Gluten-Free Traveling

By: Rachel Sircy                 

My last post was about some ways that you can stay gluten-free in an emergency. This post is going to be about a few things that I tend to do when I am traveling to help make sure that I don’t get contaminated.

Be Prepared: This is something that people will always tell you when you’re traveling anywhere whether you’re gluten-free or not. The thing is, when you have a severe allergy or intolerance, you really do have to be prepared to feed yourself. Never trust that you’ll be able to just find something to eat. Believe me, when I was first diagnosed I made the mistake of thinking that I could just “find something,” on a road trip. Those road trips were horrible and ended in tears. I’m not a person who does well when she’s hungry.

What do I mean by prepared, you might ask. Well…this is a picture of my toaster. It’s not fancy and it cost approximately $7 at Walmart.

This toaster goes where I go. It fits pretty well into the Aldi grocery bag that I use to carry my food for the trip in. If I am staying at a hotel where they serve continental breakfast, I will     sometimes check to see if they have any brands of yogurt that I know are gluten-free and I will perhaps take a banana, but mostly I bring my own bread and peanut butter (or Glutino toaster pastries if I don’t feel like being health conscious) and make my own breakfast in my room.

It’s also a good idea if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination to pack easy to eat non-perishable snacks for the trip like food bars (Larabar, Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar, etc) and high    protein snacks like gluten-free nuts and jerky (most flavors of Krave, Oberto All Natural and Epic jerky are gluten-free, but always read the labels because things that contain Teriyaki are usually NOT gluten-free). I’ve also heard of people who travel with cans of tuna and a small can opener and some crackers so that if they find that they have nothing else for dinner, they won’t go hungry. I personally don’t like fish so that doesn’t work for me. The tuna thing probably wouldn’t work on an airplane, but there are travel containers of both peanut butter and hummus. Some bananas, crackers, and vegetables could turn a container of either peanut butter or hummus into a small meal. Remember that it is never a good idea to just wing it when your health is at stake. Don’t allow yourself to get hungry out there on the road or you will be tempted to eat things that will make you sick!

2) Call Ahead: Anytime you’re staying with friends or relatives have a good conversation about what you can and can’t eat and also how your food must be prepared. Lots of well-meaning people don’t know what is or is not contaminated by gluten, so help them out. Make sure Aunt Susie knows that she can’t just pick the croutons out of your salad before she serves it to you and that the kitchen must be thoroughly cleaned after she rolls out pie dough on the counter before she cooks anything for you for dinner.

Once, my husband and I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Charleston and my husband had the foresight to call the owner when we made our reservations and tell him that I had dietary restrictions. He gave us leave to use the kitchen to cook food for ourselves and we also got to talk to the cook about what I could eat for breakfast. During that stay, we met a woman who also had to be gluten-free, but who hadn’t called ahead to let the owner know about it and, unfortunately, she had quite a time trying to eat around all the contaminated food on her plate. So, don’t be afraid to tell people up front about your needs and just let them know (gently) that if they are unable to meet those needs, you won’t be able to stay with them.

3) Try a Gluten-Free Destination: That may sound a bit out there at first, but there are two celiac friendly travel destinations in either direction of Columbia. Charleston is a pretty food-forward city and while the cost of its trendy restaurants may mean that you can’t eat there all the time, many of those restaurants offer gluten-free meals (it is still quite the fad in dieting to be gluten-free). If you travel in the other direction, Asheville, NC has been featured in Delight magazine and, most recently, in Gluten-Free Living as a gluten-free travel destination. I have mentioned before (and I will keep mentioning it) that there is a restaurant in Asheville called Posana that serves exclusively gluten-free food. Not only is their food (and I do mean ALL of their food) gluten-free, but it is also delicious. Seriously, I dream about their fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese sauce and also their lemon blueberry cheesecake sometimes. It is a bit pricey as well, but it is a great place for a special occasion or a treat. These cities are great if you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

These are just a few of the things that I have learned from trying to travel and stay safe. Life’s a journey. Travel with a dependable toaster.

