Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I've Moved

All future posts can be found at my new location Deliciously Gluten Free.

Thanks so much!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Life in the Land of Gluten

I've been feeling poorly lately. Itchy skin, bloating, feelings of despair and self-loathing.

Not to hard to pick up that these are symptoms of gluten exposure for me. Work is stressful, but that doesn’t explain why I’m so exhausted. Why I gained 5 pounds in three days. Why my skin is breaking out in a rash.

It’s time to take stock of my surroundings again. I moved into my current apartment in August, living with my boyfriend and his parents and two brothers (gotta love New York life!). Everyday when I get home from work his mom has food on the stove waiting for all of us. After a long day at work and the gym I usually stuff whatever’s on the stove right into my mouth.

Now, everybody here except me is ‘normal’. They eat bread all the time and there is often soup with pasts for dinner. My boyfriend’s mother doesn’t speak English, and I’m not sure she understands that I can’t digest gluten, but she knows I don’t eat bread or pasta or anything with beer is it. I know that she is as conscientious as she can be.

I never put my food on the table, which must be coated in gluten from all the bread they eat here, but somehow I ate something contaminated.

I was in the kitchen playing with my gerbils and I saw my boyfriend’s brother serve himself soup with noodles, and then use the same spoon to serve himself chicken. I had an ‘aha’ moment. His family doesn’t, or won’t, understand how serious this is for me. Even my boyfriend double dips in the peanut butter and cottage cheese. Every time I remind him he looks at the knife, looks at me, holds it up and says “look, no crumbs” and I have to remind him that you can’t see gluten, even if it’s there.

I’m always telling myself that I shouldn’t be eating the food that’s on the stove. Even though it tastes SO good, I know how it’s made. It’s chuck full of oil and fat. I am reminded again that I shouldn’t be eating anything that I don’t prepare myself. I simply can’t live like this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Prepared Gluten-Free Food Rant

I am a fitness devotee. I go to the gym as often as I can, I know that I have body image issues from being overweight as a child (as a result, in part, of my undiagnosed Celiac Disease), and I am conscientious of what I eat. I try to eat healthfully, and with a mind towards how the food I am eating was cultivated and prepared. On the subway I was reading a Shape magazine that I picked up. On page 167 of the March 2008 issues I found thit, in the Eat Right News section:
Q. It seems gluten-free
foods are being sold
everywhere. Are
they better for me?
A. Probably no, says Lara
Field, R.D., a dietitian for the
Celiac Disease Center at
the University if Chicago:
"Going gluten-free may be the hot diet
trend, but there's no science showing
that doing so offers any nutritional
benefits for healthy women."
These specialty products are designed
to help people suffering from celiac
disease, a disorder that makes the
body unable to digest gluten, a
protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

For the rest of us, however, eating
a gluten-free foods can cause weight
. "Not only are these products
often high in fat, calories, and refined
carbohydrates, they're usually lower in
fiber, whole grains, and nutrients," says
Field. Better to leave them on the shelf.

This leads me to one of my beefs about mainstream gluten-free foods. If these food are high in refined carbs, and often sugar, where are our other options? My first hint at my gluten intolerance was when I went away to college and put myself on a low carb diet and the rashes I had suffered all my life started to get better. Through trial and error, my unhelpful doctors visits and a lot of research I was finally able to obtain a positive diagnosis for celiac disease. Living in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Ohio I had, as far as I could tell, no gluten-free options for things like bread and pasta.

I developed my own diet that was gluten-free and made me feel healthier than I ever had before. My mom is wonderful, and she searched high and low for gluten-free foods for me to eat when I went home to visit. My first time home I was so ecstatic to have bread and cookies again. I devoured them. And felt absolutely awful. I had to adverse celiac related affects, but I still didn't feel well. By the time I went back to school I had gained some weight and felt pretty bad about it.

Once I returned to my own style of eating I felt better and lost the weight, and I haven't looked beck. I have some type of sweet tooth or something, but when I eat things like bread or cookies I just can't stop myself, my body doesn't like it, I feel like I'm eating food and getting now nourishment. All in all , not a good combination.

When I moved to New York there were so many more options, Whole Foods had compiled a respectable, if not great, gluten-free section. And in alot of health food stores the raw products, at least the ones without oats, are also gluten free. I like the raw products especially because they are usually 'green' as well as organic and fair trade.

