New to a gluten-free diet? Worried your food-life is over? It’s not. This is the beginning of a far tastier and healthier way of eating…
Welcome to a whole new way of looking at food. Having to re-evaluate food choices makes you examine your previous lifestyle choices and at first it can seem daunting, but if you take it one step at a time you will no doubt develop new tastes and a new outlook on food.
If you have been tested and are overwhelmed and wondering how to cook gluten-free food, how to avoid cross-contamination or where to get your ingredients, you’re not alone. If you have not been tested, please find a practioner who will test you because once you go gluten-free, it might be too late to get an accurate diagnosis. I remember when I was diagnosed. All I ate was rice, sticky rice, meat and coconut milk. It was so sad. Eventually I explored and have found safe ingredients and awesome recipes. In my Gluten-Free Yummies section you will find foods that I have tested on myself (yes, I mean that in the lab-rat sense) and have not had a reaction. These are foods that I have researched by calling the companies and found information about their production process and nutritional value. I realize every gluten-intolrant person or celiac is different, and perhaps you are more sensitive or less than me, or have other food allergies, but I hope this list might help you begin finding better, healthier and tastier food options.
The Celiac Support Organization has compiled a wonderful list of safe grains and flours and ones that contain gluten. You can access it here. Other safe gluten-free foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, unprocessed meats, unprocessed fish, rice (white, Basmati, jasmine, brown, forbidden rice, wild, sticky rice) nuts, beans, seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds), corn, quinoa, potato, potato flour, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, nut flours and coconut.
Gluten likes to hide in some places you would not expect so be careful with soy sauce, barbeque sauces, imitation crab, supplements and vitamins, vinegars, gravy, some chocolates, spices, deli meats. Always check ingredients.
Are almonds gluten-free? Is ice cream gluten-free? Is moisturizer gluten-free? I get asked these questions all the time and the answer is—it doesn’t matter. Any food can be cross-contaminated, especially during the production process. So much of our food is processed on the same equipment that allergens can be present in any food or personal product.
If your throat closes up when you eat strawberries would you ever eat off a plate that was smeared with strawberry juice? Um…no. But that is what many companies do unfortunately. They will label their foods gluten-free even though they might be produced on the same equipment as their favorite wheat flour. The best thing you can do is buy certified gluten-free food and compile a list of companies that are truly safe. Some won’t certify their foods even though they are perfectly safe, so call or email them to find out and record it. I keep a database of foods (yes, I know how dorky that sounds) on my computer and update it frequently because I tend to forget, like most of us, if the food I tried a year ago produced a reaction.
Here are a few links that explain gluten-free certification:
Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG)
Celiac Sprue Association (CSA)
Yea, I don’t really have good news about eating out. I personally mostly avoid it unless the restaurant is dedicated gluten-free because I have found it takes a tiny error and I am sick for quite few days, and I hate that people just don’t understand what it feels like to be glutened. Is it like a hangover? No, far worse. Food poisoning? Nah. Worse. A cross between food poisoning, a hangover, and a lobotomy? Yes, I believe that must be close.
But perhaps you can eat out and you’re fine. Great. One other problem I have had is that those who attend to me at times get angry or irritated no matter how polite I try to be the moment I mention gluten. Did you ever encounter this? At this point in time restaurants, air ports, caterers and spas are ill equipped to help those with gluten-intolerance and celiac disease. I don’t want to be the pariah of restaurants anymore or the wedding guest who doesn’t eat, so I hope restaurants recognize us soon. But don’t be discouraged. Just say it. Be brave. Tell the server you’re gluten-free. Awareness helps us all. Hopefully this will continue to change. It’s all beginning.
Did you know that food allergies are protected by the American Disabilities Act? That means “The ADA extends many of the rights and duties of section 504 to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, stores, doctors’ offices, museums, private schools and child care programs. They must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. No one can be excluded or denied services just because he/she is disabled or based on ignorance, attitudes or stereotypes.” If you click on the link you’ll find a full explanation that states that this extends to people with food allergies. The foundation is there. We just have to dare to ask for it.
