Tag Archives: self-improvement

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

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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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

Expectations.

4 Aug

Expect: to consider reasonable, due or necessary

Up until very recently my GF expectations have been low.  I did not consider it reasonable that all people should know what gluten is. I did not feel that I was due a gluten free meal at catered or work events.  I did not think it was necessary that people put in extra effort to accommodate my dietary needs when I could always work my way around it on my own.  I expected people to be accepting of the fact that I might bring my own dinner to a catered event but I did not expect the event to accommodate me. Even though precedent dictates that people with alternative diets should be accommodated (look at how mainstream providing vegetarian options has become), for some reason, to my shame, I did not hold those same high expectations for myself or my gluten free community.

Now, my expectations have changed.

I realized that my expectations were being shaped by experience and patterns and not based on what is reasonable, due or necessary. It took  sustained positive experiences to break the pattern of my experiences with food to adjust my expectations.

I was recently accepted into Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to close the achievement gap in the United States.  In order to begin teaching in the Fall I needed to complete a six week training program.  The catch? Room and board were to be provided. Most people rejoice at the news that they get free room and board for six weeks but as someone with Celiac Disease, I expected nothing but trouble.  My experience with Teach For America (TFA) has changed my expectations for the better.  Check out what happened:

The room and board arrangements at Temple University for close to 1,000 corps members and staff members were made by my new organization Teach For America.  Although Temple University already had the infrastructure in place to accommodate people on the gluten free diet, it would not have been operational during the summer without the insistence of Teach For America. The fact that TFA went out of their way to communicate with the dining hall specifically about GF options is pretty astounding for several reasons:

1. TFA was accommodating close to 1,000 people’s needs.  They made accommodations for vegetarian diets, Kosher diets, vegan diets, rooming issues due to disabilities and many more issues.  There were so many needs and people to accommodate. I was so pleased that the Celiacs did not fall through the cracks.

2. TFA had to coordinate with twelve public schools in Philadelphia, finding summer teaching jobs for 800 corp members.  This took much time and effort due to sheer mass of teachers, schools and students. Add in the complicated and ever-twisting bureaucratic channels that TFA had to navigate and I think we can consider the GF accommodations close to a miracle.

Temple designated GF toaster with my Udi’s bagel warming up.

Temple’s GF zone — the GF food options are located in a designated “gluten-free/Kosher zone.” It remains unclear to me why you would combine the Kosher and GF options but…what can you do!

Temple’s GF microwave — Temple had many frozen GF products stored in a freezer in the GF zone.

I was very impressed with Temple’s gluten free infrastructure.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. The food was bland and unhealthful but that wasn’t because it was GF. It was college cafeteria food!  In addition to the GF zone and availability of GF products the dining hall provided all TFA corps members with bagged lunch. The people with restricted diets (ranging from GF to Kosher to Peanut Free) would pick up their lunches in a separate, designated area.  Each food item (entrée, sides, snacks and drinks) was labeled with the person’s name and dietary restriction. Mine read: Cecilia Bonaduce — Gluten Free

In addition to the five weeks at Temple I spent one week in Washington DC at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel.  The accommodations there were even more impressive than at Temple.  The hotel served breakfast sandwiches every morning for the Teach For America people but at the end of the buffet line there were individually packaged and labeled GF breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs and fruit.  When they served Italian food for lunch they had a labeled and separate area with GF pasta and sauce.  Though the salad had croutons mixed in it took nothing more than a simple request to one of the waiters to receive a fresh crouton-free salad.

This was my absolute favorite food moment:

The hotel provided bagged lunch and instead of a wilted, undressed salad or a couple of carrot sticks (my old expectations for an “accommodation.”) I opened my brown bag to find a brown rice wrap.  Real food!

After this experience I realized that even if you are going to a catered event with 1,000 people like I did this summer we should be accommodated.  I have officially raised my expectations.  I am hoping for a Pygmalion effect of sorts in which my high expectations will yield positive results in terms of promoting awareness and making accommodations for gluten free people as reasonable, due and necessary  as providing options for vegetarians has become in recent years.

It is time that you, just like me, adjust your expectations in order to protect your health and well-being. I used to hold low expectations because I did not think that GF accommodations were possible. I am telling you now that I am positive that it is possible. I witnessed such accommodations this summer and I hope to continue to experience such positive and inclusive events.  Furthermore, in the event that accommodations are not met, I will be holding myself to higher expectations as well. I expect myself to be an advocate, to speak up and to stand up for what I believe is reasonable, due and necessary.

