The ups, downs, and runarounds of Celiac Disease and food sensitivities

What IS gluten-free?

Let’s just say that if I can’t give you a straight answer, then Ask.com will likely fail as well. We could just leave it at wheat-, rye-, barley-, oat-free, but can anything really be guaranteed to be free of traces? I mean, carrots grown in a field with none of the gluten grains around, harvested in a designated… harvester? Processed in a facility and on a line that has never seen the light (or dark) of gluten, packaged in a facility sans gluten- THAT is truly gluten-free. Bread, cookies, crackers, chips, sauces, soups, GF flours etc. that say “gluten-free” mean (if you’re lucky and they’re certified by GIG or another organization) a random sample of the product tested at less than 20 ppm of gluten. And oh do you hope the ELISA or other testing mechanism was accurate, and that you scored one of the loaves that was 20ppm and not one of the ones that wasn’t tested but is higher, and that you aren’t one of those Celiacs with hypersensitivity to levels below the 20 ppm limit (AHEM). Now, absolutely “gluten-free” for a Celiac is not as critical as “peanut-free” for someone with a deathly allergy to peanuts, yet it is still frustrating that “gluten-free” typically means “includes microscopic amounts of gluten.” I still don’t know what to make of labels stating “packaged/processed on a line/in the same facility as wheat” because this is discretionary, say-so-if-you-want-to, totally unregulated disclosure. So if one package sports this statement, it may or may not be safer than a package that does not even make an allergy statement. By law, wheat must be disclosed on the ingredients list, but not rye, barley, or oats. And I could go on… So, what IS gluten-free, you ask? What a rhetorical question!

Update: Check out what this apropos post has to say about gluten cross-contamination with fresh fruits n veggies (and try not to get too paranoid).


Celiac Awareness Month and Egg-free Meatballs

If you have Celiac Disease and you follow a handful of the top gluten-free bloggers, you may already know of some of the great posts and resources available for Celiac Awareness Month. I was a bit thrown off because there’s a national Celiac Disease day in September, but oh well, I guess I’ll take a month + a day! The NFCA has put together a wonderful page of resources for anyone who’s interested. As with any cause, an awareness month educates those who do not know about it and strengthens the ties between those who do. While I am more than happy to share anecdotes, tips, tricks, research articles, blogs, publications, and a comforting shoulder to anyone curious about the gluten-free lifestyle or Celiac disease, I have struggled with how having Celiac Disease fits into my identity as a whole human being. There are times to talk about it, and times to let it sit. There are people who really want to know more, and there are those who balk at the thought of discussing health issues (and poop). From my experience, it is important to promote awareness in the most efficient, effective way. This means supporting new inductees, or discussing the possibility with those who have unresolved GI issues. Maybe throwing out a few of the clenching facts, like the prevalence, the wide variety (or lack) of symptoms, or the importance of testing before going gluten-free at a get-together IF the current topic allows. But no one wants to be beaten over the head with a credo. Unfortunately, people with health issues are perceived as weak, whiny, and hysterical. I would normally say a big stinkin WHO CARES, but perceptions DO matter in employment/professional situations. In the first few months after my diagnosis I found myself spilling my woes to anyone and everyone. This is not effective advocacy (and it wasn’t all that therapeutic, either, because not many folks know how to handle such a serious topic, so they kinda just avoid you). Effective promotions of awareness include alerting an employee when a rice/quinoa mix is not gluten-free because it has barley, so it should not be in the labeled “gluten-free” section, telling a bar that if they don’t know the specific ingredients of a beer then they shouldn’t claim it is gluten-free, interacting with fellow bloggers in a supporting manner, going to support group meetings, and patiently correcting inaccurate perceptions (e.g. WEIGHT LOSS, wheat-free = gluten-free, Celiac is contagious…) So, in sum, I try to be aware of how I promote awareness, so that the accurate message is heard and appreciated in as tolerable a morsel as possible. Oh, and of course it is a YEAR LONG endeavor, this month just serves to remind us of that.

Check out a thoughtfully succinct message about the month!

That said, I threw together some turkey meatballs that seemed worthy of note. There are lots of online egg-free meatball recipes to choose from, but I pretty much went with instinct on these puppies.



