Tag Archives: cross contamination

Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide

16 Dec

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Despite the snow covered trees, glittering lights, smoke from the chimneys and the overall sense of Holiday spirit that store fronts and houses display, for people living gluten-free there is usually a little bit of gluten-free gloom that hangs over the Holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, we are far from gluten-free grinches, but we cannot deny the nagging sense of anxiety that takes over when considering all of the ways that gluten can complicate even the simplest of Holiday celebrations. Your work may host a Holiday party, you may be staying with extended family members during the Holiday season, there may be a slew of dinner party invitations in your inboxes (or mailboxes if you are classic like that). Don’t let the Holidays overwhelm you! This Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide should help make the Holiday season gluten-free and stress-free.

1. Traveling

Regardless of your destination, taking the time to plan for traveling gluten-free can save you a lot of time and hassle when you are en route. Whether you are road tripping your way to Grandma’s house or flying to Cabo for a sunny Holiday getaway, these tips will help keep hunger pangs at bay.

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Download Find Me Gluten Free  

Find Me Gluten Free is an app for smart phones that takes your current GPS location and generates a list of gluten-free dining options ear your location.  The list includes reviews (many written by me!), menus, phone numbers and directions to restaurants that offer gluten-free options.

I know some of you may be thinking, “I know my hometown through and through, trust me there is nothing gluten-free,” but a lot can change in a year! Gluten-free products and menu-options are on the rise. In 2012, Time magazine listed “gluten-free” as one of the Top 10 Food Trends of the year and the projected growth of the gluten-free product market (currently at $4.2 billion, is $6.6 billion by 2017 (statistics from Packaged Facts).

You can use this app to find places to eat while on the road. When you have to stop for gas and a snack you may not know the area well which is where Find Me Gluten Free can be a huge help.

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Pack Snacks

Speaking of stopping for a snack…when flying or driving it is important to pack snacks, especially for long flights. About a month after being diagnosed with Celiac I hopped on a plane for a trip to Italy. Being new to the gluten-free lifestyle, I didn’t realize that the plane would have close to zero gluten-free options on board. Needless to say, by the time I landed in Rome, I was starving!

In my recent experiences traveling, there are usually gluten-free options on the flight menus but they are not always in stock or they are not very filling and/or not very nutritious. You don’t want to rely on a bag of potato chips to hold you over for 8+ hours while traveling.

What are some great snacks to pack? Here are some of my favorites:

▪   KIND Bars –  jammed packed with protein, fiber and other nutrients,  easy to eat and convenient to pack. Check out my post here.

▪   Pirate’s Booty — yummy and sold in small, individual servings (great for throwing into a bag or purse).

▪   Glutino Pretzels –  if the plane has hummus you can use your own pretzels! You can also grab the chocolate covered or yogurt covered pretzels offered by Glutino.

Call Ahead

If you are flying this Holiday season make a call to the airline and ask about their gluten-free options. Sometimes websites are not up to date or the information is not true for all of the flights the airline offers. Calling and talking to the airline company about your options while in the air is the most reliable way to get information about gluten-free options. You can read about my nightmare airline experience here.

Get Everyone Onboard (pun intended) 

If you are traveling with family or friends, make sure they are onboard about the gluten-free thing. It is easier to just bring it up at the start of the trip rather than wait until everyone is hungry and searching for a place to grab a bite. If your travel-mates know beforehand that stopping at Pizza Hut is not really an option for you, you won’t have to veto their glutinous choices! Be open and honest about what kind of pit stops will work for you.

2. Attending Dinner Parties 

There are many strategies you can use when attending a dinner party and which one you choose has a lot to do with the context of the party. Is it hosted by a close friend? A new friend? A friend of a friend? A neighbor? My go-to approach for attending a dinner party is a 3 step process.

  1. Call/email/text/Facebook message the host and ask what they are serving
  2. Disclose that you are gluten-free and what thats means
  3. Offer (by offer, I clearly mean insist politely) to bring a side-dish or a dessert.

Approach the chat with the dinner party host as conversational. Your goal isn’t to make the host change their menu or make everything gluten-free. The goal of the conversation is to figure out if there are any gluten-free dishes so you can plan accordingly.

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When you bring a side dish, make sure it is something quasi-filling because it may be all you end up being able to eat. I suggest a quinoa dish (here is my favorite recipe). When it comes to dessert, I suggest baking mini-gluten-free cupcakes (my Tiramisu cupcake recipe is always a hit at parties, check it out!).

Lastly, I suggest eating a little bit of food before heading over to the party. Gluten-free pro-tip? Never go anywhere truly hungry!

3. In-Laws/Extended Family

Does the word “In-Law” run shivers down your spine? Sometimes the idea of being a burden to the in-laws during the Holidays, especially for a new couple, is quite unnerving. What if you ruin their family traditions? What if you are that girl, the one who refuses to eat anything made by the family? Take a breath. Being gluten-free, for people with Celiac or gluten-intolerance, is not fleeting. This will be your reality at Holidays for years to come so it is best not to beat around the bush. Don’t down play how important being gluten-free is to you, just be open and honest about it. In most cases, people will be accommodating even if it does take them a while to truly understand what it means to be gluten-free.

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I have heard so many of my readers tell me that extended family members “just don’t get it” or are “unsupportive” or think that being gluten-free is a cry for attention or a fad diet. I don’t have any magic words of advice to fix that. It happens to all of us. You need to be patient and understanding even if the people you encounter are not. Remember, for most people the idea of being gluten-free is quite literally out-of-this-world-weird. So many cultural and religious traditions center around wheat (as an Italian and growing up in a Catholic household I can personally attest to this). It will take some time for people to accept the gluten-free lifestyle but if you are persistent, patient and willing to answer the questions people will inevitably have, they will come around.