-CC

GF New Year’s Resolution: Have you kept it up?

29 Jun

How many of you have followed through with your New Year’s Resolutions?

I have and, as promised, I am following up with my readers regarding my gluten free New Year’s Resolutions!  On December 30, 2011, I decided I would come up with 3 New Year’s Resolutions that would improve my gluten free life, making it easier and more enjoyable.

NYR #1

As most seasoned Celiacs know, there are various levels of “gluten freeness.” You have the people who are comfortable scraping the cheese/toppings off of a pizza or the icing off of a cake, the people who avoid gluten but don’t ask questions about cross contamination and, finally, the people who avoid gluten as if it is the plague and we are living in 1349.  Though I strive to be the latter, I do find that on occasion I just don’t feel like doing the gluten free dance when ordering, so I order something I am pretty sure is safe.  My NYR was to STOP DOING THAT!  I am happy to report that I have been super gluten free since January 1st.

Results?  I find that I am much less stressed at restaurants, though not always as pleased with my meal.  For example, instead of ordering the burger on the “specials menu” at Red Robin (now offering GF buns!), I chose the classic cheese burger that was listed on the “gluten free menu.” In my head, I know that the specials aren’t on the GF menu because they are new and are probably GF but I stuck with the simpler and safer choice.  Not only is dining out less stressful but I do believe that I have been “glutened” fewer times this year compared to previous years.

NYR #2

Though very active in the GF blogosphere as a writer, my second NYR aimed to increase my activity in the GF blogosphere 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!  I realized that there were some blogs that I really liked in terms of content, frequency of updates, visual style and writing style and others that just weren’t a good fit for me.

You can check out my post Which Gluten Free Blogs Should I Follow? for a list of suggested blogs to check out.  The GF blogosphere is, with all due respect, cluttered.  There are tons and tons of blogs out there.  I suggest picking three to follow: CC Gluten Freed, for updates about the social aspects of being gluten free and how to manage tricky social situations, Simply Gluten Free, for close-to-daily recipe posts, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) newsletter for monthly email updates about Celiac Disease and the Gluten Free Diet.



Steps to being GF literate:

1. Follow CC Gluten Freed by submitting your email in the box on the right hand side of the screen

2. Follow or bookmark Simply Gluten Free for GF recipes

3. Sign up for the NFCA newsletter

 NYR #3

 My third and final NYR was to start using my iPhone (Androids work for this as well) to help with being gluten free.  This has been a huge success for me.  I used Find Me Gluten Free to choose where to eat.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I ate at a restaurant NOT listed on this phone app.  It is great for finding a quick place to eat when out with friends in an area that I am not familiar with.  The app takes your GPS location and then tells you where the closest GF friendly restaurants are, how to get there and what they offer.  I highly recommend downloading this app.  I actually bought my first smart phone for the sole purpose of downloading this app. It was the best, strategic phone decision I have ever made.

What was your New Year’s Resolution? Have you been true to it?  We are officially half way through the year!  If you haven’t been following your NYR, it isn’t too late — get started now.  Either create a new NYR’s for the mid-point of the year or choose to follow mine.  Either way, I find that the New Year gives us an opportunity to better ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to health.  I look at the mid-point of the year as a great opportunity to renew my commitment to my health and make being GF easier and more enjoyable.

-CC

Gluten Free At The Spa

30 May

After four grueling years at UC Berkeley, I have finished my degree in Public Health.  My reward?  A relaxing vacation at the spa, Rancho La Puerta.  Located in Tecate, Mexico, this spa focuses on fitness, wellness and nutrition. Being gluten free makes total relaxation difficult to achieve even when at a spa.  Overall, I loved my experience at the Ranch and took home some interesting insights that I hope will improve my gluten free experience.

Insight #1 Constant Vigilance

Although I often write about the importance of focus and effort when it comes to being gluten free eg reading labels on products you’ve bought a thousand times or asking about cross-contamination even when you think the dish is safe, I thought that a place committed to health with a focus on food might be an exception. I thought I could drop my guard. What I found at Rancho La Puerta is that this is simply not the case.