1lb ground turkey (I used 99% lean, any kind will do)

1/2 c. breadcrumbs (I have a large cache of failed, pulverized gf baked goods in my freezer for this very purpose; I believe today the sample came from carrot sweet potato muffin rejects)

1 to 1.5 c. spinach (I used frozen spinach, thawed and well-drained)

1/2 c. shredded/grated vegetable of choice (I did carrot, to stick with the rejected bread crumb theme)

spices/herbs to taste, e.g. parsley, ginger, onion powder, garlic powder, tarragon, fennel…

1 flax/chia or Ener-G egg (mix 1 Tbsp ground flax or chia with 2-3 Tbsp hot water and let sit, or 1 1/2 tsp Ener-G egg replacer with 2 Tbsp hot water and let sit until egg-y)

Preheat oven to anywhere between 350 and 375 (my oven likes to jump around). Mix everything up in a large bowl. The mixture should be somewhat cohesive once you mix in the egg replacer. Use your hands to form small balls and place on greased or parchment papered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or so, checking and flipping baking sheet at the 10 minute mark. Use a kitchen thermometer to test done-ness (160-165 degrees). These can also be made into larger patties and baked or fried. Hooray! Expanding the borders of a “restricted” diet yet again!

Travel… oh boy

Let’s just start with this little fact: I bought baby food. Not for a baby. For me. While this might sound super depressing, I am LOOKING FORWARD to eating vegetables on the go that I didn’t have to peel, slice, and cook until soft (or puree) myself (as I do on most days). I was alarmed to see the fruitlessness of a Google search for “Celiac baby food” and “certified gluten-free baby food,” so I’ve got my fingers and villi crossed that cross-contamination won’t be a factor. Ingredients are typically “carrots, water,” so can’t go wrong there. So, why did I buy baby food? Well, when you’re traveling as a tourist with food restrictions, there really aren’t a whole lot of options for on-the-go meals. Most granola bars are out due to dried fruit and nuts. Can’t do raw vegetables. I will be floored if I can eat 25% of the gluten-free meal on the plane (did you know that you can only place one dietary preference request on airplanes? So it’s either gluten-free or vegan, and with the utterly random list of foods I avoid I am keeping expectations low). However. Some fresh fruits can be purchased and peeled! I’m packing packets of sardines, salmon and tuna in water. Rice cakes, of course. Seaweed snacks made with olive oil. I’m getting used to eating steamed vegetables cold, but I’d rather do baby food than carry mushy cooked vegetables in my backpack while sight-seeing. I may even pack a loaf of gluten- (et al.) free bread and veggie latkes in my carry-on luggage to throw in the freezer for the week. I’m a bit paranoid about fixing food in a shared kitchen, so my spatula, cutting board, and colander get to cross the ocean blue, too. Packing Herbamare (lovely salt/seasoning blend) and a few other dried herbs/spice blends. I’ve asked my host to purchase foil, parchment paper, plastic wrap, and disinfecting wipes. Oh and I invested in some Gluten Defense digestive enzymes (BTW be very careful with digestive enzymes- lots have barley!), which I will take at every meal. A member of the Celiac ranks gave me some Alka Seltzer and charcoal tablets for relief in the case of glutening. Trying not to think of pots and pans… How to avoid making oneself sick by freaking out about getting sick?? I may eat out while overseas, which is a bit of an oddity since I categorically do not eat out on the home turf anymore. I found an exclusively paleo restaurant at my destination, so no gluten would even enter the premises; my only concerns are eggs/nuts/raw veg, but it seems like the appropriate place to ask for a plain slab of meat and a side of cooked spinach. There’s also a little chain that makes onigiri, or Japanese triangular rice packs stuffed in seaweed; they are certified gluten-free by the German equivalent of GIG. I believe I may be able to avoid other food allergens with this chain as well, as the ingredient lists seem very succinct and made up of whole foods. Traveling in Germany with Celiac Disease sans other food issues looks to be pretty doable, as many stores carry brands like Schar. I don’t mean to be all my-fate-is-so-much-worse-than-yours, so I’ve strapped on my big girl panties and… bought baby food. DO WHAT ONE’S GOTTA DO, AMIRIGHT?

Clarification: If you have Celiac Disease and plan to travel, you do NOT need to resort to eating baby food. I have intolerances to corn, soy, casein, eggs, nuts, tomatoes, beans, etc…. as well as major digestive issues with any food that is not soft.

Cooking to Live

The Healthy Apple’s struggle with food sensitivities while traveling, in social settings, exploring alternative medicine, and moving on

Pad Thai Improv

GE DIGITAL CAMERABased on this raw recipe, I threw together a sauce with lime juice, coconut aminos, fish sauce, tahini, garlic, ginger and a touch of sambal oelek for good, spicy measure. I used green cabbage, onion, carrots, daikon radish, jicama, spinach, and bok choy as “noodles” and veggies, and added in some chicken. Although the recipe text suggests that raw vegetables reduce inflammation, they are pretty rough on me, so I cooked the veggies, then rolled them into a nori wrap. Simple, quick, NOM.


annaB’s Gluten Free

While the number of local gluten-free bakeries in Virginia has exploded in recent months, many do not offer options for those wishing to also avoid dairy, eggs, and other common allergens. This curious phenomenon makes AnnaB’s willingness to cater to additional allergy/sensitivity needs all the more remarkable and appreciated! With a designated gluten-, soy-, and peanut-free bakery located in Mechanicsville, annaB’s makes quite the rounds in the the Richmond area, providing bread and baked goods to Ellwood Thompson’s, Whole Foods, Good Foods Grocery, and several local restaurants. They also participate in Relay Foods, allowing residents of an expanded locus (e.g. Williamsburg and Charlottesville) to partake. Everything can be made-to-order, but you can get a general idea of their offerings by checking out their online menu and photo gallery.