4.Traditions

Here is where you may have to get a bit creative. Some family traditions may not be gluten-free friendly which means you will likely need to make some changes to your tradition or make a new tradition altogether. Check out my post about tweaking holiday traditions. If you or your family aren’t quite ready to make changes to family traditions for the gluten-free diet (maybe you are newly gluten-free and aren’t sure it is for you, maybe your family is still adjusting etc.) then take the time you need! Christmas will come around again next year, you can always make changes for future years. I had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease for four years before my Italian family made a complete transition to a gluten-free Christmas. We spent a few years trying to just add a gluten-free option but eventually  decided to make the entire dinner gluten-free since so many of my family members are now gluten-free. You can read about the Bonaduce transition from classic Italian Ravioli to gluten-free “roliolis” (a hybrid lasagna ravioli dish) here.

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There is no doubt that being gluten-free around the holidays can be a challenge but the most important piece of advice I can offer is to be graceful about being gluten-free. Take the Holidays in stride, be persistent and protect your health. Being an easy-going guest is not worth getting physically ill. By being open to talking about gluten-free options and your needs you can absolutely be gluten-free gracefully.

Have a great Holiday season!

Safe travels,

CC

Food Stars Go Gluten Free

18 Aug

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With Restaurant Week upon us in Washington DC I can’t help but think about how far the restaurant industry has come in the past few years when it comes to serving gluten-free customers!  Between the increase in demand for gluten-free products from the celiacs, the gluten intolerant and the fad dieters to the efforts of nonprofits like National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Celiac Disease Foundation and the Gluten Intolerance Group, people living gluten-free can enjoy the delicious foodie culture that has spread across the country!

Which star chefs and popular restaurants have joined the gluten-free bandwagon? A lot!

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Two old school Food Stars, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, offer a full gluten-free menu at all of the locations of Border Grill.  Milliken and Feniger starred in 396 episodes of Too Hot Tameles on the Food Network. Mary Sue also competed and was the first runner up in Top Chef Masters Season 3. Check out my pictures from my most recent visit to Border Grill in Downtown Los Angeles.


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Fish tacos with jicama, grapefruit, jalapeño aioli and avocado 

If you are a fan of the Food Network then you are probably familiar with Stacey Poon-Kinney, one of the final five contestants on The Next Food Network Star. Her restaurant, The Trails Neighborhood Eatery was also featured on an episode of Restaurant Impossible back in 2011. Poon-Kinney offers an extensive gluten-free menu at her restaurant including gluten-free pancakes, which, in my experience, are rarely offered at restaurants!

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Another star making delictable gluten-free offerings: Iron Chef  and restaurant owner Jose Garces. My favorite of the Garces Group restaurants is Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia. In addition to offering glutne-free options, this incredibly popular eatery can satisfy any top-notch foodie’s palate! Distrito has been trained by NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens.

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Jose Garces also had his restaurants Amada, Chifa and Tinto trained by GREAT Kitchens.  His illustrious Garces Trading Co restaurant offers a formal gluten-free menu. Here are some of the pictures from my most recent visit to Distrito!

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Stephen Starr, another wildly successful restauranteur and winner of Restauranteur of the Year by Zagat and Bon Appetit, has several restaurants that have been trained by GREAT Kitchens and offer gluten-free menus! During my last visit to Philadelphia I stopped by El Rey and enjoyed  a beautiful modern twist on a chille relleno smothered in a walnut sauce and stuffed with dried fruit, walnuts and ground beef.

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About a year ago a friend asked me how I could possibly consider myself a foodie given that I can’t eat most of the food offered by the most acclaimed chefs. Fact of the matter is, the gluten-free lifestyle is becoming more and more common. Restaurants have a financial incentive to cater to the gluten-free community because this particular foodie-niche happens to be an incredibly loyal customer base. When a restaurant makes a commitment to offering safe gluten-free options to its customers the gluten-free community talks about it. Apps like Find Me Gluten Free guide people living gluten-free directly to the doors of restaurants with gluten-free menus. When it comes to gluten-free customers, a gluten-free menu or a GREAT Kitchens logo on your restaurant door attract customers that will keep coming back.

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The gluten-free customer base is loyal and hungry so when chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Jose Garces offer something gluten-free they are pretty much guaranteed a huge influx of new customers.

Next on my list of places to try? One of the newer Stephen Starr restaurants, Le Diplomate in Washington DC! To my fellow Washingtonians, enjoy Restaurant Week! Remember to ask the necessary questions to avoid cross-contamination while dining out! Check out this link to The Gluten Free Professional to help you become a savvy celiac diner! Check out the section called “networking” for specific tips on dining out!

-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

How To Make the Most of Celiac Awareness Month!

30 Apr

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This year I am taking Celiac Awareness Month a little more personally than years past! In March, I went to the Digestive Disease National Coalition and met with Senators to discuss Resolution 550 that officially makes May  National Celiac Awareness Month.

When talking with the Senate staff I explained that making May Celiac Awareness Month gives members of the gluten free community a great jumping off point for awareness campaigns and projects. For example, the Gluten Intolerance Group implements their Chef-To-Plate program every May that gets restaurants to display information about the gluten free diet at their establishments. NFCA’s Fuel the Family program will share family stories from the gluten free blogosphere, daily gluten free product spotlights and will be promoting a Wear Green Day! The Celiac Disease Foundation has their annual Gluten Free EXPO on the 4th and 5th of May in Pasadena, California.

