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Gluten-Free Tax Deduction Guide

7 Mar

Microsoft Image - Tax Blog

Taxes got you down? Do all of the rules, regulations, codes, exemptions and forms have your head spinning? This is my guide to dissecting gluten-free tax guidelines.

Here is a compilation of all of the resources I found online for gluten-free deductions in comprehensive and comprehendible post.

People diagnosed with celiac disease are entitled to making deductions for the extra costs associated with living gluten-free! If you want to take advantage of the tax benefits associated with celiacs then read below for some tips.

 In the interest of saving time, don’t break out the calculator until you are sure that you qualify for the deductions!

1.First things first: are you entitled to deducting medical expenses?

In order to qualify for medical expense deductions your medical expenses must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

Your adjusted gross income is your taxable income minus any adjustments to income such as deductions, contributions to a traditional IRA and student loan interest.

“For example, if you have a modified adjusted gross income of $45,000 and $5,475 of medical expenses, you would multiply $45,000 by 0.10 (10 percent) to find that only expenses exceeding $4,500 can be deducted. This leaves you with a medical expense deduction of $975 (5,475 – 4,500)” (IRS).

NOTE: it is your TOTAL medical expenses that must exceed 10% of your income, not just your celiac-related expenses.

If your situation meets this criteria the next step is to get an official written diagnosis of celiac disease from your physician. Once you have this you can send it in with the rest of your paperwork.

2. Find out what can be deducted 

You cannot deduct the full price of gluten-free products but you can deduct the cost of gluten-free products that is in EXCESS of the cost of their gluten-containing counterparts.

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For example, if a loaf of gluten-free bread costs $6.00 and a comparable loaf of glutinous bread costs $3.00, you may include in your medical expenses the excess cost of $3.00.

You can deduct the full cost of special gluten-free items like Xanthum Gum which is used in baking GF products.

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Have you been to Pam MacD’s or Whole Foods lately? The transportation costs (gas, parking, tolls) you incur from making  special trips to grocery stores for gluten-free products are deductible.

Have you ordered some gluten-free soy sauce packets from Amazon like I did last week? If so, the full cost of postage or other delivery expenses for GF foods made by mail order are deductible.

3. Fill out the right form!

You report medical expense deductions on Schedule A, Form 1040 which is different from the Form 1040 (US Individual Income Tax Return). Use the Schedule A 1040 form to figure out itemized deductions.

4. FILE!

Send in your Schedule A 1040 form and official written diagnosis from a physician with your other tax documents.

If you are audited: 

Although you do not need to send these documents in when you file your taxes, you will want them on hand in case of an audit.

1. If needed, get a letter from your physician indicating that you have celiac disease and must adhere to a gluten-free diet for life.

2. Substantiation of the expenses in the form of receipts, cash register tapes or cancelled checks for your GF purchases.

3. A schedule showing how you computed your deductions for the GF foods.

(From the Celiac Disease Foundation’s Website)

Here are some fantastic resources:

NFCA’s Gluten-Free Tax Guide

CDF’s Gluten-Free Tax Guide

The best advice I can offer is to do your homework and check out multiple sources for tax information. Filing your taxes may be a pain but in the event of an audit it is better to be prepared and organized than caught off guard. Put in the work to get your taxes done correctly, benefit from the deductions and enjoy another gluten-free fiscal year.

-CC

Science For Celiacs

22 Jun

For many people living with Celiac Disease, having Celiacs and being an advocate for awareness often times are synonymous. We are a demographic of people who cannot eat one of the most commonly consumed foods: bread. So, naturally, when people come across a Celiac for the first time they have a lot of questions.  Wheat has played an incredibly large role in our political, religious and culinary histories. As a result, it may seem pretty odd or even unbelievable when you encounter a person biologically designed to reject it.  Whenever I meet someone who has not heard of Celiac Disease or the gluten free diet I am unfailingly asked one of three questions:

  1. What is gluten???
  2. So…what happens to you if you eat bread?
  3. Celi-what disease?

It is important to be able to answer these questions coherently and knowledgeably. Why? Because otherwise the gluten free diet gets a bad rap! If people living with Celiacs or gluten intolerance do not speak up, the media and fad-dieting celebrities control the narrative about what it means to be “gluten free”.   That being said, if you have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, what should you know??

A Celiac in the know should have a basic and celiac-specific understanding of Physiology, Plant Biology, Biochemistry, Immunology and Genetics. As a Science teacher and GF blogger it is about time I merged my two favorite things into a blog post!  I won’t be offended if you simply skim the rest of this post because things are about to get a bit nerdy :)

Physiology
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Physiology is the study of biological functions eg how the digestive system functions. Given that Celiac Disease is a digestive disease it is important for us to know how the digestive system works! The  purpose of the digestive system is to digest and absorb.  There is a common misconception that people with Celiac Disease struggle with digestion but this isn’t really true: we struggle with absorption.

For example, someone who is lactose intolerant cannot digest dairy products, their body cannot break it down. Celiacs are great at breaking things down, in fact, we have a whole class of biological soldiers (antibodies) that attack gluten. If this were merely a matter of digestion, the symptoms of Celiac Disease would not be so varied and at times debilitating.

Digestion is the process of breaking down food into biologically usable parts. Your cells don’t need pepperoni pizza, they need glucose, amino acids, vitamins and minerals etc. The digestive process transforms food into these usable components.  Once the food is broken down (aka digested) it will reach your small intestine, which is where the absorption takes place.
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Your small intestine is lined with villi, finger-like projections that absorb those usable components from the food into the body/blood stream.  When the villi are damaged they look stub-like and can longer efficiently absorb nutrients.  Someone with Celiac Disease may eat an incredibly healthful diet and yet not receive the benefits of those foods because their villi are damaged!  Luckily, the villi can repair themselves overtime which is why living gluten free can often reverse almost all of the pre-diagnosis symptoms. For example, I went from being severely anemic to having normal iron levels about five months into being gluten free.