I had the pleasure of trying their white rolls and chocolate chip cookies, made dairy-, egg-, and corn-free, just for me! Unfortunately I could only enjoy a limited number of these items because of the bean flours (forgot to specify this sensitivity… ugh, even I can’t keep up with my no-no list), but they were both delicious (and did not taste of beans like some bean-flour products)! Be sure to check out annaB’s products, and in the meantime look at this lovely cookie and luscious roll to get you in the yummy-food mood!

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Guts & Gulp

A year ago I was beginning to learn about my insides as I never had before. And that they and their functions were not normal. Happy first birthday, Celiac diagnosis! Weird, I know, but it’s hard not to mark this milestone, if only mentally, after a year of completely new experiences. And thinking I’d mastered these new experiences only to realize their multi-faceted nature.

Over the last year I have learned so much about the gut in general (sometimes having unlimited access to medical journal databases is a dangerous thing!). I had no clue that the intestines contributed so much to the immune system, or that the small intestines had gloopy little hairs to absorb nutrients, or… well I guess I didn’t know much of anything, beyond the esophagus (FUN FACT as a speech pathologist I also treat swallowing disorders). I also assumed that medical professionals pretty much had the guts figured out. My daily exposure to science focuses primarily on the brain, which I had held to be the most mystical last frontier of the human body. ERRR WRONG.

If you are getting to know and love/hate your gut, there are two recent, great sources of information for you! I am watching Michael Mosley’s “Guts with Michael Mosley” on PBS (and I may finish it, Internet willing. PBS media player is not the best for low bandwidths!). While I got to see some of my barium test (the best part was when the doctor pulled out this crazy tool that looked like a tether ball halved and mounted on a plastic stick and proceeded to press it to my belly, at which point I saw my intestines squirm and fidget like… I dunno, a bed of snakes?), I did not get to see footage of any of my endoscopies. Well, at least I don’t remember it if I did, due to the powerful amnesia meds (anyone else come to talking? FREAKY). ANYHOW. You will see endoscopy footage and other imaging of the gastrointestinal tract. Check out this short documentary narrated by the sassy British doctor/journalist playing guinea pig to gastrointestinal spelunking. The video will be on the PBS website until 5/17/13. Just a preview and excerpt (go to the previous link for the hour-long show):

In other recent gutsy news, one of my all-time favorite nonfiction authors, Mary Roach, has put out a new book called “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.” I don’t typically salivate in anticipation of an author’s next work, but this lady had me drooling for more after I’d read her first four books: “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”, “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void”, “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science”, and “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.” As the titles suggest, Mary Roach digs up some tantalizing topics, researches them so thoroughly to the point that she feels inside a cow’s intestines or enrolls in a medium training camp, and reports the results in a mirthful (my Dad would say “irreverent”) manner. As an avid Roach-convert, I was doubly excited to hear the topic of her latest inquiry. To get a sense of her writing style, you can check out an excerpt from “Gulp”. I purchased her latest, as well as a selection of her essays for Reader’s Digest, and will allow her to steer me down the canal once I’ve finished my current reading commitment (How can some people read more than one book for pleasure at a time? Clearly I’m not up to the challenge).

First GIG of Charlottesville, VA meeting this Thursday! And brief musings on the mind-body connection of multiple food sensitivities.

Ok, so Richmond has it’s own GIG division, and there are many wonderful non-GIG support groups spread across the state, but the first meeting of the Charlottesville GIG should have all ye gluten-freebies hustling to sample the wares of not one, but FIVE local bakeries! I know I’ll be making the trek, and I am particularly excited that some of the bakeries can produce egg-free, dairy-free goodies as well! Check out their Facebook account for additional resources, information, and updates! Details below.

