had failed. Now, she hopes to help everyone with the condition get a proper diagnosis to prevent the devastation she and her family endured.
DGF sends a huge thanks to Heidi for taking time out of her very, very busy schedule to spend a few minutes to share her story with our Delight Gluten-Free Magazine readers and give some expert advice on how parents can best help their children with celiac live a happy and healthy gluten-free lifestyle.
DGF: What did it feel like to get the diagnosis? Were you relieved? Heartbroken?
Heidi: When I was first diagnosed I said “FINALLY. I finally know what’s wrong with me and can finally be well.” I was a little apprehensive and overwhelmed at the thought of changing my diet completely, but the thought of being healthy and normal made me want to do anything to fix it. If it was only dietary, it was totally doable. I was afraid because I knew nothing…but after so many years I finally had a name for what was wrong for me.
DGF: How much information did your doctor give you about starting the gluten-free diet?
Heidi: My internist referred me to a specialist because my doctor was not an expert. So that was a good first step. I went to see Dr. Peter Green at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and he immediately set me up with his nutritionist to get me started. We covered everything about the gluten-free diet and how my family and I needed to adjust to the diet.
DGF: Was it enough to help you figure it out?
Heidi: They gave me a lot of practical information and helped me figure out my real life. But it was definitely just a starting point. There was so much I had to learn about daily life…eating at restaurants, eating at home.
DGF: How did your family, and your husband in particular, react to the diagnosis?
Heidi: My husband Matt is such a positive guy, and he too was just so glad that we finally had a true explanation for why I had been so sick. My entire family was so very glad that the way I had been feeling for 20 years was going to change, that I could finally be healthy.
DGF: Did Matt go on a gluten-free diet, too?
Heidi: No, not entirely, but we have very, very little food that contains gluten in our home.
DGF: So you don’t keep a completely gluten-free household? How do you manage with two gluten-free foodies and two that can eat anything?
Heidi: We have a little more gluten-containing stuff because of Matt and our youngest son Owen, but all of the bread and pasta we have is gluten-free.
As a stay-at-home dad, Matt does the grocery shopping, and he gets so excited when he is shopping and finds new gluten-free products. His wife and oldest son both have celiac disease, so he lives it with us every day and he is a total expert. It’s so great.
DGF: What was the first gluten-free food you tasted?
Heidi: It feels like I’ve been doing this forever, but the first thing I tasted was probably cereal.
DGF: What did you think of it?
Heidi: It was awful. It was trying to be something like Cheerios and it was just horrible. I was very, very sad. I wanted the first thing to be great but it wasn’t, and it so wasn’t a good first impression. But this made me become more persistent. I was bound and determined to find something that tasted good. I threw a lot in the trash right away, but today things are getting so much better that I barely miss anything anymore.
DGF: What are your favorite snacks to keep on hand in the newsroom?
Heidi: I love Glutino Pretzel Twists; I love raw sea-salted almonds; and my absolute favorite snack is to have a big apple with a glob of Laughing Cow cheese. Then I dip my pretzels and almonds in the cheese, too. Sometimes that’s my perfect lunch or a big snack. I also adore hot tamales and Gummi bears.
DGF: What advice do you have for other parents out there raising a child with celiac disease?
Heidi: First of all, DON’T PANIC. There are so many resources and products out there today. It’s a completely different disease than it was 10 years ago. There are so many options. I have made many a gluten-free birthday cake and no one even knows the difference.
Just be diligent and spend a little time in the grocery store looking at the gluten-free items.
DGF: Is there anything you really wish you could change?
Heidi: It will be great when schools really adapt and I can make sure my son is safe in the cafeteria.
DGF: What advice do you have for parents sending kids on a gluten-free diet to school?
Pack a lunch for your children and be sure they can be safe. And teach your kids to be excited about food and to want to be a part of the process. We do corn tortillas instead of bread for the ham and cheese sandwiches. There are also some great breads out there—we just keep trying stuff until we find something that works.
And remember that there are thousands of naturally gluten-free items. Don’t be afraid to teach your kids about real food like fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, and naturally gluten-free grains like brown rice and quinoa. It’s a great idea to start teaching your kids healthy eating habits at a young age.
Heidi’s Favorite Recipe: Irma’s Baked Chicken
Yield: 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup melted butter
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups brown rice, cooked according to package instructions
Freshly steamed broccoli
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place chicken breasts in a baking dish and set aside.In a mixing bowl, combine butter, mustard, curry powder, honey, gluten-free soy sauce, and salt. Whisk together and pour over the chicken breasts. Bake for 1 hour. Serve chicken pieces over cooked brown rice with steamed broccoli on the side.