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

Hurricane Relief for Celiacs

By: Rachel Sircy

Instead of writing a long blog post this week musing on how we can live gluten free in Columbia, I am going to be thankful that I am not living in Houston or Florida. Those who have been affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma are relying on food shelters to feed themselves during these trying times of recovery. However, for those in disaster areas who happen to be celiacs or who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, food shelters may not have food that they can eat. Below, I am simply going to share some websites of gluten-free cooperatives who are working to get gluten free-food to people who are in need. They list the kinds of gluten-free foods that shelters in Houston and San Antonio are looking for and, at least in the case of the National Celiac Association, they offer a way for people to donate money online through their website.

www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/new/sending-gluten-free-food-to-folks-impacted-by-hurricane-harvey

https://glutenfreeworks.com/blog/2017/08/31/devastated-by-hurricane-harvey-houston-needs-gluten -free-donations

www.nationalceliac.org/help-for-houston

So far, there are no updates on the needs for hurricane victims in Florida. I am going to continue checking these websites to see when they have information on how to help.

Something to Chew On

By: Rachel Sircy

My last post was on the dangers of eating out at restaurants that serve gluten free food, but don’t have gluten free kitchens. I thought I would follow up on that by offering my opinion about certain gluten free products that are sort of in the same boat.

Anytime a person with an allergy or food intolerance purchases a product made by a company that makes a wide variety of products, or that attempts to appeal to a broad base of customers, the person with the allergy is taking a risk. Unfortunately for those of us with issues, there are more people out there who aren’t allergic to peanuts or who aren’t lactose intolerant or who don’t have celiac disease. These healthier customers are usually going to win out with most big companies because they are going to be making up a larger part of that company’s revenue than sickies like us.

Now, that being said, many large food corporations are realizing that the number of people with food intolerances and allergies is on the rise and that it is in their best interest to start making a niche for us or they’re going to lose a large portion of paying customers. BUT, people with serious conditions should not feel indebted to these companies for noticing us. It’s not personal, it’s business.

One thing that I’ve had to learn over the years is that as ecstatic as I am whenever I see a food product that I used to love that has suddenly “gone gluten free,” I shouldn’t feel as if the big-name company that produces that product was really interested in my well-being when they made it. I’ll admit, it does give me the warm fuzzies when I see my childhood favorite cereals like Lucky Charms and Cheerios are now gluten free. I sometimes catch myself thinking: “Wow, General Mills really cares that I’m happy. They’re giving me back a piece of my childhood.” And, of course, they are giving me back a piece of my childhood, for a price. So, write letters to the company if something makes you sick or if you are not satisfied with the way that the company is handling safety issues.

And of course, you have pay attention and learn whether a company’s safety policies are up to your standards, so read, read, read. Be picky, be demanding and don’t feel bad about it. Allergen free products are just a matter of money to most large corporations. The stakes are a bit higher for those of us with dietary issues. For us, allergen free food is about our quality of life. Don’t forget, the hardest punch you can throw is with your dollar.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but when you have a real issue with your health, you cannot afford to let excitement or nostalgia cloud your judgement. What I’m trying to get across here is that it is expensive – sometimes it’s really, REALLY expensive – for these companies to accommodate those of us with special dietary needs and since the regular customer base (I mean those with no dietary restrictions) don’t want the cost of the products that they’re used to buying to go up, it only makes sense that some companies might cut corners in order to still make a profit. That means that they might not test these products for allergens as rigorously as they should, or it might mean that they are producing these products in the same facilities as the gluten, dairy or nuts that you may have a problem with. Cross-contamination can happen at any stage of the process and it will still make you sick. (By the way, this includes your own home, so watch out!) I’m not saying that any of these companies definitely do cut corners, only that they might. We can’t be 100% sure. It’s always a little bit safer to go with a product that has a written guarantee on the side like this:

Labels like those generally come on specialty products that are a bit more expensive than the products that are more widely available and are marketed to a broader customer base. But, in the end, I’ve found that I’m willing to pay a bit more for certain products just to have that peace of mind about my health. Plus, I’m happy to help support smaller companies that have made efforts from the beginning to create food that is safe and healthy for all of us.

Let me finish by saying that I, too, purchase gluten free products from famous brand companies, sometimes. But, when I do, I try to make sure that I am keeping track of how I feel after I eat them. Keeping a food journal is a really good idea, especially if you have a food intolerance instead of an allergy. Food intolerances are much slower to affect the body. Sometimes you won’t feel bad until 2 or 3 days after eating something contaminated, so it’s best if you have a written record that you can look at. Record both what you ate and your symptoms even if your symptoms don’t seem related to anything you ate. Eventually you will start to see patterns in your diet and your overall health.

Hopefully this was helpful and gave you something to chew on for a while!

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.

