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:

The Week in Review: Graduation & Gluten

2012-12-14 16.48.55Mr. Munger is now the proud owner of a BA.  He’s been out of the area for the past two years, so I haven’t even begun to fully adjust to the idea that he won’t have to head back up north once 2013 rolls around (this also means we’re one step closer to being able to finally nail down a date).

My immediate family and I all spent last weekend in Bellingham in order to be there for Mr. Munger’s graduation.  The graduation ceremony itself was the usual mix of extremely exciting and extremely boring.  We also had fun looking at Christmas lights and doing a little last-minute shopping. 

But the most complicated and painful aspect of the trip involved, of course, food.

I hadn’t really gone out to eat since I learned about my 10 newest food allergies a couple months back, so going to Anthony’s Homeport in Bellingham, even though we’d previously had good luck with the place, was a little worrisome.  I brought an index card listing all of my major food allergies (soy, eggs, dairy, shellfish, tomatoes), ordered off the gluten-free menu, and stressed the importance of my food being safe to the waitress.  Everything seemed fine.  But later that night the unmistakable, makes–me-feel-like-I’m-going–to-end-up-doubled-up stomach pain kicked in.  Glutened again.

I’d been feeling kind of blue the last couple of weeks about the fact that going out to eating (whether at restaurants or even a friend’s house) really isn’t an options; my list of food foes is too long and the risk is too great.  The funny thing is that even though my latest glutening dashed my dreams of eating out, I also don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore.  Sure, I’d love to go out to a nice restaurant during the holidays but one evening out is not worth the stomach pain (that, at the moment, has been going strong for a solid week and a half).          

Guess this means that my New Year’s goal of learning to cook more recipes (hopefully trying a new one or modified version every week) is now even more important.  And, since Mr. Munger is back in the area again, I have another person to take me grocery shopping (grocery stores are dangerous due to peanuts so I have to take someone with me) and someone to help remind me of all the good tasting food that I can still eat.

My Allergen-Free/Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

Yes, I know it’s now December and this is no longer seasonally fitting to talk about Thanksgiving.  I’d planned on showing off pictures of my Thanksgiving feast sooner, but the combination of coming down with a cold that just didn’t want to go away and attempting to get back into school mode enough to finish out the quarter meant that blogging has taken a backseat the last couple of weeks.  Thanksgiving was great though, so it at least deserves a quick mention.

My immediate family—mom (several allergies), sister (gluten-free and multiple allergies), and brother (practically vegan and also a couple of food allergies of his own)—is, needless to say, pretty gosh darn hard to feed.  And with the addition of my 10 newest food allergies, we weren’t sure how we were going to work out Thanksgiving.  Not to mention, the extended family has never really understood allergies (they’re getting better) but having a meal at their house felt like I would’ve been risking a trip to the ER.  

Thankfully, Mr. Munger’s parents invited us over for dinner.  This meant that there were more heads trying to figure out what would be Kelsey-safe and less food for any one person to make.  And it worked out great.  

What I had for dinner: turkey, cranberry sauce, peas with onions, stuffing (my future mother-in-law actually found gluten-free/dairy-free/egg-free/soy-free bread!), smashed red potatoes, sweet potatoes, pickles, and even rolls (made by yours truly).

I’ll try and get the roll and cranberry recipes to you soon because they turned out great.  And the cranberries are super easy to make! 

So how was your Thanksgiving?  Any tips for working around food allergies this holiday season or figuring out how to explain your dietary restrictions to the people you’ll be celebrating with?

It’s Official: I’m Allergic to the World

food-allergies“Wouldn’t it be bad if I found out I was allergic to more foods?”

My sister, Shannon, shot me back a worried look that said, “Don’t even joke about that!”

With my already nearly epic allergen list (peanuts, mushrooms, coconut, honeydew, and the inability to digest gluten or beef) I felt pretty confident that not a thing would show up during my food allergy testing.  How many food allergies can one gal have?  Apparently, quite a lot.

Yesterday, after my allergy testing was done, I felt like a car had run over me.  My body didn’t like the testing very much.  While the good news is that I’m feeling less like roadkill this morning,  the bad news is that I have TEN NEW FOOD ALLERGIES to try and navigate life with.  Oh, boy.

The happy woman doing my testing suddenly looked very grave: “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”  Not exactly what you want to hear.  She’d never seen anyone come out with so many food allergies.  And as she read of the list of the foods I had to say goodbye to, I felt like I was going into shock.

1. Milk
2. Eggs
3. Apples
4. Peaches
5. Pork
6. Shrimp
7. Soy bean
8. Strawberries
9. Tomatoes
10. Tuna

By the time she was finished reading off my new found food foes, I was laughing in that “better-call-the-men-in-the-white-coats” kind of way.  Seemed better than crying all over myself at the doctor’s office.

The results mean: buying pre-made foods is a luxury I don’t really have anymore, all of my favorite holiday dishes aren’t options, there’s no way I’m going on the four-week study abroad trip to Rome with my school, not sure how baking would even work, and just going to the grocery store will take even longer than usual thanks to all the ingredient-label reading.  And, also, every single recipe I’ve posted on The Crunchy Cook so far are things I can’t eat anymore.  That one probably makes me the most sad (I was already pretty sure Rome wasn’t happening).

