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I’ve mentioned before on this blog that prior to my celiac diagnosis I would eat gluten on occasion, even though I was primarily eating a Paleo-style diet. However, once I got the diagnosis and then subsequently removed all traces of gluten from my diet, my life and the way I approach food in general has changed quite a bit. Turns out a lot of the times prior to my diagnosis that I thought I was eating something completely gluten-free, I wasn’t. Did you know that a lot of restaurants either coat their French fries in a gluten coating or use a seasoning that includes gluten in it? Or that random things like green chili often have gluten in them to thicken them? Or that things like Twizzlers, mailing envelope glue, and tea bags have gluten in them? Once you take gluten out of your diet for several months as a celiac and then reintroduce it – whether intentionally or accidentally, you REALLY start to pay attention to this sort of thing. But I write this not just for the celiacs amongst us, it’s also for all of you who think you’ve gone “gluten-free” and maybe truly haven’t. I’m not reprimanding you at all – just simply pointing out that in order to truly go gluten-free you need to look at EVERYTHING. (and trust me, I’m not judging because we totally thought we were keeping our kids gluten-free and came to realize later that that BBQ sauce we thought was safe wasn’t, and those fries we always got them at the restaurant down the street weren’t GF, etc)
Why is this important?
First, before I get into how my life has changed, I just want to point out why being 100% gluten-free is important. Even if you aren’t celiac, it is important because you might be experiencing symptoms that seem to be unrelated that can still be caused by gluten. That achy wrist of yours could be inflammation caused by your body trying to process the gluten. Your headaches, brain fog, upset stomach, even pre-diabetic symptoms all could possibly be due to a gluten sensitivity or allergy. I mean, I think I’ve read that almost every condition could be related to gluten. Whether or not that is true is a moot point, it’s a matter of what is happening to you in particular. And even if you are avoiding eating donuts and bread, if you are still getting gluten via your salad dressing you aren’t going to get any better. Now this isn’t to say that every single person on this planet needs to avoid gluten. I am just saying that if you don’t feel utterly fantastic it might be worth it to see if gluten is causing your ills, and the best way to see this is to remove it 100% for at least 3 weeks (preferably 3 months).
Ok, on to how my life has changed post diagnosis. I have broken this down into categories to make it easier to demonstrate.
My at home life hasn’t changed a ton. Prior to my diagnosis we were making pretty much 90% of our meals anyway, and they all were Paleo and gluten-free so that hasn’t changed. But there were a few places I needed to look, namely in the way of supplements, medications, and personal care products. A few supplements I had been taking had gluten in them as a filler. We originally thought that my thyroid medication also did, but turns out it did not. However, it’s important if you are trying to make sure you are 100% gluten-free that you look at all of your supplements and medication to make sure there are no fillers that will cause you ills (typical fillers include gluten, corn, soy, and milk). If you do find that your medication has a filler you suspect you cannot tolerate you can either try to find a suitable replacement that does not have any gluten or you can have a compounding pharmacy make a custom medication for you that will have these items removed.
Personal care products present another challenge because some of them have gluten in them for some reason. Lipsticks, lotions, toothpaste, makeup, etc all need to be checked to make sure they don’t contain any. It is said that gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin but how many times do you put your hands in your mouth a day? You eat something and need to lick your fingers to remove the sauce or something gets stuck in your teeth, so on and so forth. And if there is any sort of gluten in a powder blush, eyeshadow, concealer, etc, that has the potential to get into the air and you can breathe that in.
And then finally I went through the rest of my house and removed any remaining bags of white flour (I used to be a huge baker), cleaned off all of my appliances and kitchen tools that may have had some flour in them, replaced our envelopes with self-adhering ones rather than ones where you have to lick them to seal them, and tried to remove play-dough from my house (but the little containers seem to pop up everywhere)!
This one has probably been the biggest change for us. Prior to diagnosis we would just assume things that didn’t have bread or a breaded coating were gluten-free and order accordingly. Turns out that old adage “assuming makes an ass out of u and me” is so very true! Like I mentioned above, we found out the French fries at the local restaurant are coated in flour before they are cooked. The BBQ sauce at another local restaurant uses gluten. And the kicker for me is that I apparently am sensitive enough that I cannot have things that are cooked on the same grill as something with flour because I had a piece of grilled chicken, cooked on the same grill as breaded chicken, and I got “glutened”. (“Glutened” refers to when a Celiac gets exposed to gluten and subsequently experiences the ridiculously negative side effects like feeling like they had swallowed a knife that is slowly moving through their intestines.)
