Thursday, August 20, 2015

Gluten-Free is Not a Fad for Many People

I know I haven't written in a while but there is one thing that has had me slightly upset since about March when I watched a video of comedian Joy Behar saying on live TV that gluten-free is just a fad to be endorsed by celebrities and that Celiac disease basically doesn't exist. A lot of people, unfortunately, believe this, but to have a celebrity say it without research, honestly, hurts.

Gluten-free is not a fad for a lot of people.

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in August of 2002. I've been gluten-free for 13 years. Almost half my life. When I was diagnosed, gluten-free foods were disgusting. They were bland and were perfectly nicknamed cardboard by my family.

Unfortunately, because gluten-free is now the "in" thing, the new fad, many companies have taken this to the extreme. I literally will pay twice as much for half the amount of food that is also higher in calories, fat, sodium, etc and has less fiber than gluten foods. If you don't believe me, look for yourself the next time you go shopping.

Luckily for me, I love to bake and try to make most of my foods from scratch, but that is also incredibly expensive. I have to buy three different kinds of flour to get a good texture, when non-Celiacs only have to buy one bag of flour. I don't like the pre-made gluten-free flours because to me they have an odd after taste and I don't care for them. I've tried many, trust me, and nothing compares to the mix I use.

For the people who think I do this for a fad or because a celebrity says I should, I eat gluten-free to stay healthy and not kill my body from the inside out. For those of you who are ignorant, and I don't mean that in a bad way, here is what Celiac disease is:

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy, where our bodies literally cannot digest gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found naturally in wheat, rye and barley. Oats are naturally gluten-free but become contaminated when processed. When a Celiac eats something with gluten (we tend to call this "getting glutened") our immune system is triggered and our antibodies damage the villi, or the lining of our small intestine. The villi is what absorbs the nutrients our bodies need from the foods we eat. If they are damaged, we cannot get vitamins or minerals our bodies need to function. In a grown adult, it can take up to two years for the villi to fully heal. In that time, we can have "attacks" or get sick without warning or reason.

The rash on my hands in 2013
that was caused by my Celiac
Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose because we all react differently. My body's first sign that I've been glutened is a migraine. That migraine can be slight or severe, depending on how much gluten has gotten into my system. I also feel like I have the flu. Trying being sick to your stomach, dry-heaving, while having your head feel like there is an ax stuck in the middle and God-forbid someone makes a noise. If the amount of gluten is relatively high, I will also break out in a rash, similar to hives but more painful, in the more sensitive areas of my body and my hands.

There are a lot of symptoms that a Celiac can have. There are tests that can determine if one has Celiac, but they are not 100% sometimes. I got lucky, knowing that there was a history of it in my family (the disease is hereditary) and I showed many of the more common signs. I went off gluten for two weeks then had one slice of bread. I became incredibly sick within 30 minutes, roughly the amount of time it takes for food to go from your stomach to the small intestine. I've been gluten-free ever since.

More and more restaurants are providing gluten-free items on their menus. Joy Behar called this annoying. I'm sorry that it annoys you for me to order something that will not make me sick. I want to eat out just as much as you and enjoy a meal with my family or friends.

By the way, gluten isn't just in food. I have to read the ingredients of lotions, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and anything else that might touch my skin. I feed my dog her food and have to immediately wash my hands, because her food is gluten based. I can't have certain vitamin brands, because they are gluten based, and that goes for a lot of other medication. If I want to go out and have a drink, I have to be careful of the liquor used because they may or may not contain gluten. Beer is out of the question, unless it's made from sorghum and there aren't many options out there. If a product says malt or malted beverage on the label, I avoid it.

Being gluten-free is not simple and if you don't actually have Celiac disease and are just doing the gluten-free diet because a celebrity endorses it, I would stop. There are people who actually are gluten-sensitive and can only handle gluten in moderation. That's fine.

In the end, eating gluten-free is a choice. Plain and simple. Celiac disease does not have a cure. The only thing us Celiacs can do is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of our lives. I will be gluten-free for the rest of my life and I'm proud to stand up and say I'm a Celiac and I'm gluten-free.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dining at Disneyland

I know it's been a while but I'm in the mood to write again and I figured I would start again by sharing one thing I get asked all the time. How do you eat at Disneyland while being gluten-free? The answer is simple - a lot.

Anyone who gets to know me, learns that I LOVE Disneyland and would live there if I could. If I could ever get a job at Disneyland, it would be a dream come true. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 11 years ago, it was very difficult to adjust. Then a few years later we visited Disneyland and California Adventures. The first day, most of my meals consisted of salad with no dressing, very salty potato chips, a turkey leg and popcorn. By the time dinner rolled around I watched my family go anywhere they wanted and got a meal they didn't have to worry about what was in it. I looked at all the menus and realized that I couldn't eat anything. I got frustrated and started crying. We ended up walking quite a ways outside the park and having a discusting meal at a restaurant.

