Navigating the wheat free, gluten free diet

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New Posts Coming Soon

Boy do I have a lot to catch up on. Moving to Boston in November opened a whole new world of gluten-free goodness for me, and I look forward to sharing with you what I have found. Stay tuned.


“Is this gluten-free?” A Plea to Gluten Eaters

I would say this was my most successful gluten-free Thxgiving yet.  Just look at this beautifully stuffed plate of GF foodz:

But even though my extended weekend went off without a glutenous hitch (I was feeling better to boot), I couldn’t help but be a tad irked by my family’s well-meaning but highly annoying inquiries into whether this or that was gluten-free.

People with Celiac friends and family:


I know you’re just interested in our well-being, but here’s the thing: I know you can read.  Is wheat one of the ingredients? How about barley? Rye? Malt vinegar? Okay then. Now you can decide whether it’s gluten-free.

Now, I’m not a mean person.  I know you want to be sure.  Even though the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires the top eight allergens (which includes wheat) to be declared on all product labels in bold, some of those words are confusing, and some of them even sound like they should be contaminants (MALTodextrin anyone?).

So, in the interest of helping all of us out, here’s a quick run-down of what to look for when cooking gluten-free.

Questionable ingredients now deemed gluten-free include:

  • Maltodextrin (see!)
  • Glucose Syrup
  • Carmel Coloring
  • Citric Acid
  • Distilled Vinegars
  1. Hydrolyzed Plant Protein or Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HPP or HVP). Labels are not required to say from what plant or vegetable the protein comes from; for example, corn protein or wheat protein, so this should be clear.
  2. Modified Food Starch. It will need to be labeled Modified Wheat Starch if necessary.
  3. Natural and Artificial Flavor or Flavorings.   While these have been culprits in the past, companies are now required to state whether natural or artificial flavorings use hydrolyzed wheat protein to enhance flavor. A label would read like this: natural flavors (hydrolyzed wheat protein).  However, sometimes barley malt extract/syrup is being added, and labels may not identify that, so one still must be careful with natural flavorings.  Unfortunately, this often requires some trial and error, or a call to the manufacturer.
  4. Starches The single word “Starch” on a food label in the USA refers to corn. If other starches such as corn, tapioca or wheat are being used, they must be declared. Easy enough.
  5. Dextrin is also used as a thickener or binding agent and is usually made from corn, potato, tapioca, rice and wheat. If wheat is in dextrin, the label will read, Wheat Dextrin.
  6. Herbs and Seeds in and by themselves do not contain gluten
  7. Individual spices do not contain gluten, but blended spices may carry a wheat starch, in which case wheat will be in parenthesis after the word spice. For example, Jerk spice (includes wheat).

I know that was tedious, but if you really cook often for someone with gluten intolerance or Celiac issues, print it out and put it in your wallet.  That way you never need to ask, “Is this gluten-free?” again.  You’ll just know. And trust me, that means a lot.


When Gluten-free Isn’t Good Enough

Dramatic reenactment

Today I’m taking a small detour from my smiley, happy posts (though hopefully the wit will remain) because I feel like crap.  Professional blogs aren’t the place to complain – that’s what Livejournal is for – but suffice it to say, I’ve been frustratingly ill-feeling for the last week or so, and no amount of gluten-free food (or no food at all) seems to be doing the trick.

Side note to my parents, who probably read this:  The above is fiction. Creative license. Carry on.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to wuss out and go straight to a doctor, so I sought comfort from the trusty Internet instead, and saw that the reputable had only last month posted an article called “Gluten-free But Still Feeling Ill.”

The author, Dr. Vicki Petersen, discussed concerns about Celiac patients not being provided with follow-up care after a diagnosis, and that’s something I can attest to.  After being diagnosed, it was pretty much “Don’t eat gluten, and have a nice life.”  The experience has made me reluctant to ask that particular physician any further questions.

Dr. Petersen then highlighted four or five conditions related to Celiac Disease that people rarely find out they have after physicians send them on their way. Unfortunately for stubborn, non-wuss me, this means more research in the coming weeks, and probably finding a new doctor. The conditions range from somewhat obvious (infections – our immune systems already attack us; might as well throw in an infection) to the comically badly named (Leaky Gut? Really?).

The article mentions nutritional deficiencies (got that covered with my daily multivitamin) as possible causes, as well as dairy sensitivity, something I ruled out days ago after two whole days with no dairy and no relief.  You can have my pizza and beer, but no one is taking away my Feta cheese and ice cream, too.

Then Petersen talked about a condition called Dysbiosis, an imbalance of good bacteria and bad.

Yes, there is good bacteria. That’s why we eat yogurt, I think.  Petersen explains Dysbiosis like this:

“Because the ‘bad’ bacteria are pro-inflammatory in nature, they can be responsible for creating some of the initial problems with celiac disease, as well as helping to perpetuate them despite following a gluten-free diet.”

This concept fascinates me, and I’ll probably devote an entire post to it after some research with non-Internet entities.  Plus it sounds 10 times cooler than “Leaky Gut.”


Custom Choice Cereal: Best Customer Service Ever?

Not only did I receive my custom-made cereal lightning fast (in about two days), but I also got an e-mail from the founder, Hajo Engelke.  Turns out they really liked the name of my cereal (named after this blog of course), and featured it on their blog.  Even more exciting,  Hajo had read my blog post and wanted to clear things up personally about the shipping issue.

Here’s what he said:

I saw your blog entry and wanted to apologize for the obvious confusion regarding the shipping cost.  The deal is that there is a $3.80 flat rate charge, and $1.00 for each bag, i.e. $4.80 for the first bag and only $1.00 for each bag you add to an order.  We are aware that that’s not cheap.  While we are already working on a solution to lower shipping costs, we are already cross-subsidizing it.
Thanks for your understanding and have a great weekend.

So yes, shipping costs a lot, but it’s not a bad deal if you buy in bulk, which I will be doing.  My simple corn-flake cereal with organic raisins is the perfect Raisin Bran substitute, especially with a sprinkle of sugar on top.  I was truly impressed by the transparency of this company.  Let’s hope it sticks around.


ABC News Talks “Going Gluten-free”

On Thursday night, ABC’s Nightline ran a 6-minute segment on the latest dietary fad: going gluten-free.

In the video, the View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who wrote the first celebrity Celiac book, the G-Free Diet, demonstrates  how “easy” it is to be on a gluten-free diet; that is, if, like her, you live in New York City next to a Whole Foods.  She says people who go on the GF diet will probably like it because there are tons of options for pasta, cookies, pie crusts and the like.   She does not mention that many of these substitute items contain more calories and fewer nutrients than their glutenous counterparts.

Perhaps Nightline feels about Hasselbeck the same way many Americans do, because they immediately headed to Columbia University to talk to a doctor about how there are no benefits in a gluten-free diet for someone who is not gluten-intolerant.  Not only is there no guaranteed weight loss, he said, but it is probably bad for you and can be dangerous.  People who are on the diet because they have to be probably know that it lacks fiber and you don’t get the vitamins and minerals most wheat flours are fortified with.

I know first-hand that if you’re on a GF diet long-term you can become B vitamin deficient, calcium deficient and iron deficient.

So, ABC, am I supposed to feel guilty when my friends or family cook and eat gluten-free for me?  Am I depriving them of necessary nutrients?

Eh, probably not.

But Nightline did highlight one great thing about the gluten-free fad that I’ve mentioned before: For those without a choice, the world is getting a lot tastier.

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