Plant Biology

How many times have you answered the “what is gluten” question with “You know…bread, pasta, cookies, anything with flour…basically.” Although that simplification may be best in some contexts, it is still nice to know what it really is! Gluten is a group of proteins that is responsible for the elasticity of dough aka the chewy goodness that I sometimes miss so much.  Gluten is made up of two proteins: gliadin and gluteninin (gluten = gliadin + glutenin). Interestingly, Celiacs are only sensitive to “gliadin” but for whatever reason we use the term “gluten-free” to describe a diet that is not harmful to people with Celiac Disease.   pro-43

Did you know that wheatgrass is gluten free? The wheatgrass is immature wheat. Though the same origin, Triticum aestivum L., the grass forms before the grain and does not contain the harmful proteins we discussed above. NOTE: if you buy wheatgrass make sure it is labelled  gluten free because otherwise there is a risk that the grass has been contaminated with the mature grain.

Biochemistry

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The very first day of my Biochemistry class in college my professor warned me that I would have to memorize the structure and names for all 20 amino acids used in the body to form proteins.  Don’t worry, these structures didn’t make my list of things Celiacs should know but the basic concept that proteins are made up of a string of amino acids definitely made the list.

We know if you are Celiac you need to be gluten free. We know that gluten is made up of two proteins and Celiacs are mostly sensitive to gliadin.  So what is it about the protein called gliadin that is harmful?

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A protein is made up of a string of amino acids. The sequence, or order, of these amino acids is what determines what type of protein it is.  There is a specific part of gliadin, a sequence of 19 amino acids, that trigger the autoimmune response in Celiac patients.  Proteins with similar sequences, even if not exact, can cause reactions as well. This is why people with Celiac Disease typically cannot eat rye, barley, malt and sometimes even oats because the amino acid sequences can cause a reaction!

Immunology

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The immune system has two parts: innate immunity, the body’s first and more generic line of defense, and adaptive immunity, our specific response. When it comes to Celiac Disease we are mostly interested in adaptive immunity because it is this part of the immune system that is triggered by gluten.

In someone with Celiac Disease, the body perceives gluten as a threat and produces antibodies to attack and eliminate it called Anti-gliadin antibodies (also called AGA). You probably recognize that word from the tests you were given for your diagnosis. Some doctors will test the blood for the presence of AGA in order to determine if someone has Celiac Disease.

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Why does it matter if the body creates an antibody specific for gluten? Doesn’t that just mean that the gluten is attacked? The immune system is very complex and yet imperfect.  Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body’s defense systems begin to attack healthy cells. In Celiac Disease, the Anti-gliadin antibodies end up attacking the lining of the small intestine (among other areas in the body), damaging the ability of the villi to absorb nutrients.

In short, the immune system creates specific proteins that target foreign and unwanted invaders in the body. People with Celiac Disease develop antibodies in response to consuming gluten that attack and destroy healthy cells in the body causing damage, inflammation and symptoms of Celiacs.

Genetics

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The reason it is important to understand the genetic aspect of Celiac Disease is all about getting people tested.  If you or a family-member are diagnosed with Celiac Disease it is really important that the rest of the family get tested as well.  If a family-member has Celiac Disease, your chances of having it are much higher than the average person in the general population. Family-members may be asymptomatic or may have symptoms that have been misdiagnosed (I used to have a juvenile arthritis diagnosis on file before going gluten free).

I can’t tell you how many of my readers have told me that they found out they needed to be gluten free because a family-member was diagnosed first. My grandmother found out she had Celiac Disease after I was diagnosed and has experience improved health since going gluten free! There is no way to get around the fact that Celiacs is genetic. I know many families that are resistant to getting tested because they do not realize that they have a risk of having or developing Celiac Disease.

Being in the know is not just important for spreading accurate awareness, it can actually help you stay motivated. When you understand what happens to the body on a molecular level in response to even trace amounts of gluten you may find yourself even more committed to taking those extra steps like avoiding cross contamination to be completely gluten free.

Have a great rest of the weekend, readers!

-CC

The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

17 Sep

Being gluten free is a like being a full time student while having a full time job.  It requires understanding what is and where it can be found which means you must learn about the basics of cooking, how to read labels, and common restaurant preparation practices.  In terms of quantity of information, it is a lot. Not to mention, the labels on today’s foods are so complicated you feel like you need a BA in chemistry to decipher their code, but we Celiacs manage.  Once you get down the basics of being gluten free the real work starts. Every meal tests your knowledge and the consequence of ill-preparation or even a simple mistake is much graver than a bad grade.  The good news is that it does become easier with time. That being said, even the most seasoned Celiacs run into gluten now and then.

What are those common pitfalls that get even the most diligent gluten free devotees?  Here are 5 things that tend to sneak under the GF radar:

1. Pet Food – who would have though that man’s best friend could be your biggest gluten free enemy?  If you aren’t seeking out gluten free food for your pet I suggest you start right away.  Cats and dogs (at least mine and I’m sure there must be others) tend to wolf down their food. Seriously, when little Cannoli eats it is like something out of a cartoon with food flying in all directions.

In college my roommate had a Chihuahua who, like most small dogs and cats, would pick up a mouthful of food from their bowl and eat in all the way across the room on the floor.  If your pet food is full of gluten (like most are) you may be putting yourself at serious risk for cross-contamination in your house.

If you think labeling laws are lackluster in the human world, wait until you start looking for gluten free pet food. “Grain free” does NOT usually mean gluten free in the pet world. In fact, “grain free” varieties tend to have both oatmeal and barley in their recipes. You want to find brands that say “gluten free” or “no glutens” on them or you can take the time to read the labels on the “grain free” foods because some are gluten free.