We don’t need to leave all the work to the nonprofits though! There are plenty of small projects and actions you can take to promote Celiac awareness during the month of May.

I want to practice what I preach by using May as a jumping off point for my awareness efforts. Any increase in awareness, no matter how small, can make a big difference in the lives of people living gluten free. How many times have you been at a restaurant when the waiter happened to know all about the gluten free diet and cross-contamination because he knew someone who knew someone? Although there is no instant gratification when it comes to promoting awareness, our collective work really does make a difference!

I know we are all busy; however, below is a list of ideas that won’t take up too much of your time but can still help you promote awareness.  Items on this list should be able to fit into the busiest of schedules. For example, I am a first year teacher at a turnaround school in the DC Region, I am taking the MCAT on May 11 and I am applying to medical school in June but I will be doing the items on the list with asterisks* next to them.

1. **Facebook Banner – if you are a member of  any type of group that hosts events I am sure you have been asked to change your profile picture or banner to promote events.  When I was an undergraduate, my professional sorority used to make it a “sister-requirement” to change our profile pictures during Rush.  This is a simple yet super effective way to promote awareness and it only takes a few seconds! You can design your own banner or picture to display or go to this website for some pre-made banners promoting awareness!

On that note, remember to Like CC Gluten Freed on Facebook!

For the entire month of May, I am changing my banner to:

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2. **Buy a few Gluten Free shirts and wear them every Monday for the month of May (or any day, I just liked the alliteration) Here are some of the shirts I bought for May 2013. If you want to go the extra mile, buy some GF swag for family members too! I know it seems excessive but I really did order all of these items…there aren’t many perks to being gluten free, at least we have cute clothes!

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I also have the Gluten Freek shirt from Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, California amongst many others.

3. **Pinterest Challenge - I am going to post one picture to Pinterest every day for the month of May that will promote awareness.  This is my goal for Celiac Awareness Month.  I will keep you all posted with my updates!

4. Twitter – Commit to tweeting about gluten free experiences during the month of may. You can post about restaurants you go to, foods you make, people you meet, anything just keep the posts coming!

5. Blog – Last May Gluten Dude updated his blog every single day for the month of May.  This is way too big a time commitment for me but if you can do it then more power to you! It is great for boosting your creativity. In order to get ideas to write about you might end up doing some research and learn something new yourself!

6. Donate – Worried about the time commitment? The quickest way, though not cheapest, way to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month is to donate to your favorite GF nonprofit. National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Gluten Intolerance Group and Celiac Disease Foundation are some of my favorites. They do great work to promote awareness across the country!

7. Make a basket for a friend – Reconnect with members of the gluten free community by sending them a basket! Maybe you met someone at the last gluten free expo you attended or maybe you exchanged business cards with a random gluten free person you met last week or maybe you attended a gluten free support group meeting a year ago and  still have some contacts. Follow up with these connections and send a little GF goodie basket!

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8. Go to an event – Check out this website that lists gluten free events going on around the country. Find one near you. You can also check out websites that list Celiac and/or gluten free support groups. Attend a meeting!  You can also go to http://www.meetup.com and find a MeetUp group in your area that connects gluten free locals.

9. Bake GF cupcakes for your coworkers – What better way to explain about the gluten free diet than by giving people delicious treats? This is a great way to get your coworkers to be more supportive of your lifestyle. If you can, make the frosting Green. Here is a great recipe for Tiramisu cupcakes.  Here is a review of a great GF all-purpose flour so you can convert fun recipes you find online.

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10. **Get friends and family involved  – The best way to really understand what it is like to live with Celiac Disease is to actually try being gluten free for a day.  Have a friend or family member order gluten free while dining out for a week even if they aren’t celiac.  When I first started to show signs that I was struggling with being gluten free, my uncle decided to try being gluten free to see what the problem was.  It then became clear to him how challenging it truly is. Cross-contamination issues, awareness issues, dining out, social problems that arise because of being gluten free are all among the list of challenges that people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance face. These issues are pretty invisible to the average Joe, so get your family or friends informed by teaching them how to live gluten free, even if just for a week. The only way to truly get it is to live it.

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

-CC

The Gluten Free Professional: the gluten free diet and your career

20 Apr

Can being gluten free affect you professionally? The answer may surprise you!  The importance of networking is lost on few careers. From working your way up from server to management to making partner at a law firm, networking with colleagues and others in the biz, can play a big part in your professional success.  Where does networking happen? Where do most social encounters happen…while eating!  Food is social to the point where its purpose is probably more about connecting with others than it is about nutrition.  Come on, birthday cake has very low nutritional value yet has great cultural value. The role of food is social and, when you take that into the workplace, it becomes professional.

Let’s go through a few of the potentially problematic gluten free scenarios you may face in your professional life:

Meetings

The most common place you may find yourself in an awkward GF situation is during regular meetings or conferences at work. Of course, it depends on where you work and how meetings are run, but I am picturing a conference room with a big oval table and chairs squished really close together so all of your coworkers can fit.  Instead of a vase of flowers as a centerpiece you will see a box of donuts, a plate of danishes, or a stack of half-sandwiches from a local deli.  What should you do in these situations?

If you have been with the same job for a while most of your coworkers probably know that you are gluten free (why the lack of GF options then, I don’t know. Baby-steps, people!).   You have a few options:

Option 1: Bring a snack

This is my favorite of the three options for several reasons. It is a happy medium between not drawing too much unwanted attention with a big outside lunch while also not feeling deprived or left out.  Keep snack bars or chips in your desk drawer and bring them to the meeting.  Simple solution to what sometimes feels like a huge problem.