Accomplishment

By: Rachel Sircy

Recently, I wrote about how it’s good to shop at the farmer’s market for your food. However, I recently experienced something even better than getting your food from the farmer’s market…I grew some food for myself!

This is a picture of my tomato plant. I really wish I had taken a picture of it when I first got it, but honestly, I thought I was probably going to kill it. It was about 2 or 3 inches high when I first got this little tomato seedling. I planted it in a pot and now it’s about 3-4 feet tall. It’s so tall, that I have two separate stakes trying to hold it up and it’s pulling them both over. I didn’t bother getting a tomato cage, even though my neighbor told me that I should, because, like I said, I was pretty sure I was going to kill it.

I have a history with plants, mostly it’s a dark, sad history of dried up and forgotten impatiens and leafy ferns. But this year, in an effort to eat a bit healthier and closer to home (and also a bit cheaper) I decided I was going to try to grow my own herbs and some tomatoes. The herbs have done amazingly well. Parsley was the first plant that I bought and I’ve had it for about four months now and it’s still going strong. I have actually taken scissors and cut the plant all the way back to the dirt (a lot like cutting grass) several times now, and each time I do, the herb comes back fuller than it was before. I use fresh parsley in just about everything, and so this little plant, which cost me less than 5 dollars (it was a little over $11 for the terra cotta pot, potting soil, fertilizer spikes and plant all together) has saved me quite a bit of money. I was going to the grocery store and buying those little plastic containers of fresh herbs every time a recipe called for it. The thing is those little plastic packages are outrageously expensive, especially when compared to growing them yourself.

This little package of organic thyme cost me $2.99 pre-tax. I know I didn’t have to get organic thyme, but I prefer organic when I can get it. The terrible thing is, I won’t even need this much thyme for the recipe that I’m using, so I’m probably going to have to either throw the rest of it away or freeze it. If I paid that much for every fresh herb in every recipe I make, I would be totally broke. That is what I realized about four months ago. And so, I went to Lowe’s and picked up a little parsley plant which paid for itself in about 4 weeks’ time.

This basil plant was about two inches tall when I got it. It looks a bit rough right now, but just three weeks ago, I snipped almost every branch and every single leaf off of it for a large pasta recipe. At the time, it was standing about a foot and a half high.

Until this past weekend, the herbs were really the only plants that I had been able to use in my cooking. My tomato plant had some tiny cherry tomatoes on it, but they seemed to be taking forever to ripen.

But then, finally, I went outside and one of my tomatoes had turned red as if by a miracle.

I didn’t take a picture of it on the vine. I picked it and cooked it with eggs on Sunday morning. One cherry tomato may not seem like much, but the feeling of eating something that my own two hands had planted and helped to grow was absolutely magical!

So, if you are like me and you think that you have the hand of death when it comes to plants, you might just try something like herbs or a tomato plant and see how you do with them. Even if you don’t make it the first time, they are really not that expensive, so you won’t be out that much money. The fact that I could eventually eat these plants is what kept me really interested in them. Flowers never fascinated me the way that these plants do. I find myself checking on these plants daily and watering them regularly. I even talk to them sometimes. I think this is turning me into a gardener. And, in the end, growing your own food is a great way to save money on groceries as well as to eat healthier. When you buy organic produce from the store, you always have to take someone’s word that it really is organic. You can be 100% certain that your food is organic if you grow it yourself using organic methods!

For those interested, I found an extremely helpful app for my phone called “Gardening Know How.” It’s free and it has a gardening journal and tons of articles that are searchable. All of the articles are written in terms that are easy to understand for beginning gardeners. It’s sort of been my lifeline when I’ve run into problems or had questions about my particular plants.

Happy growing!

Kids and Celiac Disease

 By: Rachel Sircy

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if you have questions about celiac disease or if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

Those affected by celiac disease may wonder what the risk is for our children. Here are a few things to consider:

1) According to the Center for Celiac Disease at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, children with a first degree relative (mom, dad, sibling) who have celiac disease should be tested. They recommend that a blood test for celiac disease be done after the age of three and after the child has been exposed to gluten for at least one year. Remember that if you don’t have gluten in your system, you can’t have a reaction to it. The tests for celiac disease are trying to measure an immune response to gluten. If you’ve already put your child on a gluten-free diet, your child’s test will be negative even if they have celiac disease.

2) Even if you have celiac disease, or your child has another first degree relative with CD, it does not necessarily mean that your child will have celiac disease, though they are more at risk to have the disease.  Some people (myself included) have wondered if it’s worth it to introduce gluten into the diet of an at-risk child. It’s really your call, but consider this: your child may one day want to get off of the gluten free bandwagon. It might be good to find out sooner rather than later if that is an option for them.