Treats should also be gluten free because you typically handle them with your bare hands.  Blue has a bunch of gluten free treats that you can use to train puppies and to simply treat your pet.

Here are some very affordable brands that have gluten free food for both cats and dogs. I have used both Instinct and Blue for my pets with great results.

2. Wine – Many people believe that all wine is gluten free. While most wines are gluten free there are some exceptions that you should be aware of and on the lookout for.  For example, the process of fining the wine can result in gluten contamination if the company uses wheat protein as their fining agent. Fining is a process where the wine is stabilized and clarified by adding a protein (usually a clay called bentonite or animal protein). The proteins drift through the wine picking up solids and then sink to the bottom of the barrel leaving the wine at the top clear and stable.

Wines that don’t undergo fining usually need to be decanted before drinking. Furthermore, the proteins attract and eventually precipitate out phenols which contribute to the bitter taste of the wine. Fining can be used to augment the taste or astringency of the wine.

What is the verdict? Your wine is most likely safe, so drink up! According to Geraldine Newcomen of the Food Standards Agency in the UK, any product containing an allergen must be properly labelled eg if a wine fining process contaminates the wine with wheat it must be labeled on the bottle as “containing wheat.”  This is not true, or at least not enforced, in the US but most wines are naturally gluten free. Most wine companies use bentonite clay as their fining agent due the the vegan movement encouraging them to stay away from animal proteins and the food allergy movement pushing them away from using gluten.  When you drink wine, be conscientious. Check for any allergy labels on the bottle, avoid wines from Australia or New Zealand which have a higher likelihood of using wheat products during the wine making process.

3. French Fries – My go-to food at restaurants when I first got my CD diagnosis was French Fries. It wasn’t until a year into my diagnosis that I realized that French Fries are much more enemy than friend.  Though they are made of potato there are so many ways to contaminate French Fries. First and foremost, they are most likely fried in contaminated oil.  If the oil in the deep fryer is used to fry onion rings, fried chicken, wontons and the like than all foods fried in that oil are essentially infused with gluten and should be avoided.  Additionally, a lot of French Fries are dredged in flour to make them crisper when fried. What is worse, a lot of restaurants buy their French Fries frozen and so the waitstaff and potentially the kitchen staff wouldn’t even know that they have been dunked in flour. Along the lines of restaurants buying frozen French Fries, sometimes the staff does not pay attention to what type of fries they buy. For example, I went to a place in Berkeley, California that was selling beer-battered French Fries but didn’t even know it. I discovered this when I asked to see the packaging.

The moral of the story is stay away from French Fries unless you are at a restaurant that you know really, really well or has been trained in cross-contamination and gluten free awareness.

Are there some safe fries out there? Yes! Five Guys and In N Out both have GF fries and oil that is exclusively used for their fries. Stay away from almost all other fast food French Fries and be sure to inquire at sit-down restaurants before ordering their fries.

4. Veggie Burgers – I don’t fully understand why but many, many, many people assume that if something is vegetarian or vegan then it is probably gluten free too. This is absolutely not the case. Although vegans and gluten free people both have highly restricted diets, read labels and ask questions at restaurant it does not mean that our needs are the same. Sometimes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it simply isn’t a duck. You know?  I have been served veggie patties as the “gluten free option” a number of times, all of which resulted in me being glutened.  I learned my lesson and now avoid veggie burgers unless I can personally read the label or a chef comes out and tells me how he or she made the burger.

One time I was at a catered work event and the caterer said the veggie burger was the GF option. I asked the guy to double check the packaging and I watched as he picked up the box and read.  He came back to report that the patty was gluten free. Literally form 10 feet away and looking over his shoulder I could see a big sticker on the box that said “MADE FROM WHOLE WHEAT!”  Sometimes people can’t get vegans and gluten free people separated in their brains. This is something that gluten free people need to know and counter-act.

Some veggie burgers, like Sunshine burgers, are gluten free. If you are trying to be GF and vegetarian or vegan than be sure to find some reliable brands so you don’t go hungry!  I am actually going vegan until Thanksgiving and I look forward to the challenge.  I’ll be sure to post about my experience once it has been longer than a two-day commitment (I started yesterday).

5. Preschool or Kindergarten – This may not apply to most of my readers; however, many of you either have or at least know a Celiac kid.  Playdough is any Celiac kids worst enemy.  Children play with it all day and then run around touching things with their contaminated, yet adorable, little hands.  If you have a Celiac kid and need to send him or her to preschool or Kindergarten I suggest talking to the head teacher about playdough in the classroom.

Ironically, I discovered how troubling play-dough (brand: Play-Doh) can be through my work.  At a big work conference all of our tables had play-dough at them for people to fiddle with during the long 6 hour lectures.  Unfortunately, we also ate lunch at these tables.  People would rub the play-dough on the table to flatten it out, little bits would stick to the table and dry and my colleagues’ hands were coated with the shiny oil from the play dough, making me feel like I could see the gluten all over them.  As a grown up, I wasn’t too concerned. I made sure my hands and food didn’t touch the table. Kids aren’t this observant. They touch everything around them and are very prone to sticking their hands in their mouths.  The risk of contamination is pretty high!

Solutions? Talk to the teacher about having play-dough removed from the classroom. I am a teacher and I know I would be receptive to a suggestion like this from a parent. If for some reason they believe that play-dough is a quintessential component for their pre-K curriculum than advise they buy a GF brand. If they refuse you may want to consider either going to an administrator at the school or buying the GF play-dough yourself and coercively donate it to the school. If there is one thing I know about parents of Celiac kids, they are persistent and effective advocates for their children.

