When life threw her a lemon, Marion Braswell made lemon bars.

In 2007, the Arlington resident’s doctor told her that if she wanted to soothe her stomach pain, she had to cut gluten from her diet. Because the protein is in wheat, most of her favorite baked goods were immediately off-limits. And when she searched supermarkets for gluten-free ready-to-make mixes, she was horrified by the ingredients.

“I told myself, ‘Wait a second. I don’t want to eat potato starch, sugar and salt,'” she says.

So Braswell, an amateur baker who regularly cooked for fun, took matters into her own kitchen. After months of research into better batters and countless hours hunting down elusive items, including sodium-free baking soda, she emerged in 2008 with Marion’s Delightfully Delicious Gluten-Free Lemon Bar Mix ($6.75) — and a new career as owner of Marion’s Smart Delights (Marionssmartdelights.com).

“The idea is to balance nutrition with taste,” says Braswell, who boasts that the flavor in her treats comes from grains such as millet and quinoa rather than sugar and salt. Both the lemon bar mix and her other product Marion’s Gluten-Free Cookie & Muffin Baking Mix ($6.25) — are fat- and cholesterol-free, kosher and made at a facility certified to be free of several other common allergens, such as nuts, soy, dairy and egg, so customers don’t have to worry about cross-contamination.

Instead, she invites them to think creatively about making goodies that are good for you. On her website, Braswell provides recipes that rely on her mixes as a base, and offers nutritional information. This fall, she’ll post how-tos for apple and raisin tarts, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and cranberry-walnut bread. She also offers ideas to make the mixes work for whatever diet you’re on, including vegan (use chia seeds instead of eggs), dairy-free (almond butter) and heart-healthy (olive oil). “The mixes are meant to meet almost every lifestyle,” she says.

They’re also meant to be scrumptious, so after she develops a recipe, she turns her creations over to a panel of the most honest food critics out there: her neighbors’ children. “Sometimes the kids say, ‘That’s fine,’ but they’re not saying, ‘It’s great,’ so I say, ‘OK, I’ll go back,'” says Braswell, who wants to be certain that when she holds samplings at stores that sell her mixes, everyone can enjoy them.

Braswell has learned that — even if she’s standing behind a variety of cookies, muffins, breads and tarts — she won’t get a lot of takers by asking, “Do you want to try a gluten-free cookie?” Her new tactic is stealthier. “I say, ‘Would you like to try a delicious whole-grain cookie, or a lemon bar with reduced sugar?’ People will say, ‘Yeah, of course. I want to try something healthy,'” she says.

For Braswell, the gluten-free ingredients just sweeten the deal. She finally has something she feels happy putting into her body — and her belly’s happy, too.

» Marion’s Smart Delights are available at Marionssmartdelights.com and at local stores such as Whole Foods in Alexandria, MOM’s Organic Market in Rockville and Timonium, Md., Kennedy’s Natural Foods in Falls Church and Nourish Market in McLean. Taste her treats at her next sampling event, this Saturday at MOM’s Organic Market in Rockville (11711 B Parklawn Dr., Rockville, Md.; 301-816-4944; Momsorganicmarket.com) 12:45-4 p.m.

Written by Express contributor Stephanie Kanowitz
Photos by Kevin Dietsch for Express