Speaking of additional food sensitivities, I was successful at avoiding problematic ingredients at the Gluten-free Expo in Roanoke (What a lovely event! Thanks to the Carilion healthcare system, VA Tech’s dietetics students, one of my blogger idols, Ginger Lemon Girl, and numerous vendors for making this happen!) this past weekend- BIG accomplishment. Now, I would never consume gluten (in fact, I am probably a bit over-the-top with my fear and loathing), but I had fallen into a trap of “treating” myself to gluten-free food containing dairy, egg, soy, corn and other ingredients that an elimination diet showed really can’t just get along with my gut. A recent visit to a dietician renewed my motivation to avoid problem foods (it sounds easy… but those little buggers called taste buds get cravings sometimes) to overcome the cycle of sickness and malaise. And hey, it’s been a week, and I feel good! The dietician also stressed that moderation is key (yeah, who didn’t know that already, but again, putting it into practice can be difficult) to avoiding crazed OMG I CAN EAT THIS binges (or in my case, I can’t, but since it’s not life-threatening, maybe just a little?). So I’ve been going for the frozen banana “ice cream” a bit more often, just in smaller amounts. Or making alternative cheese sauces to hit the cheese-craving spot. Vegetable-based vegan alfredo anyone? How about some dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free ricotta? Both were so lovely that I made extra to store in the freezer. Handling the I-can’t-have mentality by creating alternatives can be dangerous, because nothing will taste like a nice block of brie or Camembert, but I think it is emotionally healthy and nurturing to find new combinations of tastes that are in the same mouth-feel, flavor category (Oh why didn’t I just go in to that Girl Scout cookies knock-off recipe thinking “I am making a yummy cookie” vs. “This will taste exactly like a samoa”? All in the head, indeed!). The importance of the mentality with which we approach eating ties in to the concept of mindfulness, by which one sits down to a meal, focuses on each individual bite, and sloooows down to really achieve maximum satisfaction and nourishment. The mind and body are not quite as separate as Descartes would have had us believe- how you intellectually analyze a physical sensation impacts the experience of that sensation, and vice versa! Not to mention the effect of emotions, whether it be denial, longing, or anger (GAH gluten, GAH!) which I would argue all need expression at some point, but it might be better to set oneself up for success at mealtimes, thinking with joy, ah, a new kind of bread! vs. this had better darn well taste like the French baton I used to make or I will be so very sad! This discussion of intellect-emotion-body ties in to a great book I’m reading, and will eventually review!

UPDATE: Not five, but SIX local bakeries!!!!

Sheila Cerelloni of Bakery Box              Sue and Stephanie of Stevie G’s Gluten Free Bakery

Linda Newman of Mixing It Up Gluten Free Bakery       Angela and Kimi of annaB’s Gluten Free

Susan Feller of 3 Flellers Gormet Gluten Free

We will also be introducing the NEWEST- GF Baker  Jessica Loura of just opening the doors, Indulge GF Bakery.  Jess is donating a bakery gift as a door prize.  There will be Restaurant and vendor door prizes too!”

Gluten Intolerance Group of Charlottesville is hosting

 5 Gluten Free Bakeries for an evening of tantalizing tastings!

Where: Hollymead Elementary School

2775 Powell Creek Drive, Charlottesville

When: April 18th at 7:00 P.M.

Come Taste bakery offerings from

3Fellers Bakery, anna B’s Gluten Free, Baker’s Box,

Mixing It Up Gluten Free Baking LLC,

and Stevie G’s Gluten Free Bakery

Calendar of Events:

April 18th 1st GIG meeting in Charlottesville!

June 2nd Car Pool or Van/ Bus up to DC Gluten Free Expo http://www.dcglutenfreeexpo.com/

June 22 GF Chili Cook Off

Summer Picnic TBD

September 19th Keeping Kids GF: A Professional Panel Discussion

October 31st GF Halloween Party

November 14th “What to do when you get dosed”

     aka: Surviving the Holidays: A Professional Panel Discussion

December 12th GF Holiday Party and Cookie Exchange

January 16th Gluten Free Affordably: Save Time and Money

February 13th Valentine Party

“Gluten Confusion”: The Media Gets It Right!

The dissemination of well-researched information is a wonderful thing for everyone! Check out this short but accurate video.

Despite gluten being the main issue, what I REALLY miss is cheese. I have not found a suitable pre-packaged replacement, as most contain soy or wreak havoc on anyone’s digestive system (AHEM Daiya-rrhea). Thank goodness for innovative bloggers, to my rescue yet again! This “moxarella” is made with a small amount of cashews, water, and a few other ingredients. And guess what? It tastes like cheese, and it melts like cheese! The only drawback is that it needs to be baked/melted, preferably as the top layer, but this is not really an issue in my book. Behold, topping a lovely pizza (crust roughly based on this recipe):


Also, three (or a bazillion) cheers for this affordable, simple, yet miracle-cranking veggie slicer/spiraller! I’ve used all of the blades with great success, but zucchini noodles still top the list of its exciting products! Served with date tamarind sauce with cauliflower and kale, with a side of baked samosas (filled with purple sweet potatoes and green lentils):


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