Alright, I recognize that on top of everything you know about being gluten free, adding even five more things can be pretty frustrating and disheartening.  Let’s end on a positive note. We talked about five surprising things you can’t have but what are some surprising things that you can have???

1. Macaroons and Macarons – Most Macaroons and Macarons are naturally gluten free! Macaroons are the American cookie with coconut in them used by many during Passover. Macarons are typically those colorful French cookies you see in pastry shops. They are also usually gluten free because they are traditionally made with almond flour.

There are always exceptions so always read labels and ask questions but for the most part, you are good to go. Jewish Macarons are used as a dessert on Passover. They are Kosher and gluten free. Additionally, a lot of French Macarons are made with almond flour like this recipe for chocolate Macarons.

Order some now!!

2. Lea and Perrins – We normally avoid Worcester Sauce because it used to always have gluten in it. This also meant we had to avoid Caesar salads and many steak sauces and marinades. Today, Lea and Perrins, probably the biggest Worcester company, has changed their recipe to be gluten free. I still would be cautious about ordering a Caesar salad or ordering something with Worcester without seeing the bottle and making sure it is Lea and Perrins but you can definitely use it at home when you are cooking. In the next few years I think it will be safe to eat Caesar dressing without too much inquiry. Now that Lea and Perrins have set the bar, I expect other companies to follow suit. Until that day, always be cautious but you can start re-including Lea and Perrins into your recipes.

3. Dorritos – These are now gluten free! The original flavor of Dorritos has changed its recipe, which used to include wheat flour, to a recipe that uses corn instead.  As someone in the field of Public Health I can’t really condone eating Dorritos but this will make Superbowl parties and the like much easier considering how popular the Nacho Cheese flavor is!  Yum!

4. Pao de Queijo aka Brazilian Cheese Bread – Ever been to Fogo De Chao? This is a very popular Brazilian restaurant that, like most Brazilian restaurants, serves Pao. This is the most amazing cheese bread on the planet! Seriously, it tastes like a Cheez-It but has the texture of fresh baked, perfectly gooey bread.  It is naturally gluten free.  If you don’t have a Brazilian restaurant in your area than you should order Brazi Bites online (or look for them at your local GF store).

5. Poppadoms aka Indian Lentil Bread – Though the texture resembles that of a chip more than bread, Poppadoms are delicious and available at most Indian restaurants. You should always check to make sure they do not have flour in them because some restaurants do not follow an authentic Poppadom recipe. They have a yummy nutty flavor and are a great GF substitute for Naan. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t taste like Naan, but it is something you can munch on at the table and use to scoop up curry in the bottom of your bowl during dinner.

I hope reading about the five foods that many unsuspecting Celiacs fall victim to will help you avoid gluten contamination this fall and that they five happy gluten free surprises made your day! Go indulge in some Macarons or some cheesy Dorritos. Being gluten free is very challenging. You deserve to indulge every now and then. Enjoy!

-CC

Wheatless in Seattle

19 Jun

I travelled north to Seattle, Washington to promote CC Gluten Freed at the  The Gluten Intolerance Group’s Health and Wellness Event on June 16th.  Seattle is incredibly gluten-free-friendly (GFF).  I experienced a lot of great food and great customer service.  I have been to many of these GF conferences in the past and, I must say, the GIG’s Health and Wellness Event was one of the best gluten free conferences I have ever attended.

Even for people with Celiacs, the gluten free diet is only one, of many, components to a healthy lifestyle.  The GIG event really brought this point to the forefront of their conference by providing all attendees with free health screenings including Bone Density, Blood Pressure, Type I Diabetes Testing, Spinal Health Screenings and more.

My Dad prepping for the conference

In addition to the free health screenings, GIG also had a ton of great vendors at the conference including brands like Udi’s, Triumph Dining, Glutino, Canyon Bakehouse amongst many, many others (including CC Gluten Freed!!).  I was lucky enough to be in a booth next to Brazi Bites, a company that makes a Brazilian cheese bread that is naturally gluten free.  Before the conference, I had never encountered Brazi Bites before.  They are one of the best GF snack foods I have ever had!  Check them out online.  They have the taste of Cheez-its and a dual texture: crispy, crunchy on the outside and gooey and light on the inside.

In addition to the great vendors, there were some very interesting people there including Mrs. Alaska (Brandy Wendler), promoting her pageant platform for Celiac Awareness and Kyra Bussanich,a gluten free baker and the winner of the Food network Channel’s Cupcake Wars!

My favorite part of the conference was definitely talking with the local Seattle gluten free community.  What a smart city!  I had incredibly interesting conversations with almost everyone who stopped by to chat at my booth.  For example, Junea and Cameron (creators of Brazi Bites/my conference neighbors) and I discussed the important distinction between foods that are naturally gluten free and foods that are created to replace glutinous foods e.g. Brazi Bites vs. GF penne or GF sandwich bread.  You can expect a future post about the issue but, in short, I really do prefer foods that are naturally gluten free like Brazi Bites both in a philosophical sense and from a culinary perspective.  Another chat I had with a local was about how to get groups to adapt to the GF diet.  For example, the person I spoke to is part of a group at her church and always has trouble when they have their monthly potluck.  I also heard that Doritos are going gluten free!  I always learn so much at these conferences.

Many people asked about where to buy CC Gluten Freed t-shirts, so I created a webpage to order the shirts.  From what people said at the conference, they just love the logo!  My grandfather, Ernest Marquez, was a cartoonist for years.  When I created CC Gluten Freed, he drew this logo for me and had it framed (and put on a jump drive) for me for Christmas.

I will definitely be attending the conference next year and I encourage my readers to make the trip out to Seattle as well!  For more information about GIG go to http://www.gluten.net

What else did I do other than attend an all-day GF conference?