Now I read labels much more closely, looking not only at ingredients but for caloric value, fat content and sugars (carbs) I find that many of the prepared gluten free products leave a lot to be desired in the nutrition department. These food are dietetically safe for us, but they're not really all that good for us from a nutritional stand point. If, as this snippet says, the gluten-free foods in stores aren't to good for all the other folks out there, what makes them so good for those of us with gluten intolerances? I will continue to search for healthier alternatives to these prepared items, and to experiment in creating my own.

(Thank you for bearing with my rant)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chipotle is (Mostly) Gluten Free!

On Saturday last I went to a Chipotle restaurant with one of my good friends (see Gluten-Free Girl's Day) and although I felt very confident about the status of the food I visited their website and submitted an inquiry as to the GF nature of the food.

Here is the response I received:

Dear Vittoria:

Thanks for writing to us; we're glad that you enjoy our Food with Integrity. Regarding Gluten, you can eat anything we serve except for our large burrito tortillas, our small soft taco tortillas, and possibly our hot red tomatillo salsa (there is a small amount of distilled vinegar in it which some celiac websites still say might be problematic, although most don't).

Everything else is fine for you to eat including our crispy corn tacos, our corn chips, and our burrito bowls (no tortilla).

If you are highly sensitive, you can always ask our staff to change their gloves and they would be happy to do that at your request. Additionally, since there is always the slight possibility of cross-contamination in our restaurants because our folks work with wheat tortillas all day long, we encourage you to carefully consider your dining choices.

You can find this and other Allergen and Nutrition information on our website at www.chipotle.com/faq.

George Seno
Department of Gripes and Happiness

Kudos to Chipotle, and to George Seno, for the (mostly) gluten free menu and for this thoughtful reply. He obviously did some research and I really appreciate that. Chipotle gets my vote for being (mostly) gluten free as well as being environmentally responsible.

Chipotle believes in doing only one thing, and doing it well. You can choose a burrito, taco, burrito bowl or salad. The staff makes your meal right in front of you. You can choose your meat, your type of beans, rice and toppings, all as they prepare it for you. Watching someone prepare my food tends to give me a greater sense of security, but there's always a little nagging thought that tells me I don't know what happened in the back.

I had a salad with the chicken, black beans, cheese and corn salsa. I watched how they served it and all the staff were
conscientious about not mixing spoons, or even touching the food with their hands. I am extremely sensitive and I had no problems.

The 42nd Street location was reasonably busy for a Saturday afternoon, but it both the dinning area and the staff were neat and clean and the staff were considerate.

*as a side note, notice how they have a little tree and a 'green' request not to print the email. More Kudos.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gluten-Free Girl's Day

Two weeks ago one of my best friends was dumped by her live-in boyfriend (the swine!). I happened to have two of those promotional spa packages that you see guys hawking on 5th Ave or in Union Square. The ones who approach and as "where do you get your hair cut? When was your last hair cut?". I got talked into buying two for about $40, and I thought I would save it to give her later. (Note: they do charge you an additional registration fee when you get there, and they try to sell you more services.)

As soon as I heard about this I decided that it was time to use the 'coupons'. I scheduled appointments for us for the day that he was supposed to move out, two weeks after he broke up with her. This way she could get out of the house while he was packing, and get a great hair cut at the same time. She's super stoic so I needed to see her to get a read on how she was doing, she'd never say over the phone.

So she got the haircut, and ended up paying for highlights and I got a facial, eyebrow wax and massage. And I got talked into the delux facial (as I said they get you to buy more stuff once you're there and comfy and ready to indulge). She left with a fantastic new hair cut, and a huge smile on her face. I got a great massage and my first facial ever. My only complaint it that the facialist messed up my eyebrows, nothing that can't be fixed with a little eyebrow powder and won't grow out. Note to self: don't let anyone touch your eyebrows! Alfangi Salon was a retreat in itself, and it reminded me that you can have fun with your girlfriends with out having to focus on food. This also reminded us that even though we take concientious care of our bodies by working out and eating well we need to take time to take care of the outside once in a while.

After pampering ourselves we were famished and need to yak some more so we headed over to Chipotle. With my experience with other Latin food I was hopeful that I would be able to get a salad, it appears that all the 'fixin's' are gluten free, although the tortillas are made from flour. It's the next day and I have no symptoms so, Go Chiptole! I do have a request in to them for a full list of ingredients to determine if all of it is indeed GF.