Tips for Staying Gluten Free in a Pinch

By: Rachel Sircy

My last post was about how to help those in Houston and Florida who are in need of gluten-free provisions. So, since hurricane season isn’t over yet, l thought I would dedicate this post to tips I have found online for how to stay gluten-free during a crisis. Mostly it means preparing ahead. So, here are 5 things that you can start thinking about or doing right now to make sure that you can be prepared to be gluten-free in a pinch!

  1. If you live in a place where there may be natural disasters (like hurricanes along the coast), it would definitely pay to have a gluten-free food emergency kit with shelf-stable foods such as dried gluten-free cereals, dried and canned meats, fruits and vegetables, and shelf-stable milk and things to drink (you may want more than just water). Remember to also have a supply of your medicines and gluten-free lip balm and toothpaste (you may not be able to purchase these easily after a storm). These kits are very handy especially if you have ever had to be moved to a shelter. Government agencies will feed you, but they don’t usually have gluten-free options available. It would also be a good idea to travel with a kit like this if you are going somewhere where there may be power outages or where you may not be certain to have easy access to gluten-free food.
  2. If you are prone to losing power for days in storms and such-like, consider buying a deep freezer and a propane powered grill. This tip never would have occurred to me, but I read about it on Gluten Free Society’s website. Dr. Osborne (the “Gluten Free Warrior”) said that having these two things saved him and his sons when hurricane Ike hit Houston in 2008. He said that the food in his deep freezer stayed frozen for about a week with no power and with summer temperatures of 90-110 degrees. Be sure not to open the deep freeze unless absolutely necessary and always have a couple of extra propane tanks on hand.
  3. Osborne also recommends having a large supply of nuts in the shell, provided you are not allergic. They are high in good fats and calories – which you may need if gluten-free food is scarce during an emergency – and are apparently shelf stable for 2 years (who knew?). Also, Dr. Osborne points out that if nuts are in their shells, they are less likely to be affected by cross-contamination with gluten, which is a big problem for buying nuts in general.
  4. Of course, gas-powered generators are always a good idea whether or not you are gluten-free, as are: extra cans of gas for the generators, a supply of cash in case you can’t pay for things using electronic methods, books, and board games to keep yourself and your kids entertained without power and a first aid kit.
  5. If you are willing and able to spend a bit more money and save yourself the trouble of getting together different shelf-stable foods to make a gluten-free survival kit, you can purchase individual meals from GoPicnic.com. They have meal options that are tailored for those with special dietary needs. You can choose from gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.

We all hope that none of us will ever have to face a disaster, but it always helps to be prepared. In my next post, I’ll talk about traveling while gluten-free, what to bring with you, and what to watch out for.

If you have further questions about being gluten-free in a pinch, check out these websites where I got most of my information for today’s post:

https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/staying-gluten-free-during-a-natural-disaster

https://www.verywell.com/gluten-free-disaster-prep-562663

http://gopicnic.com

http://celiacmama.com/2017/09/gluten-free-hurricane-preparedness

Playing the Numbers

By: Chaunte McClure

While some of you were trying to figure out the winning numbers for the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot last month, I dreamed of what I’d do with the money if I won. Oh, I’d pay off every bill we owe, invest in a new home and other real estate and, of course, save, save, save. I never dreamed of which numbers I’d choose because of greater importance to me the numbers are displaying on my brand-spanking new wrist blood pressure monitor.

I don’t even play the lottery and I decided not to gamble with my health after being diagnosed with hypertension in July.

I went to the doctor for unrelated symptoms and as soon as the doctor walked in he asked, “What’s going on with your blood pressure?”

I had no idea. I would normally blame my high numbers on the stress of seminary, but that was two months behind me and at the time, I didn’t have much work stress.

My doctor asked me to monitor my blood pressure for 10 days, then come back and he’d decide if I need a prescription.

I hate taking medicine. I mean, really hate it.

It was easy to start my on-again, off-again relationship with morning or evening walks. I was determined to do whatever it took to get my number down, but nothing worked – at least not immediately.