A lot.

My Dad and I went to the Mariners Vs Giants game for Safeco Field’s Gluten Free Awareness Night!  I had a hotdog.  My dad asked me why I didn’t wear my CC Gluten Freed t-shirt to the game since we were sitting in the “gluten free zone.”  I told him that I wanted to watch some  baseball, eat a hotdog  and  just enjoy the work of great nonprofits like GIG.  It was a relaxing experience, something I rarely say about dining out!

My Dad and me at the baseball game

We also went to the Flying Apron bakery, a 100% gluten-free, vegan bakery in Seattle.  Pike Place Market  was a great experience too!  I stopped over at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a famous cheese shop, that sells a GF version of their “world famous Mac N’ Cheese.”  We didn’t just dine around the town, we also checked out the tribute to the movie Avatar and the Jimi Hendrix exhibit at the EMP Museum.  This museum was really fun and interactive!  They have a whole section of the museum for making music: my dad and I took advantage of the practice rooms.  He played guitar and I played drums.

No trip to Seattle would complete without a trip to the Space Needle.  We had a great lunch up at the top.  I enjoyed both the food and the view.  The waitstaff was pretty good about making GF accommodations but their menu items are somewhat limited.  If you are in the mood for a great salad (like I was), head up to the top of the Space Needle but if you are super hungry, I’d stop somewhere else for lunch!

The view from the Space Needle. We were able to see Mt. Rainier 

My Seafood Cobb Salad from the Space Needle, 100% GF

The highlight of my trip was going on the radio with KZOK during their morning show.  I was a little nervous going on air, considering it is a live show with Seattle, literally, listening but I had a great time.  In fact, Im quite jealous of my Uncle Danny’s job.  Danny chatted with my dad and me for a bit on air then, during the news section, Danny let me make an announcement about the GIG’s Health and Wellness Event.

After my jam-packed trip to Seattle, I am quite tired but I am so happy that I went. The conference, like I said, was one of the best I have ever attended and the people I met at the conference were so interesting, dedicated to their health and fun to chat with.  In fact, many of the people that I met at the conference are checking out CC Gluten Freed for the first time right now!  I just sent out the “invitation to follow” email and I hope that some of my new GF acquaintances sign up!

-CC

Which GF Blogs Should I Follow?

7 Jun

Deciding to follow a gluten free blog is much easier said than done. The vast amount of diverse information on the web makes finding a blog that fits your needs and interests somewhat tricky. As many of my readers may recall, one of my New Year’s Resolutions (NYR) for 2012 was to start following some GF blogs.

Though very active in the GF blogosphere as a writer, my second NYR aimed to increase my activity as a reader. I have started following a couple GF blogs and have discovered that not only are there many GF blogs out there but they are all very different. If you started following one or two blogs and simply felt it was not meant for you, I encourage you try one more time!

What to look for?

1. Content — are you interested in cooking? music? traveling? education? No matter what your interest, you can probably find a blog out there that is a great mash up for your interest in ________ and the gluten free diet. My interests are mostly focused around the social aspects of the gluten free diet, food policy and restaurant guides for cities. With a little bit of digging, I found blogs that matched those interests fairly easily. Are you interested in traveling? Though not one of my interests, I know there are a ton of avid GF travelers out there who would appreciate a blog that updates about being gluten free while traveling. If this is you, click here for posts by Erin Smith.

2. Frequency — check out how frequently the blogger posts. If you like frequent posts in your email inbox then the blog is a great match. If you are quasi spam-conservative (like myself) you may want to find a blog that posts less frequently e.g. ~once every 3 weeks like CC Gluten Freed!

3. Visuals — reading on your laptop, phone or tablet can be hard on your eyes. Try to find a blog that is pleasant to look at and easy to read. When I created CC Gluten Freed, I chose an off-white/cream for the background of the site so that overwhelming brightness would not discourage readers. You may also want to check out the mobile phone format of the blog before committing if you do most of your reading on the go.

4. Writing Style — bloggers write in various styles. For example, some may write in the third person while others may have a more personal/testimonial blog written in the first person. Some may post updates using journalistic techniques you would encounter when reading the LA Times while others may write more colloquially (like CC Gluten Freed!).

What are my preferences?

I try to make CC Gluten Freed representative of what I want to see in other GF blogs. This many be painfully obvious but I write about what interests me about being gluten free. If you enjoy reading about the social aspects of the gluten free diet then I encourage you follow my blog. I update, on average, every 3 weeks and have very diverse topics ranging from holiday survival guides, going to the spa, moving to a new city, commenting on new developments in the GF world and much more.

The blogs I follow:

1. Accidental Celiac – I love this blog. The frequency of posting is perfect. Posting too frequently can make followers feel like they are being spammed but the Accidental Celiac posts at a great frequency. I am always happy to see a new email from her in my inbox. If anything, I wish she would post more! The Accidental Celiac is a blog that emphasizes the realities of being gluten free. In her first post she writes “If you have Celiac and it has been a complete dream for you, then this blog probably isn’t for you.”

Check out her post about the new pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. This is the kind of blogging that I am talking about when I say I care about the social aspects of being gluten free. She admits that the pizza offered at Chuck E Cheese is, let’s just say, far from gourmet. The great thing about the pizza isn’t its taste but what it did for her kid: it let her daughter have a great time at Chuck E Cheese with all the other kids!

2. Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom - Although the name makes it seem like this blog only applies to people with kids: this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I find this blog very interesting and helpful. The blog “represents what all of us following the gluten-free LIFESTYLE are seeking: a place to find answers to some of the deeper questions.” The blog has a mix of posts about living gluten free as well as cooking gluten free.