Option 2: Abstain

Plenty of people in your office will probably not partake in the provided refreshments.  Maybe you had a late or large breakfast. Maybe you don’t like whatever is provided. Maybe you have dinner plans later and don’t want to spoil your appetite. Maybe you are on a diet. There are plenty of reasons that people don’t eat food that has been set out before them, not just because it has gluten in it. Don’t feel pressured to partake but also don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.  You don’t have to justify not eating the food!  It is not outside the realm of normal to abstain, so don’t stress about it.

Option 3: Bring lunch

There is nothing wrong with bringing lunch from the outside world into a meeting if everyone is going to be eating anyways. This is my least favorite of the three options, though, mainly because of convenience.  You may not have time to run out of the office and get food before the meeting. Another issue is that bringing a big outside lunch draws a lot of attention to you and your food.  It will smell different, look different and be packaged differently.  I get plenty of attention from being GF and, in a setting like this, I do not want that attention.

The benefits of bringing in your own lunch are that you won’t be hungry and you get to eat with your coworkers! If you do choose this option, do so with pride (OWN IT!).  You don’t have to feel victimized because you can’t eat the deli sandwiches provided. Your lunch is probably fresher and more delicious anyways! Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, focus on the fact that your lunch is something that you chose and enjoy it.

Networking

This situation may be a little trickier than a conference room full of donuts.  If your job requires networking with clients, prospective employees, getting to know your executive team or your boss then you will likely find yourself in the position of dining out!  There are some steps you can take to reduce the GF stress you may feel building in you as you think about giving the gluten speech in front of your boss or prospective client!

Strategy 1: Control the Environment

Try suggesting a restaurant that you know is safe or a restaurant that you frequent (maybe the wait-staff knows you and your GF needs already).  I like to suggest a few diverse options in the hopes that the person in question will choose from my provided list!  If this fails, then move to Strategy 2.

Strategy 2: Benign Deception

Whenever I really don’t want to be a spectacle while ordering I engage in benign deception.  I know this may seem over-the-top but sometimes (often, actually) I just don’t feel like putting myself on display while ordering!  I will excuse myself from the table and say that I am going to wash up or use the restroom. In actuality, I am tracking down the hostess or server to discus GF options BEFORE she/he comes to take our order.  If I can’t find the server assigned to my table I ask the hostess for help.  I explain that I am gluten free and really don’t want to have to ask questions and put on a show in front of the person I am eating with. In my experience, the hostess usually gets it. Make sure you are transparent and honest though otherwise it comes off as really odd that you are going so far out of your way to put in an order!

Here are some potential questions you can ask:

  1. Can you ask the chef which items are gluten free on the menu?
  2. What modifications do I need to make to make ____________________ gluten free?
  3. Do you know which items are gluten free off the top of your head or can you grab someone who does?

Once I figure out what I can order I go back to my table.  When the server comes I can put in an order as smoothly as my non-GF lunch date!

Strategy 3: Order Simply

If you don’t want to implement Strategy 1 or 2 here is another alternative: order simply.  Once you have been gluten free for a while you start to get good at deciphering menus and figuring out what is likely to be gluten free. This is risky!! Not telling your server that you are gluten free can get you into trouble sometimes so use this strategy with care. I might order a salad and specify no croutons, bread or dressing (even if croutons aren’t listed in the description on the menu, say it anyways!). The last thing you want to do is send a dish back in front of a prospective client because you forgot to mention an important detail about what you wanted eg no croutons!

Happy Hours

Happy Hours are pretty common places for coworkers to socialize after work but can sometimes be tricky if you are gluten free.  Most bar food is horrible for the gluten free diet because the menu items are usually fried in contaminated oil (wings, French fries, calamari etc).  Avoid food at happy hour unless you have talked to the wait-staff or cook beforehand.  Since you are not eating make sure you limit your alcohol intake! You don’t want to be that coworker. Beer is super common at Happy Hours, especially because there are great deals on pitchers.  Take pride in not drinking the beer otherwise you are going to feel bummed out and excluded. You don’t have to tell people it is because you are gluten free if you don’t want to. Some people don’t like beer anyways! You can always go for a glass of wine or a mixed drink. Consult GF resources to make sure your drink of choice is gluten free. I keep things simple and order a glass of wine.  Avoid any weird mixed drinks unless the bartender is willing to tell you the ingredients. Check out Triumph Dining’s list of gluten free alcoholic beverages. 

The thing to remember about happy hour is that people are happy to be there! Work is over and I promise you that no one cares what you are eating or drinking so long as you are having a good time!

Holiday party/Retirement Party/Celebrations

A work party is no different than any other holiday event or dinner party you may have gone to in the past. Don’t overthink it! Use the same strategies you use for other parties. You can check out my posts on how to survive Easter dinner parties  for some tips.

One bit of advice: just bring something! Again, you don’t have to make everything about gluten. You can control the narrative so that you do not feel like a victim of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Bring a dish to be nice/polite/for fun or to show off your cooking or baking skills.  You can bake these awesome Tiramisu cupcakes or bring this savory quinoa dish that will be sure to impress!  If you bring a dish you earn brownie points with the host and it guarantees that you have something to munch on during the party.

Traveling

Some jobs require traveling and this can make finding GF food challenging.  You will be in unfamiliar territory and may be traveling with a team from work.  Download the Find Me Gluten Free application on your smartphone before you head out to your travel destination. This app takes your GPS location and gives you a list of restaurants with GF options near you. You can easily make suggestions on where to dine to your work team. Tell them there is a Chipotle about a mile down the road and they will probably be impressed how well you know your way around the area!