I borrowed a blood pressure monitor and every time I checked, my numbers were still too high.

I recorded these numbers: 162/ 99, 141/105, 135/95, 157/107. (The optimal numbers are 120/80 or less.)

Sure, anxiety contributed to some of that because I kept thinking about a first cousin who died of a stroke less than two years ago and he was only about 35 years old. Just a few months later, one of my aunts suffered a stroke. Then I remembered Granddaddy had at least three strokes. That’s enough to send anyone into a tizzy.

I decided not to wait the ten days and go to my family doctor before the worst happens. I got an appointment within a week of my previous doctor’s visit. I was expecting exactly what I was told. After sharing my family history, the doctor said, “I’m going to put you on a blood pressure medication.”

I had to ask, “How long do you think I’ll be on the medication?”

He said, “For the rest of your life.” (Insert eyes emoji here!)

That’s not what I wanted to hear and honestly, I thought, “That’s what you think, doc.” I was about to put my faith into overdrive when the truth of the matter is I need to listen to my doctor.

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or if your doctor has asked you to monitor your numbers, please, listen to your doctor.

High blood pressure affects your health, leading to stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease.

Get into the habit of checking your BP at home or at a local pharmacy. Your life is worth it.

20 Minutes Workout

By: Ashley Whisonant

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if if you are thinking about starting a new exercise program.

Are you feeling a little sluggish lately? I created and completed this quick, twenty minute workout below to reenergize myself and jump start my day.

Give it a shot and let me know how YOU like it!

Warm Up

  • Forward arm circles 15 sec
  • Backward arm circles 15 sec
  • High Knees 15 sec

Activity 1

  • Complete 20 pushups, then 20 stair steps, finished with 20 tricep dips
  • Repeat with 15 of each, then 10 of each exercise

Four Corners (Each corner had a different exercise of 20)

  • Corner 1-plank jacks
  • Corner 2-jumping jacks
  • Corner 3-mountain climbers
  • Corner 4-jump squats

Once you finish the exercise in the corner meet in the middle to do 10 burpees before moving to the next corner.

Then repeat all corners with 20 squats in the middle instead of burpees.

Abs: One minute each

  • Full sit ups
  • Crunches.

Brush Up on the Basics During National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Every year over 30,000 US families lose someone from a ruptured brain aneurysm. About 40% of those experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm will die. Those that survive often face significant challenges, greatly impacting their lives and the lives of their families. Today, at the beginning of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, I re-tell my story to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.

On the evening of March 18, I noshed on some dark chocolate covered espresso beans left over from a road trip to see Modest Mouse in Charleston. I ate a lot, at least ¼ of a pound. Then later that evening, I felt a sharp electrical-like impulse go down my part line, and then down my head. Then it felt like ice cold water running down the sides of my head. I felt really weird, like I was outside of my body; I even told my sister that I thought I was dying.

She said that I threw up and felt better; I don’t remember that, but I do remember refusing her suggestion that we call Mom or go to the ER; I said, “No, I just ate too many espresso beans,” and went to bed. She found me unconscious by my bed the next morning.

Aside from being a woman over the age of 40, I had few of the risk factors. I’d lost and maintained an 80 lb. weight loss. I had LOW blood pressure, so much so that I had taken meds to prevent me from having constant vertigo. I never smoked except for one or two cigarettes in college. So I had no idea I may be having an aneurysm. (Unaware to me until after the event, which could’ve been far too late, I did have a family history. My father’s sister, Rose, had one and survived, and they lost two cousins to aneurysms.)

The doctors say that my aneurysm was about as bad as they get, and my family didn’t know if I would survive for three long weeks. Even then, the doctors couldn’t predict a full recovery. I was fortunate to have wonderful care and to go to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for follow-up care. My story ended well. I’m still alive, and while I do have some very mild deficits, I’m a living, breathing success story.

From someone who’s been there, I urge you to use this month to learn more about aneurysms, including the risk factors and symptoms. If you have a history of aneurysms in your family, make it a point to talk to your doctor this month.