3. Gluten Dude - This blog is candid, funny and informative. In particular, I love his post “13 reasons to be thankful you have Celiac Disease.” He also does some pretty interesting bits on his blog. For example, in honor of Celiac Awareness month and “to help raise awareness of our disease, [Gluten Dude] will be attempting 31 blog posts in 31 days.”

4. Gluten Free Mom – It is crazy to me that I love all the GF mom blogs so much considering the fact that I am not a mom. Nonetheless, these blogs are great! I find that moms seems to understand the fact that Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet has some serious effects on your social life. In addition, the moms are such great advocates. It is very hard to advocate for yourself but when it is your kid, I believe it becomes natural to advocate for their needs. Gluten Free Mom has fantastic restaurant guides for a bunch of different cities. I exclusively used her suggestions for where to dine in NYC and had a great experience.

5. NFCA — Though not a blog, I find that the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has the best monthly newsletter and website in terms of content and accessibility. The content is applicable to anyone on the gluten free diet, not simply people with Celiacs. NFCA goes out of its way to capture audiences of every generation/age group. Your, your kids, your grandparents and friends can all find interesting things to read that are geared towards their age group. Sign up for their monthly newsletter! Here is an article that I wrote for the NFCA newsletter about how to make a difference in local communities.

In addition to follow these blogs, I also follow all of these bloggers on twitter which is very fun and interactive!

Being engaged in the gluten free blogosphere is incredibly useful for leading a healthy, gluten free life. The constant updates about news in the GF community keeps you up to date with the most current information, the ability to comment on posts or use twitter gives you the chance to interact with people in the GF community and, finally, the blogs are a great source for information about being gluten free.

Get involved today!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to follow CC Gluten Freed! You can sign up easily by typing your email address into the box on the right-hand side of the screen.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Check out the other GF bloggers I recommended on Twitter and Facebook.

For Travel: https://twitter.com/#!/gfglobetrotter

For Fun: https://twitter.com/#!/GlutenDude

For Great Information: https://twitter.com/#!/CeliacCentral

For Moms and Dads: https://twitter.com/#!/adventuresgfmom

-CC

CDF Education Conference!

30 Apr

What a successful conference!  I am sure all who attended will agree that the day of feasting and learning could not have been better.  The Celiac Disease Foundation pulled out all the stops for this year’s Annual Education Conference and Food Faire.

I had a table promoting CC Gluten Freed and got some great feedback from the gluten free community.  I am so pleased to report that many people have found the site very helpful and even inspiring!

I was lucky enough to be considered a speaker at an event where such prominent figures as Dr. Stefano Guandalini of University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University Celiac Disease Center and Dr. Gregory Harmon of the UCLA Celiac Disease Center were speaking.  I lead the Young Adult, Teen and Tween session, designing activities and giving a speech about the surprising social benefits of being gluten free, a silver lining, if you will. At the end of the session I raffled off three Kraft Mac N’s Cheese Powder bottles!  This is one of the only foods I have not found a perfect GF substitute for.  I quested for the powder (sold separately from the glutinous pasta) for days and days and am so glad I found it.  You should have seen the kids’ faces when they won the ingredients for the best Mac N’ Cheese in US history.

In addition to the great speakers and educational lectures at this event, attendees had access to over a hundred food vendors providing samples of delicious GF products.  I, personally, could not help but go back for a second serving of pizza at the Udi’s table!

I learned a lot not only from the speakers but from the gf people who stopped by my table.  For example, I met a ton of people who were diagnosed with Celiacs only after their children or grandchildren were diagnosed!  I wonder if this is because of the involvement of parents in children’s health, the quality of pediatric care in the US compared to adult care or if there is some other explanation!  I also received a lot for requests to purchase CC Gluten Freed wristbands for family members, support groups or gluten free clubs and organizations.  In response, I have made the bracelets available here! I, personally, always wear 3 of them so I can give them away if I meet a GF person on the road!  The bracelets are very fun and meaningful.  Check out the meaning behind OWN IT.

For those of you who are just joining ccglutenfreed.com after meeting me at the conference: WELCOME!  I hope you enjoy the blog.  I had such a great time at the conference.  It was a day I will never forget.

drawing a crowd at the CC Gluten Freed table!

CC Gluten Freed was located next to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center table!

vendor exhibits



-CC

A Local GF Evolution

21 Mar

When I first moved the Berkeley I struggled to find places that offered gluten free options.  Despite being a foodie town, Berkeley has struggled to get on the gluten free bandwagon.  The enthusiasm was, and is, there but the necessary education and safe kitchen practices were simply missing…until now.

Four years later, I am pleased to report that Berkeley is impressively gluten free friendly, improving at an almost exponential rate.  I feel a sense personal responsibility for Berkeley’s improvement, though not sole responsibility. Berkeley’s success is a result of the collective efforts of individual students, community members and nonprofit organizations that work to promote Celiac awareness. In June, I am moving to Washington DC.  I hope to witness and contribute to this, in a sense, evolutionary phenomenom once again.

My father came to visit me last week and I made it a point to take him to as many  GFF (gluten free friendly) restaurants as possible during his stay. It was during this visit when I realized how much Berkeley has changed in the past four years.

La Mediterranee

I always order the same thing at La Med: pomegranate chicken with hummus and chopped veggies. Although my entree option is delicious, I always feel a twinge of jealously towards the people ordering the Tabbouleh, a Greek dish traditionally made with Bulgur Wheat.  Despite having dined at this restaurant over a dozen times, it wasn’t until this most recent trip that La Med told me that they just began offering a GF Tabbouleh, with quinoa serving as a substitute.  I made sure to ask my waitress to let the manager and chef know how much the GF option was appreciated!

