Gluten-Free 101: What is Gluten Anyway?

Are you feeling confused by all the “gluten-free” labels popping up on everything from cereal boxes to sandwich meat?  Do you think celiac disease is an allergy to gluten?  Are you unsure whether it’s all a big hoax or maybe just a new celebrity fad diet?  Unsure what gluten even is?  Well, my friend, this informative yet entertaining little video is just what you need!

I kind of wish he would’ve gone into a bit more detail about what it feels like to get glutened when you have celiac disease: I end up in bed for a couple of days, miss work and school, and have the worse stomach pains I’ve ever had in my life.  And it takes a good week before I can eat normally again (I have to eat super soft gentle foods) and about two weeks (sometimes closer to three) before my stomach completely stops hurting after eating or drinking (water is the worse, it hurts so much).  And all of that drama and pain can happen if I were to just pick croutons out of my salad. 

But I suppose going into all of that would’ve made for a much longer video.  Check it out.  And let me know what you think. Smile


What to know more about living gluten-free?  Check out these posts:

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Glutened Again: The Magic of Ice Cream

Ice creamWhile my neighbors take advantage of a cooler summer day by having a garage sale and the kids ride bikes in the afternoon sun, the ice cream man is serenading the local residents with tinny versions of “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”  Perhaps he’s trying to tempt us with the idea of all the magic and wonder of the holidays being wrapped into one overpriced little ice cream cone.

A bowl of French vanilla ice cream may not posses the same level of wonder that Christmas morning holds for a sugar-high five-year-old running on no sleep, but for those of us with celiac (an autoimmune disease that makes my body respond to even the slightest amount of gluten  the way other people’s bodies’ might react to being literally poisoned) ice cream is a huge comfort.

And I don’t mean “comfort food” in that handkerchiefs scattered all over the room kind of way, although it’s definitely been known to double as a companion for those times too, but it works to sooth my poor little inner organs after they’ve been abused by gluten.

My sister, Shannon, and I were glutend a couple of days ago.  We’d gone out to eat at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Seattle, careful ordered off the “gluten-free” menu, nicely questioned the server about each of the dishes, and our meals had even come with little flags planted in our pasta claiming the meal was free of all unwanted gluten.  But thanks to cross-contamination issues, we both still ended up feeling pretty crummy.  That’s where the ice cream comes in.

I’ve always tried to be sparing when it came to ice cream and just desserts in general, but the fiancé was worried so he brought Shannon and I each our own container.  And I ate my entire tub of gluten-free, sugar-free ice cream over the course of two days.  Boy oh boy did it make a difference though.  Whenever my insides would begin feeling like they were being barbecued and gored alive, I’d slowly suck on some of the soothing ice cream.  It never made the pain go away completely, but it would help me to go from feeling like I was going to spend the day doubled-up in a corner crying to feeling uncomfortable and out of it.  An almost miraculous transformation.  Ice cream is always helpful, but if gluten had been an actual ingredient (rather than cross-contamination) it wouldn’t have been able to help as much.

Sometimes I’m asked what kind of medicine I take after being glutened, but there really aren’t any meds that would help.  But ice cream, providing I have a decent (or perhaps indecent) amount and the gluten-ing isn’t too sever, works pretty well.  Perhaps the ice cream man is right, maybe when it’s needed ice cream really is magical.

What do you find to be the most helpful after you’ve been accidentally glutened?


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Gluten-Free Living: What the Menu Isn’t Telling You

Eating outI used to blindly walk into an unfamiliar restaurant with my fingers thoroughly crossed in the hopes that there was something on the menu I could eat without too much modification.  And then I’d see it.  That small little asterisk in the corner of the menu indicating that they served gluten-free bread.  I’m safe here!  They know how to feed me!  I’d breath a sigh of relief.

As I later discovered though, I was wrong.  Those little notes on the menu or that the cute little homemade “It’s gluten-free!” sign can’t always be trusted.  Sometimes, even my favorite little indie restaurants don’t have a clue.

A little sandwich shop with their grandma’s-kitchen theme made me completely drop my guard once I saw those six deceptive words: “gluten-free bread available upon request.”  Perhaps it was the partly due to the homey tone of the place, but I felt like these folks most know how to take care of me.  So I ordered fried eggs and gluten-free toast (not something I’d order now, thanks to my egg allergy).  It wasn’t until I was getting up to leave that I realized these well-intended people had thrown my bread right into the same crumb-filled, gluten-infested toaster as everyone else’s.  And, without knowing it, they’d put my health in danger.

Even one of my very favorite indie coffee shops is guilty of a similar offense.  I know the manager by name and every Monday a group of friends and I meet there for a few games of Apples to Apples.  They care about their customers and the quality of their products, but that doesn’t mean they know the first thing about gluten.  In fact, the “gluten-free” cookies were made on a wooden cutting board and on the counter right next to a pizza and a couple of sandwiches (all major don’ts due to cross-contamination).  It might be wheat-free, but it’s not really gluten-free.  And it’s not safe.

Yesterday, while on the bus, I ended up talking with the manager at a new little diner that just opened.  He was more than happy to talk about his restaurant, even informing me that he’d tried offering gluten-free bread for a while.  It was no longer on the menu though because it hadn’t sold enough.  “But you could order something in a wrap,” he said very sincerely, “because that would have less gluten.” Less?  But I can’t even have a crumb!