There is plenty of information available about brain aneurysms. You can talk to your doctor or consult the internet; my favorite site is the Joe Niekro Foundation. I’m not a doctor, but I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have or speak with you or your small group about my experience.

Loss and Gain

By: Angie Sloan

They say that when a person loses their sight, their hearing becomes more attuned. They are suddenly able to hear things on a different level. I assume it is nature’s way of compensating for the loss of vision. It serves to help guide and protect the person from things they can no longer see.

What happens when a person loses (almost loses) their life? What happens after a near-death-experience?

I can answer that. And I am grateful that I can answer that.

After you have faced death, you are more attuned to life. The life around you. The singing of the birds. The feel of the sun on your face. The smell of the rain. You notice things that have become background noise. You feel the emotion of others around you. Rather than just noticing the father carrying his daughter on his shoulders, you feel the joy and exhilaration his daughter feels. You feel the love and adoration they have for each other. You notice the young couple in the restaurant, on their first date. You see the nervousness and anticipation in their eyes. You feel their hope for connection. You see the elderly woman shopping for groceries and feel her confusion when she cannot find what she wants.

You take notice of it all.

On March 1, 2017, I woke up feeling extremely short of breath. I simply could not get enough air in my lungs to walk to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the kids. Luckily, my oldest son was home and helped get them off to school. I knew something was terribly wrong and once the kids were on their way to school, I called 911. An ambulance arrived within 5 minutes. My oxygen saturation was dropping and they took me to their nearest hospital. Seven people converged on me as I entered the emergency room. Even on oxygen in the ambulance, my oxygen saturation had dropped to 59. I was dying. I knew it.

I tried to stay calm. I knew that getting upset would worsen my situation. I lay there, on the gurney and thought about my life. I tried to remember what the kids were dressed in as they left that morning. I tried to remember their last birthday and what we had done for Christmas. I wanted to make a mental inventory of all the good memories, simple memories, in case that was my last day alive. My oldest son arrived as I was mentally preparing for what would come next.

Seeing him gave me strength. My mom instinct kicked in. I did not want him to witness his mother dying, so I made up my mind that I would get through this. They still could not get my oxygen saturation up. I had a massive blood clot in both sides of my pulmonary artery. The physician looked at me and before he could ask, I said, “Do it. Intubate me. Do whatever you can. I have to be around for my kids.”

And I prayed. I begged God to give them the insight and knowledge to save me. I was not ready to leave this earth. And just as they were about to intubate me, my oxygen saturation came up. My vital signs began to stabilize. I was still in critical condition, but things were improving.

Later than afternoon, they transferred me to ICU, where I stayed for the next 7 days. I was lucky that the physicians were able to shrink the clots in my lungs and my legs with high doses of Heparin and I eventually transferred onto the regular floor of the hospital. After 10 days total, I was released to come home just in time for Jack’s 9th birthday.

As we lit the candles on his cake, I made a wish. I wished that I would always take inventory of the life around me and that I would appreciate every moment. And that wish has been granted.

You don’t have to have a near-death experience to take inventory of your life. The good in your life. The things that matter. The things that don’t matter. I emerged a changed person. I felt like Mr. Scrooge on Christmas day. Being in the ICU for seven days will change your perspective. During my stay in the hospital, not one time did I ever think about the “things” I owned…the clothes in my closet, the car in my garage. I only thought about the people in my life. And the miracle of life itself.

The experience was a wake-up call. I was traveling 3-4 days a week for work. I was constantly on the road and rarely took breaks. I was under a tremendous amount of stress, which all led to the blood clot. I was consumed by what I “had to do” to provide for my family. And then I realized…I don’t need all of the “stuff” I had. I was existing, not living. My life was work, work, work. And for what? Things we didn’t need.

In June, I downsized to a smaller house. I got rid of the gas-guzzling car, and got a cheaper one. I had a HUGE yard sale and sold things I didn’t want or need. I ridded myself of the possessions that almost cost me my life. I traded all of that in for a simpler, more comfortable life. A life where balance is the priority. A life where I am mindful and present enough to savor the little things…those little everyday things. I don’t travel any more for work. I am home for my kids.