Cream

If you visit Berkeley, students will almost invariably point you towards Cream for dessert, an ice-cream sandwich shop that always has a line out the door.  Despite only opening a year or so ago, Cream realized that there is a demand for GF options and began serving GF ice cream sandwiches.  I went to see how they handled cross-contamination and, to my surprise, they did quite well!  Cream keeps the GF cookies on a shelf above the gluten-containing cookies and toasts them on a designated and elevated rack in the oven. The elevation is particularly important because it protects the gluten free cookies from cross contamination via gravity, the last thing you want are little crumbs of gluten falling onto the designated GF oven rack!

Kirala

Arguably the best sushi restaurant in Berkeley, Kirala offers GF soy sauce to customers who ask for it!  The waitstaff is very educated about what the gluten free diet is and what kind of people will want GF soy sauce.  The first time I dined at Kirala, my waiter noticed my packet of Tamari soy sauce and immediately brought me a crystal bottle filled with GF soy sauce.

Filippo’s

It is rare that I find an Italian restaurant that has a GF option.  Filippo’s on College Ave. in Berkeley offers a GF gnocchi.  Unfortunately they used to cook this GF entree in contaminated pasta water!  I found this out the hard way but used my negative experience to improve my community’s GF options.  I wrote a letter to the manager explaining what was wrong with their kitchen practice and he followed up with me in person to show me the improvements the restaurant had made for GF customers. Click here to view sample letters to restaurants about cross contamination concerns. When I talked to Filipo’s about cross-contaomination they had no problem making a change and seemed genuinely glad for the feedback.

These are just a couple of examples of how restaurants can make small changes to their establishments to accommodate GF customers.  Have GF soy sauce in the back, designate oven racks for GF foods, these are cost-free, low maintenance changes that restaurants can make but, despite being a small change, can make a big difference for many customers.

If you have a local restaurant that you used to love before being diagnosed try talking to them about becoming gluten free friendly!

If the restaurant seems very interested in catering to the gluten free population tell them about GREAT Kitchens, an official gluten free training program for restaurant kitchens.  There is no harm in asking! At worst, you educate a restaurant and get gluten/allergens on their minds and at best you get your favorite restaurant back onto your list of dinner options!

-CC

Friends or Foes?

16 Jan

“We have to be careful that [the diet's growing popularity] doesn’t negate the seriousness of the situation for people with celiac disease.”

- Carol Shilson, executive director of the Celiac Disease Research Center at the University of Chicago

People who follow the gluten free diet but are not gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive or Celiac are a double edged swords when it comes to awareness.  As a Celiac, I both greatly appreciate and yet resent the people who jumped on the gluten free fad diet band wagon.  So, gluten free fad dieters…friends or foes?

Friends

Despite great improvements in the past ten years, awareness efforts have a long way to go.  Nonprofits have a natural audience consisting of Celiac patients and the medical community but do not have easy access to the general population.  Typically, people are not interested in things that do not specifically concern them.  Why would the average Joe care about an autoimmune disease that he did not have?  Awareness efforts are challenged by the fact that a substantial amount of people do not relate to the issue at hand: gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease.

Fortunately, the gluten free diet eventually caught the attention of health experts and dieters across the nation, sparking a new “fad diet.”  Consumers started asking more and more about gluten free options.  The word “gluten,” usually missing from the vocabulary of your average diner, is now becoming quite common.

When experts and dietitians started remarking about the health benefits of the gluten free diet, it made the gluten free diet relatable and relevant to the general population. The unintended consequence was a huge increase in the level of awareness in the general population, maybe not about Celiac Disease, but certainly about what gluten is.

Foes

Although the fad dieters made “gluten” a much more common utterance in restaurants, they have also morphed the reputation of gluten free people.  I tell people at restaurants to think of my gluten free diet like a nut allergy: even a trace will be terrible for my health.  I want people to group Celiacs with the anaphylactic allergies because, despite their physiological and definitional differences, it is a way for chefs and waiters to understand the seriousness of cross-contamination and double checking ingredients.

Now many people think of being gluten free  as simply a dietary preference or fad diet which changes the perception people have of those on a GF diet.  This means that chefs at restaurants are way less likely to avoid cross-contamination because they think of the GF diner as someone on Atkins or Weight Watchers.

I am grateful that so many people now know what gluten is but I am also very frustrated that the gluten free diet is being viewed as a weight loss tool or dietary preference instead of a medical treatment plan.

Implications?

I went to the Farmers Market in Santa Monica last weekend and witnessed the difference between catering to a gluten free dieter and catering to a Celiac.  One food stand advertised that they made “Buttermilk Pancakes” and “Buckwheat Pancakes.”  They did not say “gluten free” anywhere on the menu or on their stand’s sign.  The Buckwheat pancake ingredients are gluten free but they are cooked on the same griddle as the buttermilk pancakes.  They were catering to people who wanted gluten free food but did not need to be gluten free.

There is a difference between following a gluten free diet and being gluten free.

The stand adjacent to this one advertised breakfast burritos with etiher a whole wheat tortilla or a “Gluten-Free Brown Rice Wrap.”  Despite using the phrase “gluten free,” the wraps were heated and cut on the same surfaces as the whole wheat tortillas.  The cross-contamination was blatantly apparent!  I asked the cook if he used the same knives and cutting board for the GF option and he said “Ya..why?”

**I have already written a letter to this restaurant company explaining the problem with calling their menu item “gluten free.”  Check out the importance of letters and how you can make a difference!

Despite the knowledge of gluten in food, issues like cross-contamination still remain a barrier to health for people with Celiacs.  Make sure you are ever diligent in restaurants.  Ask your questions!  Just because a menu says “gluten free” doesn’t mean it is safe. There may cross-contamination issues that can be easily averted if you make sure to speak up for yourself while ordering.