If traveling alone you have more flexibility and the app should be enough to help you find food options. If you are having issues because the people you are traveling with want to go out for pizza remember you can probably order a salad but more importantly, if you are traveling with these people, you should probably just explain the gluten thing! You may be surprised how understanding they can be.  If a conflict arises you will have to just talk it out. Hopefully all parties involved will be professional about where to dine considering it is a work trip anyways and not a vacation!

If traveling, make sure you pack snacks to have on the road.  Pack protein bars or you can always buy Kind bars at Starbucks! Here is a post on traveling gluten free by air!

Being gluten free in the professional world may be an extra challenge but, let’s be honest, being gluten free makes almost all food-related situations more challenging. Why would work be the exception? It isn’t fair but we can make the best of every situation by being prepared and having a positive attitude.  Remember that you can control the narrative. A lot of people experience negative feelings like being victimized, excluded or simply anxious over situations that may arise but we can take steps to change that frame of mind.  By being proactive we can turn negative situations into positive ones like bringing cupcakes to the next work function. Yes you have to put in some extra work but you get to eat cupcakes and your coworkers will enjoy them too!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and, come Monday, get ready to be gluten free professionally!

-CC

This Week On The Hill: Celiac Disease and Politics

4 Mar




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When I moved to Washington DC to teach 7th grade Science I never thought that I would end up in the offices of Senators and members of the House promoting legislation that will benefit the gluten free community. Advocating for the gluten free community is one of my greatest passions, it is why I started this blog, go to events and volunteer for many of the gluten free and/or Celiac nonprofits in the United States, but I never thought I would have the ear of the US government.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition held its annual public forum, uniting people from across the digestive disease spectrum for one cause: get our needs on Congress’s radar. DDNC held multiple informational lectures on Sunday preparing the volunteer advocates for our day on the Hill. Sunday night ended in an amazing Welcome Reception. I never expected to worry about over eating at a Digestive Disease event but the food was incredible and 100% gluten free despite the fact that Celiac Disease is only a small subset of the overall coalition. Katz provided the gluten free desserts as well as toast and muffins for breakfast the next day.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition unites people advocating for the treatment and prevention of conditions ranging from colorectal cancer to pancreatisis to gastro paresis to Celiac Disease to Chrons and much much more. The showing of volunteers was truly inspiring because we had policy makers, presidents of nonprofit organizations, patients and the families of patients all working together to promote legislation that will help cure, treat and prevent digestive diseases. I met cancer survivors who showed up to support people still fighting for their lives. I worked with people who were physically exhausted by the end of the day because they are living with serious chronic illnesses. The solidarity demonstrated by the digestive disease community is something to be revered.

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Although I am from California, I was representing the state of Maryland today, my current residence. I was happy to be with Team Maryland because Marilyn Geller, Chief Operating Officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, was here representing the political needs of Californians living with Celiac Disease. Alice Bast, president of National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, was here representing Pennsylvania along with a small cohort of other members of NFCA. I was very proud to be a part of the Celiac cohort present at DDNC.

DDNC divided our coalition by state, forming teams of around six people. The teams were responsible for planning what would be pushed for during our meetings with Senators and Representatives and had to elect a team leader to facilitate the discussions. I was elected leader for Team Maryland which was both humbling, terrifying and exhilarating.

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I met with the offices of Senator Mikulsi, Senator Cardin, Representative Ruppersberger and Representative Van Hollen. The main goal of our visit was to push for an increase in National Institute of Health funding from $31 billion to $32 billion. Honestly, it was an easy sell given the fact that the people I met with were democrats, on various health committees and the NIH is located in Maryland so its funding directly impacts the state by increasing jobs in the health field.

You may be wondering what can Congress do for someone living with Celiac Disease. That is a fair question, unlike many diseases and conditions out there, Celiacs doesn’t have a very long or involved legislative agenda, something the gluten free community hopes to change in the next few years. However, there are a few issues that are pretty significant: 1. Gluten Free Labeling Laws 2. National Celiac Awareness Month (May)

Currently, the gluten free labeling bill is being reviewed in the Office of Management and Budget which is great. It should get sent back to the FDA soon for approval. The main issue I focused on in my Congressional visits was the declaration of May as Celiac Awareness Month.

In a time when budgets are tight and sequestration has broken the hearts of many members of Congress, pushing for meaningful legislation that doesn’t cost Congress a dime is pretty heart warming business. There is no reason for Congress not to proclaim May as National Celiac Awareness Month; however, there is a risk that this issue gets overlooked given the complicated political climate. My goal was to get this House and Senate Resolution on their radar.

I explained to the members of Congress that Celiac Awareness Month is incredibly important to our community. For one thing, the biggest challenge with living gluten free is the overall lack of awareness in the general population about the condition. Celiac Awareness Month helps get the word out because not only does the government get involved but it gives nonprofits like Celiac Disease Foundation, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group a wonderful platform for awareness campaigns during the month of May. For example, last year GIG was able to reach over eight million people through their Chef to Plate program that has restaurants that currently offer gluten free menus promote Celiac and GF awareness for the month of May.

In addition to helping people currently diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance, declaring May as an official Celiac Awareness Month can help us increase the number of accurate diagnoses. This is where I got the attention of Congress: misdiagnosed Celiac patients are a drain on the economy. Before diagnosis, many Celiacs see close to ten physicians, racking up medical bills. Additionally, they are usually prescribed medications to treat symptoms that could be completely eradicated by following a gluten free diet. They undergo expensive procedures like endoscopies, blood tests, colonoscopies etc racking up more and more medical bills, potentially going into debt. Furthermore, undiagnosed people tend to be very sick, they may have to leave the workforce, start getting disability checks from the government or declare themselves as unemployed.