Most importantly, I am HERE for my kids. Present. Appreciative. Ever grateful.

Dining Reminders and Suggestions for the Gluten Intolerant

By: Rachel Sircy

Just a reminder to those with a severe gluten intolerance: dining out is dangerous! Now, I don’t mean to say that you can never dine out if you have a severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but don’t forget that when you go out to eat, you’re heading out to a virtual minefield of wheat, rye and barley.

It’s been in the news recently that large pizza chains Papa John’s and Dominoes have started to offer gluten free pizza crusts that they warn customers are not for the really gluten intolerant. When I first read the article on these chains, I could only think of all of the warnings that I’ve read on restaurant menus and food packages – warnings that sound like this: “Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise caution when consuming menu items labeled ‘gluten free.’”  This is pretty much exactly the warning that is printed on the Papa John’s menu.

I will confess to you, I have ignored such warnings for years. I don’t suggest following in my footsteps. I have made myself very sick on a number of occasions. Sometimes, the day after I eat out, I am stuck laying on the couch wishing I had had enough self-control to turn down dangerous food items. But, what’s worse is that a person with celiac disease cannot count on symptoms to tell them when their body has been damaged by gluten. Many times a celiac’s intestinal wall has suffered damage and their body is racked with inflammation and yet the person will feel absolutely nothing. There are no symptoms present in many cases of accidental gluten consumption for celiac patients. So, don’t let your feelings be your guide. Don’t be afraid to be that pesky person in a restaurant who asks questions and who sends menu items back. And don’t ignore the warning signs posted by the restaurant – they are there for a reason!

Unfortunately, many restaurants are trying to respond to the rising demand for gluten free food without considering why people really want to eat gluten free. I’ve said several times on this blog that following a gluten free diet is not necessarily healthy for a person who doesn’t have a gluten intolerance, but that is not exactly the popular opinion. People who don’t need to be gluten free are seeking out restaurants and stores that provide gluten free products. They will go where they can find these products, and they will pay a higher price to get them. These are the customers that Dominoes and Papa Johns are trying to reach out to. So, don’t be surprised when you go to a food joint all excited about their new gluten free menu item and find out that it’s not made for you. Those of us with real dietary needs are still on the back burner at most restaurants, so to speak. There are always exceptions to prove the rule, though. Chick Fil A apparently has gluten free sandwich buns that come in their own sealed packages so they cannot be contaminated by crumbs from other sandwich buns. Each customer has to assemble her own sandwich, which seems fairly safe, but remember the buns are not the only part of the sandwich that may have become contaminated with gluten; the chicken, lettuce and tomatoes are all suspect. Starbucks also has a gluten free breakfast sandwich that I feel pretty confident eating because the whole thing is assembled first and packaged in its own sealed plastic package. It is microwaved in that package, which is never opened in the store itself. So, there are a few options out there, but none of them are ever going to be as safe as the food you prepare for yourself.

We do have some hope, however. There may come a time in the future when gluten free restaurants may become popular enough to open up chains. For right now, there is only one restaurant that I can think of that is totally and completely gluten free and that is Posana in Asheville, NC. This restaurant is one I can recommend without any reservations (insert comedic drum roll) as every item on their menu is gluten free. They don’t serve anything that isn’t gluten free and so there is no risk of cross contamination. The food doesn’t come at fast food prices, so I might suggest that you save it for a special occasion, but it is worth it. When I went there, I had the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese as an appetizer and I still dream about them. Yum. Their menu items are seasonal, but I’ve had their lemon-blueberry cheesecake and it’s to die for as well. If you’re gluten intolerant and you want a place where you can feel totally safe and where everything is made for you, then I would suggest making a trip to Asheville and pigging out at Posana.

If you’re really interested in Posana (it’s great food whether you’re gluten intolerant or not), check out their website: https://posanarestaurant.com.