While at the Ranch, I saw a poster advertising their “Gluten Free Thursday” cooking class.  Here is what happened:

The cooking classes at the spa are usually taught by their Executive Chef, Denise Roa. However, once a week the spa invites guest chefs to teach.  This week, on Gluten Free Thursday, the spa had invited Romney Steele aka Nani, the granddaughter of the founders of the restaurant Nepenthe in Big Sur, California.  The cooking class was set up so that groups of two spa guests would make one dish using a recipe provided by Nani.

I was working with my Aunt Celia on a baked Sea Bass dish with an orange and tarragon relish.  The menu was out of this world.  All of the ingredients were picked fresh from the Ranch’s vegetable garden.  In fact, before starting the class, the spa guests had to go pick (literally) their ingredients from the garden.

The cooking school’s main classroom

All of the recipes were gluten free and things went smoothly for the most part until we encountered a problem: Nani included a recipe for a pea puree that needed some form of chip/starch-medium to eat.  Because this was overlooked when preparing the class, Nani asked one of the workers to go grab some pita bread from the back for the dish.  See the problem?

If someone had blindly accepted the sign on the door saying “Gluten Free Thursday” they might not even think to ask if the pita bread was gluten free.  My Aunt and I quickly noticed and spoke to Nani about the gluten situation to which she replied “Well, you don’t have to eat that dish.”  Despite this discouragement, the Executive Chef, Denise, was horrified at the lapse in gluten free practice and grabbed and grilled some corn tortillas to replace the pita bread.

I don’t usually post recipes but two of the GF dishes we made were simply too good not to post.  If interested in some of the recipes I cooked during this class click here for the Quinoa with Cumber and Mint recipe and for the roasted Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish recipe.

The take away point? Even when places advertise something as gluten free remain vigilant.

Insight #2 Simple Healthful Foods Are The Way To Go

I have read this advice on many blogs, pamphlets, books and websites but I never really understood it.  Ordering simple, healthful dishes can make being gluten free a lot simpler.   At the Ranch, I found that this was absolutely true. Why is it not until now that I experienced the ease that accompanies simply prepared meals?  Simple foods are hard to find at restaurants!

At the spa every dish was made with ingredients found in their gardens or grown within a 30 mile radius of the Ranch.  When you looked at the meal, you could tell what components made up the dish.  Of course, you should always check about sauces and ingredients but I noticed that dishes that are truly simple and truly healthful aren’t muddled with questionable ingredients.  The Beet and Basil Salad was a salad made up of…well, beets and basil.  The extravagant, calorie-laden entrees that you find at most restaurants make being gluten free so complicated!  If I saw  “Carrot Soup” on a menu at most restaurants, I would not order it.  It may have flour as a thickener, contain malt vinegar or come garnished with fried onion crisps. At the Ranch, I knew the Carrot Soup was made of carrots and more carrots.

Beet soup served at the ranch with a fresh flower from the garden as garnish


I haven’t quite worked out how to use my new insight about simple, healthful foods to improve my gluten free lifestyle but when I do, I’ll be sure to post.  For now, I am simplifying the meals I make at home and trying to choose simple items at restaurants but still accompany my order with a long series of questions.

Insight #3 Apparently, Being Gluten Free Is Hard, So Be Nice To Yourself!

Rancho La Puerta is a spa dedicated to health and fitness. The spa’s clientele are hyper-aware of their diets and have strict exercise regimes.  These people demonstrate the type of dietary discipline I can only dream of.  They eat only what they need. In other words, teeny tiny portions.  They limit their sugar intake, their meat consumption and their dairy consumption.  They exercise every day and, when given the choice, choose the salad entrée over the hamburger with fries.

Despite the fact that I found their discipline incredible and something to aspire to, I overheard conversation after conversation about how people had “tried to go gluten free but it was too hard.”  These insanely disciplined and professionally successful people admitted that being gluten free was too much of a challenge!  One woman said “I felt so great after that month but I just couldn’t keep it up.”

View of Villa Sol 2, my room at the ranch

It was so nice and refreshing to hear other people commenting about the difficulty of being gluten free.  It is a thankless job, demanding self-discipline, constant vigilance, intelligence and the ability to not only articulate your needs effectively but to advocate for your health in the face of constant obstacles.  It is funny but talking to the health nuts at the spa about the gluten free diet made me kind of proud that I am gluten free.

Take away point? Every now and then, take a moment to appreciate yourself and all the work you put in to being gluten free.  Most people don’t know how much effort it takes to truly be GF.  Just remember to be kind to yourself and be proud of the fact that you are gluten free.