The next day, my cousin told me to go into City Hall and ask. Disneyland had thousands of guests a day walk through their gates and I know I'm not the only one with dietary issues. I was greated by a lady with a great smile and asked how she could help me. I told her that I wasn't sure and that I have Celiac Disease. Before I could explain to her what it was, she pulled out a huge binder and handed me a sheet of paper. I was looking at a list of all the foods I could eat that were gluten-free. The biggest thing I learned that day was it's ok to ask for help.

That night, I chose to go to Redd Rocket's Pizza Port and had spaghetti. I was treated to well and I was amazed at how focused the chefs were about making my food and making sure there would be no cross-contamination. Every time I eat at the restaurants, I spend about 20 minutes waiting for my food, but it's worth it. Now, all I have to do is say that I need gluten-free and the cashier excuses themselves to get the chef. I talk to the person who will be making my food.

I will be visiting Disneyland in two weeks and I cannot wait. My family and I will be there for a whole week. My plan is to walk all of you readers through my dining experience while I'm there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Great Banana Bread Experiment

I have always loved the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, filling the house with a sweet aroma. I found a quick bread recipe in an edition of Joy of Cooking that is older than me. My grandma, Ma for short, lent it to me shortly after moving into my first apartment. After using it for months, Ma finally gave me the cookbook, telling me that I have used it more in just months than in the almost three decades she's owned the book. Without the gluten to help hold it together, I was concerned about it not turning out and becoming a crumbling mess. Surprisingly enough it didn't. The bread was, however, dense... not that I mind because it makes great French toast (just add a little cinnamon to the eggs).

I then decided to enter it in the 2007 Tri County Fair (the fair held every Labor Day weekend in my hometown) and was pleasantly surprised to see a third place ribbon on it. I know third place isn't the best, but I was happy with what I got. For me it wasn't about winning the ribbons and a few bucks. Every year I enter because I want people to know that you can make gluten-free food where you actually can enjoy it. Yes it still has carbs and sugar and all that, but please don't let that stop you from trying this recipe. A few months ago Suzi (she's in charge of the food department for the fair and also my mom's cousin) asked my mom what the easiest way to contact me was. Later (after a warning from my mom) I received an email from Suzi. She said that people had been coming up to her asking for a gluten free division for the fair. I was the first person she thought of (trust me, I was honored) and asked me to help her come up with the various classes they could have for the division. I do hope they have a gluten free division because every year I have to put my food up against the "normal" stuff and in a way I feel like I'm at a disadvantage in a way. Gluten is responsible for helping baked good to rise and be fluffy. I also think that if the Tri County Fair does introduce this division (I think I would be one a very few to enter) it may help to raise awareness of Celiac Disease and may even get a few people to ask their doctors about it and, hopefully, get tested. Sorry, I'm getting a little off topic.

The Great Banana Bread Experiment...

So the other day, I decided to make banana bread since I let a few bananas sit on the counter to get black. Usually I throw them in the freezer just after they start turning black. Knowing I already had a few in the freezer, I got curious to know if you can tell the difference between using frozen bananas versus ripened on the counter bananas. My initial guess was no. Banana bread is banana bread no matter how you ripened the bananas to the point where they look absolutely disgusting. I pulled four bananas from my freezer (I usually try to use them within a couple months of being in the freezer). I had to use one of the frozen bananas to make up the banana requirement for the recipe. Same recipe, both using farm fresh eggs (tip with using farm fresh eggs - add an extra egg because they are usually smaller than your typical store bought eggs... oh and wash off any chicken poop before using), all ingredients were brought to room temperature at the same time. I had everything laid out according to the steps of the recipe out of my trusty Joy of Cooking Cookbook and got to work. Here’s the recipe I used:

1 3/4 cups Gluten-Free Flour Mix
2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp salt (I use Kosher)
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon rind (a.k.a zest)
2 eggs (3 if using farm fresh eggs)
1 cup banana pulp

Have all ingredients at room temperature (I leave everything on the counter for minimum of 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blend shortening until soft. Add sugar and lemon zest and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs and banana pulp. Add the sifted ingredients in about three parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition until smooth. If you want banana nut bread at this point just fold in 1/2 chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are my favorites). I’ve also added raisins, currants, and cranberries. It’s gonna be your bread. Add what you like. Just keep in mind that the more stuff you add to it, the harder it’s going to hold together in the end.