So now when we go out to a restaurant we let the server know immediately that we are Celiac and need to eat gluten-free (we specifically say that, not just that we are gluten-free since we notice that they seem to pay attention more to the Celiac part). On the most part we either go to restaurants that we know cater to gluten-free so usually at that point the servers either point out things that we can eat, bring us a specific menu, or offer to talk to the chef. Some places are way more accomodating that others too. For example, we have a Mongolian BBQ near us that not only has made all of their sauces gluten-free, but when we go to get our food cooked at the grill and tell the grillers that we are Celiac they clean the grill super well and block ours off from the other meals being cooked (we always tip them extra for this effort). We had no idea about any of this until we went to the restaurant though, so it’s always worth asking to see what accommodations a particular place might make for you.
At places that don’t know much about or cater towards gluten-free we usually have the server ask the chef what they can do. At most restaurants that don’t cater towards gluten-free people I always take gluten-digesting enzymes with my meal to help if I get “griddle gluten” or if I eat fries cooked in the same fryer as something breaded (typically only becomes an issue when I travel since I don't eat fries much on a regular basis)
Even things like salad dressing need to be checked, unless you just eat a basic olive oil and vinegar combo. Many pre-packaged salad dressings have wheat in them, so it’s obviously a no no. Your server should be able to check on that for you, but it’s often safer to just go with the oil and vinegar option (however I know some people just want their ranch, etc).
And I actually just learned this one while looking up something for this post – that some restaurants use pancake batter in their eggs, so make sure they don’t do that!
Some restaurant chains we’ve found to be super accommodating to gluten-free:
Red Robin (ask for the allergy menu and to have your sweet potato fries cooked in a separate frier)
Hu Hot Mongolian BBQ (tell the grillers that you are Celiac and avoid the soy sauce that is separate from the other sauces. All the other sauces are GF)
Yellowbelly (only in Colorado, the fried chicken is GF as is most of the menu)
Noodles & Company (GF pasta but be aware of griddle gluten though on grilled items)
Chipotle (ask them to change their gloves before preparing your order)
LarkBurger (Colorado only I think – everything is GF except the buns. We get lettuce wrapped)
SmashBurger (fries are potentially cooked with breaded stuff but I’ve never had an issue with it. They try to cook the fries separately. We get lettuce wrapped buns here too)
Modmarket (lots of great GF options here)
Lyfe Kitchen (also lots of great GF options)
Please comment below if you have favorite restaurants that are accommodating to gluten-free!
Shopping is an area that has changed more than that I thought it would. I used to read ingredients because I didn’t want to get anything too processed and that was considered Paleo but after diagnosis I really scrutinize the ingredients. Gluten can take so many forms so unless something explicitly says “gluten-free” I think twice about buying it now. Even though the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was passed in 2004 that specifies the top 8 allergens be clearly identified on products, the FALCPA only applies to all foods regulated by the FDA, not necessarily those regulated by the USDA. So products like meat, eggs, and things that contain more than 2% cooked meat (like frozen entrees) fall outside of the jurisdiction of the FALCPA. I'd say most of the “higher end” products go the extra mile and label it, but some of the cheaper ones don't so you really need to be careful.
And even the meat counter itself is a mine field, because we can’t get any pre-packaged burgers, pre-marinated meats, sausages, etc without first checking to see what went into them. Places like Whole Foods won’t call any of their meats or sausages “gluten-free” because they were created in a facility that also processed wheat, but you can ask to see the ingredient list and they typically comply and let you see what things were made with. Fresh, raw meats that are not marinated or seasoned are fine though.
I found I also need to check my spices and seasonings since I have found a bottled Curry Powder that contained wheat. I find that stores like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage by Natural Grocers are pretty safe when getting spices, but the regular grocery stores often carry lower budget spices that could potentially have it. Just another reason to check labels.
And then there are things like Worcestershire Sauce and BBQ sauce that you really need to filter through, even at a place like Whole Foods, to find the gluten-free ones. The last time I went to Whole Foods I saw 4 brands of Worchestershire Sauce (even the organic ones) that contained gluten and 1 that did not. So don't just assume because something is being sold at Whole Foods that it's safe.
Basically shopping comes down to READ THE LABELS. I cannot stress this enough. Do NOT just assume something is gluten-free. Verify every time.
Stay tuned for next week’s post when I talk about Eating at Social Functions, Eating at Work, Traveling, and Misc things like the Dentist (yes, you do have to worry about the dentist).
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