Personally, I feel like the quality of life arguments should be enough to tug at the heart strings of members of Congress but if not I am happy to make arguments that tug on the purse strings, and those arguments happen to quite plentiful.

I found overwhelming support for the Celiac Awareness Month Resolution. The staff aides asked me several follow up questions and even asked me for my contact information so they could get more information for their Senator on this issue.

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The Kennedy Caucus Room

I had such a wonderful time. Not only did I meet great people, true champions for their causes, but I got to spend time with NFCA and CDF as well as eat amazing food. I know the food is the least important part of the day but I have to admit it really was amazing to see gluten free accommodations made so efficiently and without error. The luncheon held in the Kennedy Caucus Room was a sandwich buffet that had gluten free and gluten-containing options but avoided cross contamination by separating and labeling the types of bread and providing condiments in packets instead of a common serving bowl and a knife to spread onto the bread.

The people I met today were so inspiring because many of them are patients who came out to represent the needs of people living with their conditions. These are people who took off work in order to promote a good cause, people who were willing to put themselves on the spot and speak to members of Congress about very personal matters. I have always said how much I love the gluten free community because it is such a supportive, connected and united group of people but what I didn’t know is that we have a host of brothers and sisters out there living with digestive diseases who are fighting the same battles for quality of life. I’m proud to be gluten free and proud to be a part of DDNC!

Consider signing up for the Digestive Disease National Coalition next year! It is an experience worth having!!

-CC

CC Gluten Freed’s Best of 2012

5 Jan

As the nation reviews the employment, or rather unemployment, data from December 2012, I too feel inclined to take a look at some numbers. CC Gluten Freed had a fantastic year when quantified in terms of hits and viewer traffic! Now, asking a blogger for the number of hits per year/day/whatever is similar to asking a woman her age: it is simply impolite. I will happily reveal some of my aggregate data and post CC Gluten Freed’s top hits of 2012! Just as NPR reviews the best podcasts, I will be reviewing my top posts of this year for you to share with friends or just enjoy for a second read through.

Best-of-2012

#1 Post of 2012

So you want to take a cooking class…

This post offers advice for taking mainstream cooking classes while being gluten free.  The cooking classes advertised as “gluten free” are usually special courses offered sporadically at cooking schools, local markets and local stores.  Gluten free people need to be able to cook for themselves since restaurants always pose a risk and bringing a dish to dinner parties is always a must.  How are we supposed to become master cooks when the only classes we attend teach gluten free baking and/or are hyper-specific classes eg a specific type of cuisine.

I wanted to take a cooking series that covered all the basics of cooking: knife skills, sauces, meats and poultry, baking, grains etc. Check out the top post of 2012 to find out how I managed to make my experience a gluten free on. 

#2 Post of 2012

The Domino’s Effect

Remember when Domino’s thought they were being gluten free? This post looks at the situation critically and examines both sides of the issue: was Domino’s position on gluten free pizza a valid one? Spoiler alert! I conclude that it was an absolutely abhorrent decision on Domino’s part.

In this post I applaud the NFCA for making sure that Domino’s did not falsely advertise their pizza. GREAT Kitchens was able to evaluate the kitchen practices that Domino’s intended to implement and concluded that their kitchen practices are not safe for Celiacs.

In addition, I point out the negative implications of such careless actions on Domino’s part.  Do the decisions of big companies have a domino effect?  Read to find out!

#3 Post of 2012

The Importance of Letters

The third favorite of 2012 is “The Importance of Letters.” I am glad that this post ranked so high in terms of traffic because this was one of my founding pieces for CC Gluten Freed.  The whole idea behind this blog is to spread awareness and teach my readers how to advocate for themselves and other people living with Celiac Disease.   This post discusses the what, when, where, why and how of writing letters to restaurants about gluten free customer experiences.

Check out how you can make a difference by spreading the word.

#4 Post of 2012

The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

I am also glad that this post had so many views because it is a great resource for people who are gluten free but are still feeling symptomatic. In some cases, people let bits of gluten slip into their diet from some unexpected sources!  This post looks at five foods that a lot of gluten free people continue to eat even though they shouldn’t.

My favorite part of this post is the very end. I tell you five things you may be surprised to realize that you CAN eat!

#5 Post of 2012

Recipe: Quinoa with Cucumber and Mint – White Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish 

Coming in at #5 we have my recipe for cucumber mint quinoa!  This recipe is absolutely delicious!  It is a great dish to serve in the summer time because it is filling yet refreshing. I include little changes you can make to this recipe to keep things interesting. You can use this versatile recipe in so many contexts.

One tip: the Quinoa dish is perfect for bringing to a dinner party as a gift for the host.  It is filling enough so that if there isn’t anything you can eat your plate will still be full (as well as your stomach) but the dish is light enough that it won’t steal the show from whatever main entree your dinner host is serving.

Check out this post for the recipe!

 

 

Here’s to another year of great posts and many readers!

 

-CC

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolution 2013

30 Dec

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This is my second, and now annual, Celiac/gluten-free New Year’s Resolution post on CC Gluten Freed. The gluten free diet is so much more than a diet. In fact, I usually describe myself as “being gluten free” as opposed to following a gluten free diet. Semantics, yes, but an important point none-the-less. Being gluten free means adapting a whole new relationship to food, something that shapes our every day lives, holidays and traditions. Considering how complicated and challenging being gluten free can be, it seems appropriate to make our New Year’s Resolutions at least related to improving our health and gluten free lifestyle.