Drop batter in a greased bread pan. Bake for about an hour or until done. Cool on a rack before slicing.

I usually add more baking powder to help the bread rise a little more but forgot this time around. I also used a larger loaf pan so they were flatter anyway. If you want a “normal” sized bread use about 3 tsp - 3 1/2 tsp. Xanthan gum can be used in place of the guar gum but is typically more expensive. Guar gum works for me and I usually keep it away from the baking powder until it get mixed in the batter (bad experience in the past, different story).

So how did I manage to remember which was which. Simple I made myself a note and labeled them when I couldn’t bake them right away (what I had a meeting and news of a friend who was in the hospital - he died on January 21, 2009).

The results: The one with the all frozen bananas were softer in feel (not moister, but softer in density) and were sweeter. I’m not surprised with them being sweeter. So which did I like the best? The ones made from all frozen bananas, but the ones that were (mostly) ripened on the counter would be great for Banana Bread French Toast since they were a little denser.

Now I’ve just got to think of a new experiment because this was so much fun… Any ideas?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Julie & Julia and My New Adventure Begins

So I just got back from watching Julie & Julia and all I can say is – such a good movie. While watching the movie, I got to thinking that I have a blog already and I love to cook and I have food allergies that many people around the world can relate to… I could do what Julie did. I grew up watching Julia Childs cook with the enthusiasm that made her who she was. Not only was she a great cook, but a role model for many young women, one of which is sitting right here writing this for anyone who dares to stumble across it. So here I am. My adventure through food and the many complications life throws at you when you’re dealt with food allergies begins.

When I was 11 years old, I started my sixth grade at a new school. I didn’t know very many people and I started getting sick. My pediatrician kept saying that my stomach aches were just nerves from being at a new school and being around people I didn’t know and once I got used to everything I would get better. I didn’t. For a little over a year, she told me that everything I was feeling was all in my head and I would grow out of it especially since I was going through puberty at the same time. Finally my parents took me off dairy and after a week I started to feel better. Then I had a bad day at school and I ate a small bowl of ice cream when I got home. Forty-five minutes later I found myself in the bathroom with a stomachache. My parents told me that I was lactose intolerant. Toward the end of my sixth grade year my uncle got married and I was the trainbearer. My mom told Aunt June that they figured out that I was lactose intolerant and Aunt June told my mom, “Watch her for Celiac Disease. It runs in the family.” We didn’t know what celiac disease was until eight years later.

When I got sick in July of 2002, the main thing I was munching on to help relieve my stomachache were saltine crackers. Who knew that the one thing that has always calmed my stomach was causing more damage rather than helping. When my mom and I went to my doctor (different one than before) my mom remembered what Aunt Junehad said and asked Donna if that could be the cause. Donna said that it could be and told me to go off gluten for a little while and see what happens. The first thing they take away from me was dairy and now bread and anything containing flour. I thought my life was going to end. Obviously it didn’t. Just like I had with dairy, after about a week I tried a small amount of gluten and I got sick. Knowing that it ran in the family and that the insurance probably wouldn’t have paid for any testing, Donna decided not to have me undergo the small intestine biopsy needed to fully confirm the existence of celiac disease. I already showed quite a few of the more common symptoms and I was diagnosed.

Seven years later and I still have celiac attacks. The most difficult thing to come to terms with after being diagnosed is the fact that you now have to cut one entire food group out of your diet. You’d be amazed at what gluten is in. It’s in everything from mayonnaise to soy sauce, salad dressing to deli meat. The next time you’re shopping for food, take a few extra minutes and read the labels of everything you buy. You’d be amazed at what companies put in their products. Gluten can be hidden in products that list it as “modified food starch” but doesn’t say what kind of starch (wheat, corn, rice, potato, or tapioca). Eating has become difficult in the sense that you have to cook about 90% of everything you eat from scratch. You want those frozen dinners that you can just pop in the microwave when your in a hurry? Forget about it. Just about every single one contains some form of gluten. Maybe I should explain a little more about what celiac disease is…

Celiac disease (also spelled coeliac) is an autoimmune disorder that does not allow the body to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and most oats. When a celiac consumes food containing gluten, the villi in the small intestine reacts and send antibodies to kill what they think is a foreign substance, but there isn’t any so the antibodies attack and harm the villi, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in food. The result is typically a very nasty stomachache. Some of the most common symptoms include diarrhea/constipation, vomiting, weight loss, iron-deficiency anemia that does not respond to iron therapy, fatigue, delayed puberty, joint pain, pale sores inside the mouth, a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), unexplained infertility, and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or depression and in my case migraines. Most Celiacs will have one or more of those symptoms. It is a genetic disorder that affects both children and adults. There are no medicines and there is no cure. The only known treatment is a life-long strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, which is not as easy as it sounds but is getting easier.