Anyone who tries to sell me on a wheat flour wrap because it has “less gluten” doesn’t know nearly enough about celiac disease for me to feel comfortable with them feeding me.  I don’t think any of these independent businesses are intentionally misleading their customers; like a lot of people, they just don’t understand.

I’ve eaten at some wonderful, extremely careful indie restaurant run by people who go out of their way to keep me safe, but because not every place is like that we have to do some investigating because anyone can write “gluten-free” on cardstock or buy a loaf of bread.

By Kelsey Hough.   All rights reserved.  Contact me for reprint permission by leaving a comment bellow or follow me on Facebook.  


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Mr. Yuck Stickers: Helping You Stay Gluten-Free

220px-Poison_Help.svgMy friend, Emmalie, who is gluten and lactose free as well as vegetarian, and I were talking about the complicated process of going gluten-free.  And she shared an excellent idea with me about how she keeps track of what foods she can’t eat. 

Emmalie said that when she first became gluten-free, she bought a bunch of Mr. Yuck stickers and “put them on all the glutenous foods” in her house to help reminder her which foods were off limits.  Covering foods she couldn’t eat in the stickers helped her make the transition to a gluten-free / dairy-free / meat-free lifestyle a lot easier.  “It also helped my family understand what I could and couldn’t eat.”  Someone could easily use another type of sticker though (might be smart to use a different kind if you’re dealing with small children and are concerned the poison label might confuse them).  But whatever type of labels you use, I think stickers are a very simple way to effectively mark all the food foes in the kitchen.  

In addition to using Mr. Yuck, Emmalie also found star stickers to be helpful.  “I got tired of checking my food all of the time so I would stick a star sticker on food that I had checked and found to be gluten-free.”  The stickers have helped Emmalie to keep track of her food foes and now she says that she only uses “stickers for condiments and foods that aren’t obvious.” 

“Mr. Yuk’s face really helped me come to terms with the idea that foods that I loved don’t always love me back.  Love should be a two-way street.”  Absolutely.

Gluten-Free 101: Foods and ingredients to Avoid

Gluten-FreeSo, you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease or you’re starting an elimination diet to determine the future state of your relationship with gluten.  You’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to go from here.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed because learning to be gluten-free—thinking about what’s in everything you eat, reading ingredient labels—is more than a diet, it’s a completely new skill.

The very first step to getting you on the road to recovery is learning which ingredients and foods to avoid and then clearing out all the gluten from your life.  I’m not a medical or dietary professional, but thanks to my many food foes I have a lot of experience reading ingredient labels and looking things up.  While this isn’t a list of absolutely everything that contains gluten, hopefully it’ll help you identify some of the main food foes in your life and give you a better idea of what to watch out for.

If you’re like most folks and don’t have a lot of experience with allergies or food sensitivities, figuring out what’s in your food likely sounds challenging or even downright impossible (start off by learning how to read ingredient labels).

Here’s what to do:  Print out the lists of ingredients and foods to avoid before going to the grocery store (if you try to keep track of it all in your head at first you’ll likely forget something).  Then, before you put anything in your cart, flip over the package/box/can and carefully look over the list of ingredients.  Don’t assume anything (not even something like processed meat or tea) is gluten-free without first checking.


Ingredients to Avoid:

  1. Wheat flour (yes, this includes white bread)
  2. Whole wheat flour
  3. Barley
  4. Rye
  5. Oats (due to cross-contamination, unless it specifically says it’s gluten-free)
  6. Spelt (Only an option if you’re wheat-free and not gluten-free)
  7. Bleached flour
  8. Kamut
  9. Triticale
  10. Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  11. Malt-Vinegar (flavoring, syrup, and extract)
  12. Wheat germ or bran
  13. Wheat starch-modified
  14. Hordeum vulgare extract
  15. Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
  16. Hydrolyzed wheat protein

Questionable Ingredients:

  1. MSG (can be made with wheat gluten, but I honestly don’t know enough to tell if it’s safe so I just avoid it)
  2. Artificial coloring (sometimes it’s safe, sometimes it’s not)
  3. Carmel coloring (I’ve heard a  lot of different thoughts on this, so I try to always avoid it just to be safe)

Foods to Avoid:

  1. Baked goods that use a non-gluten-free flour (hamburger buns, cakes, bread, most corn bread, donuts)
  2. Pasta made from wheat flour
  3. Ramen noodles
  4. Cornbread (unless made from a gluten-free recipe)
  5. Beer (unless labeled gluten-free)
  6. Barely malt
  7. Breaded foods (you can make a gluten-free version at home)
  8. Bread crumbs
  9. Couscous (sometimes you can find a gluten-free version at the grocery store but avoid it completely when eating out)
  10. Flour tortillas
  11. Graham crackers
  12. Sauce or teriyaki sauce (unless wheat-free, read the ingredient list)
  13. Teas that contain barley (always read the ingredient list)
  14. Ice cream containing cookie dough and other chunky things (rocky road can be a problem, too)

Gluten-Free 101: Cross-Contamination

Oftentimes one of the biggest issues if you live in house with both gluten-free and non-gluten-free people is cross-contamination.  My mom, Deborah Taylor-Hough whose the author of Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month, joined me in chatting about how to make your kitchen safe for your gluten-free family members or friends.  Here are some of the tips that we learned the hard way …

Kelsey Hough and Deborah Taylor-Hough on living gluten-free.