Last year I had a slue of NYRs all about improving my gluten free lifestyle. You can check out last year’s list here but in summary, I decided to:

1. Be (even more) gluten free – this means making smart, safe choices at restaurants like getting a salad instead of french fries due to risk of cross contamination.

2. Become informed — I vowed to start following GF blogs so that I can stay current on what other GF advocates are up to.

3. Get techy — there are many phone apps out there that make being gluten free much simpler. I decided to start using those applications including, my favorite, Find Me Gluten Free, an app that takes your GPS location and gives you a list of GFF (gluten free friendly) places nearby.

I wrote a follow-up last June about how I was doing with my NYRs and, I swear this to be true, I was pretty good about staying committed. In years past my new year convictions have always been more like token resolutions. “I will go to the gym every day!” or “I will eat salad at every single meal!” Though enthused, I never seemed to follow through with my generic resolutions. The problem? Conviction. I did not take the time to hash out the reasons why the resolutions were meaningful to me and, not surprisingly, they fell to the way side as the year started getting busy and hectic. I am proud to announce that for 2012 I successfully adopted all of my GF-NYRs and improved my gluten free life as a result.

My resolution this year is much simpler than my complex list of 2012 gluten free NYRs. This year has to do with defense and preparedness. The ability to absorb nutrients is often more limited in someone with Celiac Disease compared to the average Joe. Here’s why: the gluten free diet only works by completly eliminating gluten, not by merely limiting it. Many newly diagnosed believe that a low gluten diet will have close to the same benefits as being exclusively gluten free and that, my friends, is a misconception. When people think of a “diet’ they typically think of weight loss and we all know that if we limit our caloric intake we will lose weight. The more calories we restrict, the more weight that will be lost. Disclaimer: this is an over simplification of metabolism and weight loss but, in simplest terms, the relationship between caloric intake and weight loss is directly proportional whereas the relationship between nutrient absorption and gluten intake is more complicated and convoluted. Even trace amounts of gluten can trigger the production of counterproductive antibodies that will damage your small intestine. My point is that if you kind of diet, you will kind of lose weight whereas if you are kind of gluten free you will not be kind of symptom free, you will remain in the pain and state of malnutrition that originally provided hints for your diagnosis.

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Even compulsive Celiacs like myself (I say that in the most endearing way possible) cannot completely avoid gluten due to cross-contamination and accidents that will inevitably occur despite your best efforts. How can we prepare our bodies for such encounters? What can we do to compensate for the fact that we may not be absorbing nutrients as efficiently as a none Celiac?

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My NYR for 2013 is to take a daily vitamin, religiously, strictly and obligatorily. We have all heard doctors, moms and the like push us to take a daily vitamin but how many of you actually do it every day? I am super health conscious and still happily skip swallowing the disgusting smelling pellet of nutrients frequently. As a Celiac, I need all the nutrition I can get. If I don’t pay close attention to my diet, I cannot guarantee that I am getting all of the vitamins and minerals I need on a daily basis, deplting my body’s supplies and holding myself back from better health.

This year, starting January 1,2013 I will be taking my daily vitamin every morning, even if it is an unpleasant way to start the day. I have decided on taking Multi Vites Gummies. The benefit is that it is labeled as gluten free and the taste and texture of the vitamin but it does not have iron which means I will need to go the extra mile and buy an iron supplement as well. I advise not skipping out on the iron. Iron is essential to your body running properly, it is found in every cell of your body, helps with oxygenation and, if you don’t have enough iron in your body, you may experience fatigue.

Make sure the vitamin you pick is labeled gluten free!! I read through the ingredients on a gummy vitamin made by One-A-Day and concluded it was GF only to find that the allergen label said Contains Wheat! There are so many odd ingredients in vitamins that we may not recognize a potentially gluten containing ingredient so go for something with a GF label!

You may think I am being too picky, I mean come on, it is just a vitamin! Keep in mind that this is something that will start off my day for the next 365 days. The decision is not a small one! What I decide to take will impact my year and potentially my health. I want to make sure I make an informed decision.

If you are really interested in supplements and daily vitamins, another great choice for a Celiac is Fish Oil/omega 3s. The fish oil supplements work to combat inflammation in the body. Celiacs is an inflammatory condition: the antibodies we generate in response to consuming gluten cause a lot of inflammation in the body (thus the arthritis many experience prior to diagnose).

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I know it may not be enjoyable to have a regime of pills every morning but think of it this way: we have a disease where the treatment is not a pill cocktail but rather a diet. Even though being gluten free is challenging we are very lucky not to have to deal with side effects and financial expenses associated with prescription medications like the price of seeing the doctor to get your prescription followed by the actual price of the medication. As far as excuses go, we don’t have many with merit to not take a daily vitamin especially considering the nature of Celiac Disease in relation to absorption and nutrition.
Like last year, you can expect a follow up from me in June 2013! In the spirit of no-secrets-blogging, I will even post a copy of my blood work from 2012 compared to 2013 to see if the daily vitamin is making a difference!

Cheers to a new year and to preventative care and newly improved health!

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-CC

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FAQ: “So…what happens to you when you eat gluten?”

6 Dec

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One of the most frequently asked questions has got to be “What happens to you when you eat gluten?” This is a pretty reasonable question considering how serious and dire I sound when talking about being GF.  When I order, I double and sometimes triple check that the server understands my needs, I always bring a side dish to dinner parties just in case and many of my friends have seen the blood drain from my cheeks when I suspect I have just been cross-contaminated.  So what is all the fuss about? I mean, what happens to a Celiac who eats gluten?

