Imagine. Imagine that you could not eating ANYTHING with wheat in it, or on it, without getting sick. ZERO regular bread, pastries, cookies or bagels. No regular pasta. Or crackers. Or cupcakes. Or breakfast cereal. Nothing breaded, even fish. Nothing made with hidden gluten, like soy sauce.
You sit down at a restaurant with friends or family and peruse the 16-page menu. You identify a couple of salads that look safe, provided the chef remembers to leave off the croutons, as you'll request. But you must've eaten chicken-ceasar-salad-hold-the-croutons about 16 times in the last month, and you just can't take it anymore!
So you ask the waitress if she can please request a cheeseburger-no-bun. She bubbles over about how gluten-free-ready the place is. Yeah, whatever. Heard that before.
After you order, the manager comes over with a solicitous smile and gushes about how this establishment is "more than happy" to accommodate "special diets." Fine. But people are staring, so you fix your eyes on your napkin and nod politely.
When the food finally comes, the kids get their plates of Mac-N-Cheese, a lot of burgers show up in enormous bread rolls — and TaDa! You are presented with a cheeseburger melted mouth-wateringly between two slices of toasted sourdough bread. See? No bun! Just for you!
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You explain again that you are allergic to wheat, and that bread=bun. You get a huge apology and a half-hour wait while they make you a fresh burger. By the time it arrives, everyone else at the table is long finished eating and you are sweating like an NFL pro due to that bolus you took when you thought the food was ready.
Everyone is apologetic. So apologetic. Then chocolate cake is ordered.
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This is life without gluten, for a grown-up with type 1 diabetes. Two parts inconvenience, two parts frustration, and one part what-the-hell-can-I-eat-here? Yes, I know the math doesn't add up. That's because it feels over the top, most of the time.
The month of May has been declared National Celiac Awareness Month, which is great. I have just one admonishment: I know that eating gluten-free is trendy right now, but please don't take the celiac thing lightly! I wouldn't wish it on anyone, so don't impose gluten-free restrictions on yourself unless you're sure.
In case you are having cramps, bloating and/or other GI problems after eating, or experiencing hives like me, and wondering if you are actually gluten-intolerant: Here's a rundown of the lab tests used to determine celiac. The most decisive of them is a biopsy test — highly unpleasant, but still the only way to get a definitive diagnosis.
Symptoms of true celiac are gastrointestinal complaints, anemia, fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. How sad to think that just a few decades ago, kids who had it were considered just plain "sickly" and withered away. Today we know the treatment is "so simple" — no wheat! For this I am grateful, despite the moaning and groaning above.
What's the key difference between celiac disease and wheat allergy? According to the American Celiac Disease Alliance, celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, in which the body's immune system attacks intestinal tissue in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food, causing nutritional deficiencies that can lead to conditions like iron deficiency anemia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. People with wheat allergy (or just "gluten-intolerance") usually do not have severe intestinal damage, and therefore are not at risk for these conditions.
- Celiac disease is a cause with a community, just like diabetes. Try looking for local events like this Catwalk for Celiac taking place tomorrow in New Jersey.
- This Gluten-Free Travel Site has a pretty comprehensive list of resources, including the three leading national advocacy organizations for celiac disease.
- A new online community for celiac was recently launched by our company, Alliance Health Networks: Check out CeliacConnect.com.
- One really good book on the topic is Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, by Peter Green and Rory Jones.
- And there's always the "For Dummies" series of books, which are usually a great start on any unfamiliar subject.
I do my shopping here: Glutenfreemall.net.
My general scorecard on taste:
GF pasta - tends to be mealy or soggy. Best is Quinoa.
There you have it. Life without gluten.
Any GF friends have something to add?