You want to know facts? Well here you go:

How common is celiac disease? Research shows that 1%, or 3 million, Americans alone have celiac disease. However about 97% are undiagnosed because it is difficult to diagnose.

The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center states that in average, 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease. About 1 in 22 will have celiac disease if a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) already has the disorder and about 1 in 39 if a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle, cousin) who are Celiac.

The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research states that “celiac is twice as common as Chron’s disease, ulceric colitis and cystic fibrosis combined.”

Is celiac disease a food allergy? No. Food allergies are usually something that people can grow out of, like lactose intolerance (just not in my case). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that you will have for the rest of your life. Sucks I know but that’s the truth.

Is celiac disease related or linked to any other disorders? Yes. According to The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, “Celiacs are more likely to be afflicted with problems relating to malabsorption, including osteoporosis, tooth enamel defects, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, internal hemorrhaging, organ disorders (gall bladder, liver, and spleen), and gynecological disorders.” Celiacs that do not adhere to a gluten-free diet are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma. About 180,000 American that have Type 1 Diabetes also have celiac disease. And about 350,000 Americans with Down’s Syndrome also have celiac disease.

Is celiac disease life threatening? Only when not treated by sticking to a gluten-free diet.

What should I do if I think I have celiac disease? Ask your doctor right away. Please don’t put if off, because if you do have celiac disease and you put it off, you could cause even more damage.

There are plenty of books and websites out there ready and more than willing to help. Some of my favorite books are: The Gluten-free Bible by Jax Peters Lowell (ISBN 0-8050-7746-4) and The Gluten-free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy by Bette Hagman (ISBN 0-8050-6525-3). More companies are recognizing celiac disease and marking their packaging as being a gluten-free product.

One of the best things that has happened to me since being diagnosed is my experience eating, without worry, at Disneyland and California Adventures. If you have any food allergies or special dietary restrictions, go to City Hall in the front of Disneyland (or Walt Disney World in Florida) and explain what you need and they will bend over backwards for you. I know. Trust me. They will give you a sheet of paper listing all the restaurants and foods that are gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, vegetarian and vegan along with anything else you can ask for, but you have to ASK. They will also tell you that if you need to ask for the Head Chef or Sous Chef and they will see you personally. I had the Head Chef, Sous Chef AND Manager at Red Rocket’s in Tomorrowland helped me with one dish. The Sous Chef made my spaghetti and even told one of the cooks to ask someone else for the answer to their question because he was making my dish and wouldn’t be distracted. I can’t begin to tell you how special that made me feel.
My dream now is to open a bakery that caters to everyone, not just Celiacs. I want a place where everyone, no matter what dietary restrictions you might have, can enjoy a meal at the same table and not worry about what you are putting in your mouth and the effect it might have on you later.

If you think you might have celiac disease or have just been diagnosed (with anything, not just celiac disease) my best advice is breathe, relax, and do as much research as you can. It’s a tedious task I know but hang in there. You’re alive and that’s all that matters. Make the most out of life and embrace every curve ball nature will throw at you. As Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers said in an interview for the Disney Channel about his Type 1 Diabetes, “It doesn’t slow me down and I’m not gonna let it.” It’s the same thing with my celiac disease. It doesn’t control me. I control it.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me for the last seven years and will support me for the rest of my life. I don’t think I can thank you enough. You have been the rock that has grounded me when I felt like I had lost everything worth living for. Celiac disease is maintainable. Just keep living life to it’s fullest and never let anything, especially a disease, get in the way of you chasing your dreams.

For more information about celiac disease, please visit the following websites:
The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research
The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center
The Celiac Foundation

And so here is my adventure. I am just over two years away from turning 30 and I own so many cookbooks, most of which are NOT gluten- or dairy-free. I start with one of many I own written by Paula Deen and/or her son’s Jamie and Bobby. I fell in love with Paula the moment I first heard her laugh on the Food Network. Her enthusiasm and passion for food and life make me smile when she graces my small screen. I would love to have lunch at The Lady and Sons in Georgia, but I don’t know how much I would actually be able to eat. In The Lady & Sons: Savannah Country Cookbook, Paula says exactly what I would like my mission to be:

“I hope my story will inspire others to accept the challenges that life offers.
My experience proves that whenever one door closes, another one always opens.”

I dedicate this first entry of blog to Paula Deen and the late Julia Childs – two women who have inspired me to live life to the fullest and to not fear food, but to embrace it and all the challenges life throws at you. Thank you for being you and not letting anyone say otherwise.