For years I have given a textbook-perfect answer to this question. You know, the whole “the lining of my small intestines flattens and I can no longer absorb nutrients” speech. I do this partially because it makes it less personal but mostly because I have not had a significant amount of gluten sneak into my diet since becoming gluten free. I know what it was like before being gluten free.  I know how to describe what living with untreated Celiac Disease is like but I did not know what would happen to me if I, say…decided to eat a bowl of spaghetti out of the blue.

In short, I really didn’t know what would happen if I ate a significant amount of gluten, as opposed to the trace amounts I have been exposed to since my diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, I am now able to answer this question with more accuracy and detail than I’d like.  The memory of this Thanksgiving break is still very fresh in my mind. If you are wondering what happens to a highly compliant Celiac after eating a bowl of gluten, you are about to find out.

On Wednesday, November 21, I boarded a flight heading from Washington DC, my new home, to Los Angeles, California.  I had a plan: I wasn’t going to eat breakfast so that I could save room for my favorite food in Los Angeles: GF Spaghetti from Rosti in Encino.  The second I got off the plane I sent a text-message to my dad that read: “Landed! Can we go to Rosti????”

Once I got to the restaurant I ordered GF Spaghetti with Pink Sauce.  When the server brought me the bowl I noticed that the pasta looked different from the last time I was there, about three months ago. Rosti is pretty good about being gluten free. They know all about using fresh water to cook the pasta and designated-gluten free utensils to serve the dishes.  I was pretty confident in their GF protocol but, as an ever-vigiliant Celiac, I decided to double check anyways. I told the waiter that the pasta looked different to me and said “Are you sure this is the GF spaghetti?” He confirmed that it was and I dug in!

After the meal my stomach kind of hurt, nothing major.  As I got to the car, it started to really hurt. I pulled my mom aside and told her that my stomach was hurting and felt kind of crampy.  We decided that I probably upset my stomach by eating so and so much fast after not eating for almost 10 hours (what can I say? I’m Italian and I love my spaghetti!).

On Thanksgiving morning I sang at a tri-lingual Catholic mass with my family.  Halfway through the service I started to feel really woozy, then hot and then really nauseas.  My vision started to blur and black around the edges of my eyes.  I stumbled out of the church to get some air. I made sure I got some water since I thought I must be very dehydrated.

In the evening, while eating my turkey and mashed potatoes, I felt a weird pain in my chest. You know that sharp pain you get when you swallow wrong and it feels like you have gulped air?  I had a persistent pain at the top of my ribs between my chest and my back.  I thought I must have swallowed wrong and that the pain would go away.  When I got home, the exhaustion finally hit me and I collapsed into my bed.  I woke up at around 2:00am because of extreme nausea.  I got up and drank some water, once again, chalking my discomfort up to dehydration.  I woke up again at 4:00am nauseas again but this time frothing at the mouth (gross, I’m sorry but I got to keep it real).  I drank more water and went back to sleep.

The next day that weird pain in my chest had gotten even worse. I couldn’t eat, drink or breathe deeply without writhing in pain.  I had no idea what was wrong with me and had to make a tough decision: spend time with my family or spend the rest of my Thanksgiving holiday at the ER.  I decided to stay with my family. I figured that if something was really wrong with me I would have passed out by now.  At this point, I still do not know what is wrong with me. I definitely was not suspecting gluten.  I had never felt this way before!

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The only thing I wanted to do was get more spaghetti since I was leaving LA the next day. When we went back to Rosti the spaghetti that was put in front of me looked suspiciously different from the bowl I had eaten on Wednesday.  This is the moment when my mother and I started putting all the pieces together.  It wasn’t until the next day that I got my final clue and confirming evidence.

Three days after that first bowl of spaghetti at Rosti a blister, my final clue, appeared on my forearm.  It was the one symptom I could recognize as being from Celiac Disease.  The next thing I did was call Rosti to confirm my suspicions.  When I called I explained the situation which culminated in asking them “Do you have two brands of GF spaghetti?” The answer was no.  I had eaten an entire bowl of straight-up gluten.  I hate having to share this story about my favorite GF restaurant. They are the only place i have found that has GF spaghetti and I am definitely going back even though they really hurt me.

In the future, when people ask what happens to me when I eat gluten, I think I will stick with the short and sweet textbook answer.  The physical consequences I experienced after eating gluten were pretty terrifying and painful! The experience reminded me why I created this blog.  Living with Celiacs is so much more than just following a diet.  The stakes are really high.

When I don’t get contaminated for a while I sometimes lose focus, especially about the purpose of CC Gluten Freed. Sometimes I doubt myself and wonder why I thought it was necessary to start a blog that focuses on helping people comply with the gluten free diet. What’s a little gluten here and there?  It is at these moments that I slip up and wind up hurting myself. After truly finding out what happens to me when I eat gluten, I am even more committed to my charge: help the gluten free community stay happy and healthy by writing about how to deal with the inevitable social aspects of being gluten free.

The take away from my experience? 9 times out of 10 you will be the expert of gluten while dining at a restaurant. It does not matter if the chef went to the best Culinary school in the word or if your waiter’s cousin has Celiacs. You will be the expert and, consequently, you need to act that way. I had a gut feeling that something was wrong with the spaghetti.  I should have sent the waiter back to actually show the chef the pasta dish instead of just taking his word for it.

It has been a week since the glutening and I am still not fully well. I have been experiencing really extreme fatigue but my spirits are high and I know things will get better very soon! You can expect a How-To GF Holiday guide in the next week.  We have go to stick together during the Holidays, readers!  I will have some words of advice  on how to tweak traditions to make them gluten free and how to deal with Holiday dinner parties.

 

 

 

Happy December!

 

-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

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