While I appreciate the way gluten free dieters have contributed to the widespread promotion of information about  what gluten is, I am disappointed that the nuances of Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet have been muddled.  The point is…let go of any resentment you may feel towards people who consider the GF diet a fad and simply be grateful that they know what gluten is.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t our desired endpoint but it is a step in the right direction. I hope that a deeper understanding of its importance will accompany the ever-growing popularity of the gluten free diet.

-CC

Tradition

19 Dec

When you are diagnosed with Celiacs you say goodbye to many things. You must say goodbye to  bread, to pasta and to easy, stress-free dining. On the other hand you also say goodbye  to poor health, to weakness and to pain.  Is family tradition amongst this list?  How hard should you work to sustain tradition despite the gluten-free diet or should you simply let go of old traditions and make new ones?  The issue of traditions conflicting with the gluten-free diet seems most pertinent during the Holidays.  What does your family do for Christmas dinner and does it support your gluten-free diet?  Here is my story.

I come from an incredibly family oriented Italian background.  At some point during every Holiday season the family gets together and spends hours in the kitchen making ravioli for our Christmas dinner.  The recipe and process are part of a very old family tradition that brings Bonaduces from across the country together.  When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, the summer of 2008, we were so busy trying to figure out how to be gluten-free on a daily basis that we didn’t think much about my gluten-free future. My first Celiac Christmas there wasn’t much for me to eat, it was as if our family ravioli recipe should somehow be exempt from my GF diet and we didn’t plan ahead.

In the following years we tried many alternatives that would accommodate me while still preserving the family tradition: a side of GF gnocchi (failed), separate GF ravioli (failed) etc..  Eventually we found that the easiest solution, one that tasted good and completely avoided cross contamination, was to make GF lasagna a day before we made the ravioli.

Although this solution is fairly satisfactory there are still some issues at hand.  For one, we make the ravioli at my parent’s house which is where I stay during the Holidays.  This means that the house is filled with flour, the kitchen is completely dredged in flour and must be cleaned thoroughly  to the extreme and the air is a potential contamination risk for days.  Secondly, I am excluded from the family gathering.  I can’t be around people cooking with flour, check out this post for more information about the dangers of air-bourne gluten!  The family gets together and bonds over the process and reminisce about family stories while I have to go keep myself busy outside.

Should gluten-free people impose their lifestyle on the family to the point of altering time-honored tradition? In a way, it makes very little sense for a Celiac to continue a gluten-based tradition because Celiacs is genetic! The family is biologically unfit to have such traditions!  Where do you draw the line between science and sentiment?

I don’t know the answer to this problem.  The best way to sort through the issue of tradition and Celiac Disease is to speak openly and honestly with your family.  I know that my family would be terribly sad if we stopped with the ravioli tradition, I understand that and so for now I am happy to make GF lasagna on a separate day, in a separate kitchen to protect both myself and the family tradition.  Despite my spoken pragmatism, I do hope that one day we can change the family tradition to something that I can take part in.

As always, I hope everyone has an enjoyable and relaxing Holiday season!  The key to holidays and being gluten-free is staying calm and communicating your needs to your family.  There is no clear nor easy answer when it comes to deciding what to do about gluteny traditions when a family member is diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance. Try not to get upset about the things you miss and, instead, get excited for the new things you can bring to the Holiday season like delicious GF lasagna, GF gingerbread etc etc!  Take pride in your ability to make the holiday gluten-free and show off your culinary work to the extended family during the holidays! They will both be impressed by your work and will slowly come to better understand your needs as a Celiac.

Airborne Gluten!

18 Nov

As a UC Berkeley student studying public health, I spend a significant amount of time studying biology, chemistry and public policy.  Although none of my classes ever speak about gluten or Celiacs directly, I  constantly   relate what I am learning to my gluten free lifestyle.  Sometimes the best way to make sure you are 100% gluten free is to go back to the basics: biology.

Studying the respiratory system made me realize the real threat of airborne flour for a Celiac.  It should not come as a surprise that we inhale dust and debris on a constant and regular basis.  If flour is in the air then the people within that proximity will inhale it.  So what is the big deal?  Inhaled air goes directly to my lungs, not my intestines, so who cares?  Inhaled debris, dust and flour enter the bronchial tubes and are then pushed away from the lungs by hair-like projections called cilia.  The cilia, working in conjunction with the mucous lining of the passageways, remove debris by pushing it back into the throat where it is then swallowed. The debris only fully leaves the body once it is digested and excreted.  
To guarantee your safety, stay away from dry flour.  Before understanding the biological basis for this phenomenon, I experienced it.  Every Christmas Eve my very Italian family makes ravioli from scratch, an all-day endeavor.  My first gluten-free christmas, I knew I could not eat the food but I was happy that I could still help make the ravioli.  After about two hours in the kitchen I started to feel…foggy.  I felt tired and ill and really wanted some “fresh air.”  I left the room to take a breather and when I reentered the kitchen I noticed that we were working in a dust cloud!  Flour was everywhere!

Try to avoid dry flour.  It takes a long time for flour to fully leave the air.  Some articles that I have read say that flour can remain airborne for up to 24 hours.  If you are going to bake with non gluten-free flour, I suggest wearing a mask and/or gloves.  I know it sounds dramatic but you really do not want flour underneath your nails, not to mention that people absent-mindedly touch their mouths or pick up something to eat while messing around in the kitchen.

Another risk associated with airborne gluten is contaminating surfaces in your kitchen. If you are baking with gluten-containing ingredients, the airborne particles will likely settle on your counters, cutting boards, stove top etc. If you do use dry flour in your kitchen make sure you clean your kitchen throughly afterwards to avoid cross-contamination when using your kitchen!

 

-CC

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