Also, there are other health issues that are associated with celiac disease. If your child goes undiagnosed for CD, they may still develop some of these other issues such as diabetes, lactose intolerance, or even coronary artery disease. If you choose to put your child on a gluten free diet without having them diagnosed, just keep in mind that doctors will not be looking out for any medical problems that are related to celiac disease.

3) In young children with celiac disease, you may have to watch for contamination from gluten-containing play things like play dough or chalk, etc. Normally, celiacs don’t have to worry about anything that merely touches the skin (gluten can only affect celiacs if they eat it).  However, since young children are prone to eating things they shouldn’t (like play dough, chalk, etc.), it might be a good idea to stock GF art supplies

4) Signs and symptoms of celiac disease in children (and adults) include the following: chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation; abdominal pain; vomiting; bloating/gas; fatigue; damaged or discolored tooth enamel; blistery, itchy skin rashes; iron deficiency anemia; short stature. According to everything I’ve read, irritability is the first sign that appears in young children. Consistently cranky children are often sick children. Asymptomatic children with genetic risk factors should also be tested because many celiacs do not show any signs of the disease in its early stages.

**All of the above information info was taken from the “Kid Central” page of BeyondCeliac.org, which is a pretty good resource. Also helpful is the Mayo Clinic website.

Recipe: Easiest. Cookies. Ever. (Flourless Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth works best, but crunchy will do)
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bag Hershey’s Kisses (dark chocolate are our favorites on this, but milk chocolate is also good)

Directions:

  1. Unwrap Kisses and place in fridge, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream peanut butter and sugar into a bowl.
  3. Beat in baking powder.
  4. Add egg and mix until well combined.
  5. Roll into balls (smaller is better), roll balls in white sugar, and place on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Press/flatten balls with fork.
  6. Bake 10 minutes, let rest 5 minutes on baking sheet, then cool on a plate.
  7. While cookies are still warm, press a kiss in the middle of each cookie.
  8. Try not to eat them all in one sitting.

Shop Smarter, Not Harder

By: Rachel Sircy

Living with any chronic condition usually means having to means that you have to make serious lifestyle changes. For those of us who have to make drastic changes in what we eat, grocery shopping can become something we dread and eating out can become nearly impossible.

For celiacs like myself, you have to learn a whole new way of thinking about food and you have to learn a whole new language: label reading. Learning to become an expert label reader and spot the hidden gluten in food takes time. Meanwhile, as you struggle with all this new information, you get hungry. Really hungry. I don’t know about you, but when I become hungry I get desperate, and desperation leads to bad food choices and bad food choices (particularly for someone with a chronic condition) leads to bad health.

So, what can you do to prevent yourself from becoming desperately hungry while you’re re-learning to shop? Well, firstly, listen to that piece of advice your mother gave you and never, EVER shop hungry. If you have diabetes or high cholesterol or celiac disease, there are very few convenience foods out there that are safe for you to eat. Be sure to eat before you go to the store. And, if you have found a portable snack that is healthy for you, take it with you.

Of course, we can all find ourselves in an emergency situation, and while we’re re-learning about food and how to shop for ourselves again, these two smartphone apps can be real lifesavers:

ShopWell – This app is perfect for those of us who haven’t quite mastered label reading, or who are in a hurry to get in and out of the grocery store. In our modern world of pre-packaged everything, it’s hard to know just what the ingredients in something are and whether or not they’re good for you. The ShopWell app allows each user to plug in personal health information, such as if you want to follow a gluten free diet or if you are a diabetic, pre-diabetic or have high cholesterol. The app has a built-in barcode scanner for food and when you use it to scan a food item, the app will tell you if that food has ingredients in it that are good for you and your individual dietary needs.

If you find yourself completely confused, or in a hurry, you can turn on the app’s location device while you are in the grocery store and the app will point you in the direction of healthy food. It can tell you the general area where you should be searching for food that is right for you in the grocery store you happen to be in. It’s like having a registered dietician in your pocket!

Find Me Gluten Free – My mother (who is also a celiac) introduced me to this app. It’s perfect for those times when you find yourself out of the house for longer than you expected, or your in a city that you are unfamiliar with. This app uses your location to find restaurants in your immediate area that offer gluten free items on the menu. The first time I ever used it, my family was out Christmas shopping in a city that was 2 1/2 hours away from where we lived. We were starving, but we didn’t know anything about the area and had no idea where we could eat. We turned on the app and found out that Red Robin has the option to serve most of its sandwiches on gluten free croissants. While I really don’t recommend eating out a lot for celiacs (cross contamination is almost always an issue), there are times when you need to eat pronto. Thanks this app, Mom and I were saved from becoming hungry enough to make some bad food choices.

So, when learning a new way of life, do it smarter, not harder. Save yourself some time, some headache and be good to your body by letting these apps take some of the guesswork out of shopping and eating out for you!