The results also explain why I’m so hyper-sensitive to all of my allergies, why I feel crummy much of the time, and my stomach hurts so much.  It’s a shock to the system trying to wrap my head around my new list of food allergies, but I wouldn’t go back to not knowing about them for anything.  I wish I didn’t have any allergies, I wish I was easier to feed, but I don’t wish that I was blissfully unaware … because now I can start taking proper care of my body.

I know I’ll slowly figure out how to feed myself again, and eventually discover food I enjoy eating, too.  But I feel like I’m starting over completely and it’s overwhelming.

Mom hugged me and said, “You’re not on your own.  We’ll figure this out together.”  And she’s right.

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?

Other Articles of Interest:

Disneyland: The Happiest (Gluten-Free) Place on Earth

DPP_923I’ll be honest with you, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Disneyland.  Spending a day at Mickey’s lair makes me feel like I’m vacationing inside of a giant advertisement—an entire theme park dedicated to living in, wearing, and practically even breathing Disney.  And brands aren’t exactly my thing even when I’m not feeling suffocated by them.

To Disney’s credit,  the rides are fun and it can be a nice place to relax and play.  And it truly is magical when you’re young enough to not be concentrating on brands or how things like gender or social-economic status are portrayed (or maybe that’s just me).  But what really convinced me that I could have a nice—maybe even “magical”—time at  Disneyland was the food.

Vacationing Gluten-Free:

My fiancé, Mr. Munger, and his family took me along on vacation last September to Disneyland.  I hadn’t taken a major vacation since going gluten-free, so the idea of traveling out of state and eating in unfamiliar places was downright scary at first.  I imagined being surrounded by happy vacationers as my stomach loudly demanded food or cried out in pain because I’d accidentally been glutened.

To my surprise, vacationing at Disneyland was almost magical—the ultimate food vacation.

The very first day we arrived we stopped by Town Hall (the welcome center right inside the park) because we’d been told they’d be able to supply us with a list of celiac-safe dining.  I was presented with a huge packet.  It listed every restaurant in Disneyland and California Adventure and what I could eat.  When you’re used to only being able to eat only one thing on the menu being handed a stack of papers detailing all the foods you can safely have feels almost like Christmas.

The Menu:

We usually didn’t eat inside the park for breakfast, so I packed Udi’s gluten-free bagels and put cream cheese on them.  When I did have breakfast at Disneyland, though, I was able to eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, and ever pancakes shaped like Mickey’s head.  For lunches I ate tacos, salads, gluten-free pizza, chicken burgers on gluten-free buns, and kabobs.  For snacks I could grab a turkey leg or fruit or French-fries.  And for dinner, because I’m madly in love with sea food, I usually ate some  sort of shrimp or fish.

What was truly magical about the trip is that after an entire week of eating away from home I never got sick from cross-contamination.  Not to mention I had so many healthy, delicious options while there that a year later and I still find myself missing the restaurants inside the park.  The fact Disney is so well prepared for accommodating their gluten-free guests also kept the planning ahead of time to a minimal, which made the trip feel more relaxing.

Despite my love-hate relationship with Disney, I decided that for gluten-free folks Disneyland truly is one of the happiest (and safest) places on Earth.  I’d hands down recommend Disneyland as a destination vacation for anyone with celiac.

Eating Gluten-Free in Disneyland:

  1. Eat inside the park.  Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than eating at McDonalds but it’s also so much safer.  And the food tastes great and there are lots of healthy options.  Honestly, if I ever go again I’d rather have a shorter trip and be able to eat in the park than stay for a week and risk getting sick.  There are also counter-service options that are around what you’d spend at McDonalds and offer gluten-free choices.
  2. Talk to the staff at Town Hall.  They can give you a list of everything you can eat in the Disneyland and California Adventure.  And they also provide complete lists of peanut-safe foods and other common allergies.
  3. Ask questions.  All of the staff I interacted with was friendly and more than willing to answer any questions I had in order to help keep me safe.  Don’t risk your health. If you’re not sure about something, ask.
  4. Always tell the waiter you’re gluten-free.  Whenever I went to a sit-down restaurant, the cook who’d be specifically making my food would come out to talk to me about the area they’d be cooking my food in and what they could do to make sure cross-contamination wasn’t an issue.  It made eating out so much more relaxing!
  5. Have fun.  Enjoy being able to have choices, try something new.

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.  

More Crunchy Posts:

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 Dining: Indian Food

Unlike a lot of  typical “American” dishes that are centered primarily around wheat, a lot of Indian dishes are naturally gluten-free because of the focus on rice.  I also find that Mexican food (providing you stay clear of the flour tortillas) and sea food (as long as you avoid the breaded options) also tend to have a decent number of naturally gluten-free options on the menu (or you can checkout a cookbook).  The trick to eating out: try restaurants where wheat isn’t the center stage of every dish.    

I’ve found that even if an Indian restaurant doesn’t have a specific gluten-free menu, there are still usually a lot of options available.  And if you have any doubts about what you can eat, just ask the waiter or call ahead of time. 

I went out to a little local Indian restaurant, the East India Grill, with the boyfriend to celebrate spring break and that I’d finished my two-year transfer degree at community college—University of Washington, here I come!

I had lamb with curry (featured in the second picture) and he had a chicken and curry dish (feature in the first picture). Both were quite tasty and the presentation was lovely (the food is put in a metal bowl over a candle to keep in warm).  Due to the wonderful flavors and the amount of food I can actually eat, Indian food has become one of my favorite types of food when eating out.

Happy (and safe) dinning!

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)