Yet there are the few restaurants that I do go to and love: Risotteria (NYC), Ms. Michelle’s Urban Gourmet (LI), Wild Flours Bakeshop (LI), Jennifer’s Way Bakery (NYC), Babycakes (NYC), Bella Brava (FL), Jac’s Bakeshop and Bistro (LI) and of course, Chipotle. I’m so grateful for these restaurants because I know I’m truly safe. I have also found these restaurants tend to taste better than what I used to eat pre-diagnosis. Jac’s Bakeshop and Bistro is a certified gluten-free restaurant–and I’m thrilled. It’s happening. The world is becoming more aware of us celiacs. There are also those restaurants where the service is wonderful and the staff is very caring and kind. I remember ordering fresh pan-seared fish in Florida, very nervous I would get sick, but the staff were wonderful and creative. My meal was delicious–and safe.
There are immense resources out there. Some of the best suggestions I found were from books and from other blogs. Some of my absolute favorite blogs, for their recipes and their advice, are: glutenfreegirl.com, tasty-yummies.com, rickiheller.com, glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com. They have nurtured me in at my celiac-lowest. I love that these blogs offer humor, recipes, advice, medical articles, political and cultural commentary on celiac and appeal to everyone, even non-celiacs–and they’re fun to read.
Every celiac seems to have a different way of coping with the challenges of traveling gluten-free. I tend to stock up on chips and protein bars–though I won’t normally eat these foods on a daily basis, but when traveling they can truly be a savior from hunger. I load my carry-on and luggage with them: Go Macro bars, Rise protein bars, Glutino chips. And when I land I locate a grocery store and stock up on almond milk, fruits, vegetables and proteins. I don’t like being far from a kitchen so when I book a vacation I prefer to search for apartments to rent rather than staying at hotels. This can be a money-saver and it’s lots of fun. There is no need to get properly dressed in the morning. I can sit in my pjs and munch on eggs and fruit before heading out. At a hotel, unless you get room service, you most likely won’t go to a restaurant in pajamas. I love the privacy and I can make my meal exactly how I like it.
Another option is to research the area ahead of time (which is a good idea even if you’re not eating gluten-free). I track down markets, call restaurants. I’m always surprised how many options I do have each time. There will always be a gluten-free bakery, a Whole Foods in the area, a Chipotle or a restaurant with gluten-free options. Though I do have to caution about the gluten-free options in gluten restaurants. Call to make sure they understand what celiac is and know how to prepare a safe meal.
Many celiacs and gluten intolerant people can’t seem to grasp the idea just how risky it is to cheat on this diet. The slightest dusting of flour can produce a severe reaction and cause damage to the body. If you have been pained by this illness, you may be tempted to focus on just getting rid of the pain, but I often have to remind myself to very careful because exposure can mean risking getting other autoimmune illnesses and debilitating symptoms. Here is a list of some of these illnesses/symptoms I know I want to avoid: ataxia (ataxia article), cancer, diabetes, seizures, brain damage (especially motor skills), Alzheimer’s, poor immune function, poor nutrient absorption, osteoporosis and thyroid disease.
Now that you’re thoroughly horrified, it’s all good. I’ve got your attention. So I encourage you to educate yourself and read about celiac and gluten intolerance as much as possible. I’m always reading latest published research, books and articles. I’m in the forums chatting about it and compiling information as much as possible. I even chat with people in real life, no not on Google+ or Facebook, in real life. I’m amazed at how many connections I’ve made that way, just starting a conversation in the gluten-free section of the market because we both reach for the gluten-free soy sauce substitute. Sharing stories and information makes life easier and healthier for me. As I write this spell check keeps highlighting celiac in red, which means it doesn’t recognize the word. That makes me realize we have a long way to go before our culture catches up with celiac awareness. Interesting, when I type diabetes it doesn’t get highlighted as incorrect spelling. So there: celiac, celiac, celiac. All red. We have to do something about this. I encourage you to be as vocal and positive as possible, and most of all be kind to yourself and your tummy.