Montana State University

"A wizard at recipes" tailors them for special needs

July 20, 2004 -- By Carol Flaherty MSU News Service

Bettie Stanislao   High-Res Available

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Bettie Stanislao has been intensely involved with nutrition in many states, and for the past 10 years in Bozeman, Montana. In all those places, one thing has remained constant, she says.

"Wherever I've lived, there have always people who had some condition that required special recipes. People would say, 'I'd like to follow this diet, but what do I eat?'"

Stanislao is a dietitian who has been intimately aware of the connection between food and health since she was a child with diabetes in Louisiana. In a circuitous route toward a doctorate in nutrition, she has racked up training, teaching and research within hospitals and universities, and she doesn't intend to quit simply because she just retired from Montana State University. She will work part-time from her home for MSU developing recipes for gluten-intolerant people.

Her love of food seems to have come from her early years in Louisiana. There, she remembers helping her mom and grandma pick blackberries for jelly, and help feed dozens of people at harvest-time on her grandparents' Gordon Plantations. For harvest meals, they cooked "large quantities . . . on a wood stove" and served the food on "tables set out under the trees and in the wide center hallway."

She remembers her early years as a diabetic. "Back then, when you were diagnosed with diabetes, you were trained not to have any sweets or to change your insulin at all," she recalls, her slender frame attesting to how well she learns dietetic lessons.

She has degrees from universities in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio, postdoctoral work in North Dakota and a dietetic internship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, but working for her doctorate in nutrition at Case Western Reserve University was among the toughest, and not because of academic demands. Studies were in the School of Medicine, and it was a time when "some teachers didn't like seeing women in the program."

Fast-forward through years of teaching and research to MSU and David Sands, a plant sciences professor whose interests range from biotechnology to the nutritional value of plants. Sands and Stanislao have collaborated on Montina, a gluten-free whole grain from MSU.

"The thing that was most stimulating was to finally get my hands on a gluten-free product that I could make foods with like pies and cakes and muffins," says Stanislao. "When I started to work on Montina, nobody thought it would be an edible product." Montina is not just any Indian rice grass. It is grown under conditions that ensure its purity, because its primary users have Celiac's disease. For these people, eating certain types of protein, called gluten, sets off an immune response that damages their small intestine, causing it to lose its ability to absorb the nutrients.

"I have friends with Celiac's disease," says Stanislao, "and I began to develop recipes for them. Montina is high in protein and high in fiber, and it lends itself to making things that would flop otherwise. I can make a pie crust that looks and tastes like a pie crust." One such friend's first meal at Stanislao's was the first one where she could eat everything served and didn't become ill afterwards. She still tests Stanislao's new Montina recipes.

Developing recipes seems to be a passion as well as a job for Stanislao, with much of the work done in her home.

"I was determined that the recipes would work. I called Dave and told him I would bring something by in the morning to taste, then I'd often stay up all night baking. You know how you get into something and can't stop. In the morning, I brought in some pies. People at first said they wanted just a tiny piece. But the pies looked like pies and tasted like pies and pretty soon people were asking to have another piece."

MSU has a very strong program in developing gluten-free crops, says Sands, with five more in development.

"Bettie is very bright," says Sands. "She knows how to keep a low profile. She is very bright about human nutrition. She understands the biochemistry of nutrition. She has been heavily overworked with teaching, but has kept up on these fields. She is a wizard at recipes."

Sands emphatically compliments her work, saying that Stanislao "has mankind as her interest" and "if she is going to do something, she is going to do it right."

Contact: Bettie Stanislao , Dave Sands (406) 994-5151