My sweet tooth was playing tricks on my yesterday, so we decided that we would try to find the new Pinkberry on our way to Bed Bath & Beyond where she needed to get a few things for her newely vacated apartment. We've all seen the gossip mags with picture of celebs running around with their Pinkberry cups and we wanted to see what it was all about. The location was surprising but appropriate, on 32nd St in Korea Town, and it had a cute japanismo feel. The flavors are natural, coffee and green tea, all of which are GF and they have a number of fresh fruit toppings to choose from as well as unusual toppings like Cap'n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles. Not sure of the cleanliness of the spoons I had only the green tea flavor yogurt and it was surprisingly good. It tasted like yogurt, rather than sugar like so many others. Even though it's more expensive than Tasti D Lite or Columbo, I can say that this one is Gluten Free, and probably a lot healthier and eco-friendly as well. It will undoubtebly become one of my summer treats when I need to take a walk and escape from my office.

Navigating Valentine's Day

So, as the media, chocolate, flower and jewelry industries have been reminding us for at least the last month, this past Thursday was St. Valentine's Day. Now, disregarding your personal feelings about Valentine's Day, the traditional dinner out can be more traumatic for a GFer than we care to admit. Mine was successful in terms if avoiding gluten, but just about a washout in terms if romance.

My honey picked me up from work and was already hungry, he wanted to stop at one of Manhattan's numerous serve yourself salad bar places. I remind him that I just can't do that. (Anyone else have a reaction from contaminated food from one of those salad bars?) I'm just to sensitive to take any chances. We compromise and decide to go to our neighborhood Peruvian restaurant that we know has lots of food I can eat.

We never make it there, but stop at a Colombian brasserie that's right by our subway stop. The nice thing about Latin restaurants is that they don't use flour in most of there cooking. Unless you order bread you're pretty safe. Although I have learned that both seco and cevice can be made with beer. In any case, we had a great dinner and I didn't have to worry about what I was ordering (at least not any more than I would about general healthfulnes).

As we headed home we detoured to our favorite neighborhood bar. Now, drinking is not important to me and I don't carry a list of what I can, or can't, drink. I have a glass of white wine and I know that I can't drink any of Marco's Long Island Iced Tea. So far, so good. The bartender brings over chocolate, both those little foil wrapped hearts and whole fundraising chocolate bars, I'm able to read the labels on the larger bars, and they thoughtfully tell me that there is wheat in the crisped rice. I recently discovered that there is barley malt in Lindt truffles so I avoid that nondescript chocolates as well.

The evening didn't end all rosey, but I navigated the hidden gluten pitfalls. I ended up fixated on the chocolate and ran to CVS for some Peeps, and my date had about two drinks too many. But that has nothing to do with gluten.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Itchies

So I'm laying here in bed pondering what I ate today that could have been contaminated with gluten. I have the itchies, so I know it was something. My best guess is that the food that my future mother-in-law cooked must have been contaminated in some way. It's the only food I didn't prepare myself.

Raise your hands if you have dermatitis herpetiformis too! In my case, my first symptom to manifest, before the systemic and emotional symptoms. My whole life I had itchy dry patches of skin that wouldn't heal for months at a time. My mother was always told that it was eczema, but none of the treatments helped for long if at all. It was this that ultimately led me to a gluten free diet and later diagnosis of celiac disease.

I'm sure everybody's symptoms are slightly different, but I get little pustules that itch and pop and create a rash that won't heal. And, more distressing, the skin on and around my nipples flakes of and bleeds. I have had open wounds on various parts of my body that have lasted anywhere from 4 to 8 months without healing.

I started a new job in August and qualified for health insurance in December. As soon as I was able I started looking for a dermatologist who was in my network, and could see me quickly because my skin was really starting to bother me. Somehow I got lucky enough to find one who had actually heard of celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis and was able to prescribe something that helped. So for all of you that are looking for a solution in addition to a gluten free diet, I highly recommend this new solution. For the itch he gave me a hand full of samples of a new antihistamine called Xyzal. To help with the external manifestation I gave me a 2% topical steroid, Mupirocin, to be mixed with an antibiotic, Fluocinonide, mixed together and applied over affected areas twice daily.

Using this treatment all of my open sores, including those that were at least 4 months old, healed with in the two weeks till my next visit. Since my living arrangement makes it all too easy for me to eat slightly contaminated foods, having a solution like this is crucial. For the first time in my life I am open sore-free, and I'm actually beginning to get vain about all the scars I have from the past. (Whenever I go to get a pedicure I hear "ah, you go camping? Have mosquitoes?")

It's nice not to suffer from itching, open sores, since these easily start to send me into the gluten-induced emotional downward spiral. Knowing that I can head it off at the start helps enormously.