Although I couldn’t help but think about my blog while at the spa, I did manage to relax and decompress from four tough years at UC Berkeley.  I hope to bring my insights from the spa home with me by practicing constant vigilance, choosing simple healthful meals and appreciating my GF efforts and I hope that you do too!

View from my morning hike to the garden for breakfast

-(the new relaxed) CC

How To Get The Most Out Of Your GF or Celiac Support Group

22 Apr

No time to read? Click here to listen to this blog post!


You may have heard of them,  you may have even been to them but are you making the most out of them?  Gluten free support groups can be very useful and a great addition to your gluten free lifestyle.  The trick is knowing how to make the most of them.  Support group meetings can vary in terms of structure and content.  All of the group meetings I have been to have consisted of an informative guest speaker, usually a leader in the GF community, informal mingling with other attendees and samples from a GF food vendor.

Are there certain things you should keep in mind in order to maximize the benefits of  attending?  Absolutely!

Here are my suggestions that I hope you adopt before attending your next, or first, GF support group meeting.

1. Bring business cards – one of the biggest emotional challenges of having Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance is the inevitable, yet probably only occasional, sense of being alone.  Finding a gluten free support group will show you that you are not alone.  Seeing it is not enough though, you need to feel it.  To do this, make some gluten free friends!  Bringing business cards to meetings makes it very easy for you to exchange contact information with the other attendees.Typically, the mingling at meetings is very informal.  You are unlikely to have a table to write on or pens and paper for trading contact info.  In addition to lack of resources, you may not have the time to have the exchange of contact information in the brief minutes allotted to mingling, especially if you have somewhere you need to be after the meeting.  Business cards are quick, to the point and a great way to help you remember someone!  If you don’t have business cards, get some personal contact cards made!  They are very inexpensive to order and super fun to design at www.vistaprint.com

2. Ask the right questions – at many GF support group meetings, group leaders schedule a guest speaker to come educate the group about various aspects of the gluten free diet.  At the Oakland Celiac Support Group I have heard from speakers such as Dr. Emily Nock, a primary care physician and Celiac Advocate at Kaiser Permanente, and Ann Whelan, the Editor-in-Chief of Gluten Free Living magazine. You want to capitalize on your opportunity to ask questions, especially considering how incredibly talented and qualified the sources at meetings tend to be.  But, what to ask?  Avoid overly personal medical questions.  Though the speaker may be a physician,they aren’t going to be able to give you solid medical advice based on one question in the middle of a group lecture.  In addition, asking personal medical questions takes away from the group’s ability to benefit from the speakers advice.  Ask more general questions that aren’t overly specific to your personal medical status.  For example, don’t ask a 3-4 minute long question that requires you reciting your medical history. Instead, ask questions like “what is the possibility of people finding a cure for Celiacs? What would a cure look like?” or “What is the current status on GF labeling laws and how do you think they will impact my health?”

3. Get to know at least one person really well each time – This goes along with the idea of bringing business cards to the meetings.  Try and establish a genuine connection with at least person at each meeting.  Of course, you won’t have time to get to know everyone which is why having business cards on hand is very helpful.  Try chatting with the person sitting next to you.  Try looking for someone who has a similar lifestyle of life context as you do. For example, if you are the mom of a Celiac kid then look for another Celiac parent to get to know.  If you are a very busy, fast paced business person look for someone who has a similar job or similar job demands.

4. Introduce yourself to the guest speaker -At the time when I heard Dr. Emily Nock speak at the Oakland Celiac Support Group, I was just beginning to consider the medical field as a potential career goal.  After her presentation, I introduced myself and asked her if I could shadow her medical practice.  Although I did not have a personal contact card, Dr. Nock took down my contact information.  I shadowed Dr. Nock for a full semester while at Cal and two years later, Dr. Nock is both my friend and my mentor.  Never miss an opportunity to network with people in the gluten see community, especially GF leaders.

5. Follow up – This is my biggest piece of advice.  Follow up with the people that you meet at these meetings. Shoot them an email or give them a call next Saturday morning.  Make sure that these connections don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of  your life.  The friendships and connections you make at these meetings can really improve your gluten free lifestyle.  There are a ton of different ways you can follow up with people: Linked In, Twitter, Facbeook, email etc.  Choose whichever one is best for you!

If you don’t have a GF support group, I highly suggest finding one!  There are a ton of resources for you on the web.  Check out the Celiac Disease Foundation’s extensive list of GF support groups across the nation.  National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also has a database dedicated to this topic.  For more support group options try signing up for www.meetup.com.  This website is a social media site where people can form and search for groups based on their interests.  In addition to these resources you can always google your city and “gluten free support group” to find contact information for a group in your area.

Hope these tips make your next GF support group an invaluable and rewarding gluten free experience.
-CC

So You Want To Take A Cooking Class…

2 Feb

Cooking at home makes being gluten free so much easier.  Dining at restaurants is stressful, uncomfortable, not to mention, kind of dangerous!  Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I have to admit that it is oftentimes a somewhat draining experience.  Having the option of dining in provides a nice sense of security.  There is only one problem….you don’t know how to cook.

Being diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance requires that you change many, many aspects of your life.  I know for me, learning how to cook was a necessity.  My culinary knowledge was limited to spaghetti and Mac N’ Cheese before I was diagnosed with Celiacs. Without those two dishes, my culinary chops were null.

Knowing how to cook has many benefits for someone who cannot eat gluten.  For one thing, you can host dinner parties (instead of trying to find a safe restaurant to go out with your friends or family).  Stressed about attending someone else’s dinner party? Afraid there won’t be anything you can eat?  Well, fear not, because if you know how to cook, you can bring a side dish to share at the party. In addition to these social benefits, knwoing how to prepare GF dishes at home will help you minimize the costs of the gluten free diet.  Let’s be honest, substitution foods, both at grocery stores and offered at restaurants, are really expensive.  A package of my favorite gluten free spaghetti costs around $6 while a typical pack of gluten spaghetti (I won’t call it “normal spaghetti”) costs only ~$1.20.  Developing skills in the kitchen will expand your food options, allowing you to use less expensive, naturally gluten free foods!  For example, learning how to cook with quinoa or make delicious rice dishes are ways to cut down on costs.

So, I think every Celiac should have the skills to cook GF at home…now the question is, where do we get those skills?

You can find a few gluten free specialty cooking classes in big cities but they are few and far between.  Most gluten free cooking classes that I have heard about only teach you how to make substitution foods (GF bread, cookies, cakes etc.) but never cover the basics of cooking.  How does a Celiac learn the ABC’s of cooking?  Are there any cooking classes out there that are naturally gluten free? Honestly, probably not. Chefs love flour.  The French, the Italians, the English…everyone loves flour!  The use of flour is prominent in all types of cooking, not simply baking.  Dredging meats in flour before pan-searing is very common.  Developing a roux for a sauce or soup, creating a batter or breading for a dish is also a popular culinary trick.

Here is what I did: I found a local cooking series in Berkeley at a place called Kitchen On Fire.  The class is a 12 week course that covers the fundamentals of cooking.  Although the class was not gluten free there were some steps that I took that helped make the class enjoyable, educational and safe.  For one thing, I did not attend the baking classes.  Being in a room full of dry flour is very dangerous for a Celiac.  Check out this post about air-borne flour.  Other than the two baking classes, I was able to attend and participate in every other class.  The class was comprised of a short lecture followed by cooking.  We were set up at cooking stations that fit 4 people. I took the class with a friend which made insisting on a gluten free cooking station much easier. We would tell the other people at our stations that we did not eat gluten and that we could not share ingredients, knives, or cooking supplies with them and also let them know we couldn’t taste their creations.  The people at our table knew not to dip tasting spoons into our dishes.  Everything went fairly smoothly.   On days where we worked with batters, dredging or frying, I used GF flour and worked at a table away from my classmates.

The class was a great learning experience.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn to cook and found the class mostly enjoyable.  Of course, it was stressful at times.  I had to exercise constant vigilance, keeping a close eye on what I was cooking while simultaneously keeping an eye on what everyone else was doing.  Did someone throw bread onto the shared grilled?  Did anyone use the shared fryer yet with breaded foods?  Taking a class not meant to be gluten free was exhausting yet rewarding.

Here are some GF cooking classes that I have heard about, but have not taken:

Spork Foodsteaches mostly vegan cooking but specifies when a class will be gluten free

Sur La Table: offers GF cooking classes from time to time so keep an eye out for a class at your local Sur La Table.

Hipp Kitchen: Bay Area company that offers GF cooking classes in addition to nutrition advice and consultations.

Check in with local GF bakeries, GF restaurants or GF support groups to find out more information about available cooking classes in your area.

-CC

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