Several announcements recently about vodka brands labeling themselves gluten-free are producing an interesting dichotomy of reaction: some people say it makes sense for a vodka made solely of potatoes to earn a gluten-free label, while others say it's ridiculous, since distillation makes all alcohol inherently gluten-free.
There's no doubt there are two camps on this, with some experts (but not all) saying distillation removes the toxic gluten protein, but multiple people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity responding that they do, in fact, react to alcohol derived from gluten grains.
My theory (and I'm in the group that reacts) is that distillation breaks down the gluten protein, but enough fragments remain in the resulting alcohol to cause a reaction anyway. For the record, my reaction to gluten-grain-derived alcohol is mainly neurological in nature -- it feels like the world's worst hangover, even if I've had only a sip or two.
Do you react to alcohol that started out life as gluten grains? Vote in our poll!
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This happened to me a couple of springs ago, but since I see the same vendor in the same spot at the same market every year, I thought it was worth repeating:
At one of the first farmer's markets of the year, I was drawn to a local bakery booth by a sign that advertised "Gluten-Free!" in huge letters.
The booth was doing huge business, with more than a dozen customers clustered around waiting to buy products. But I managed to get a minute off to one side with the owner, and asked him what kinds of gluten-free products he had.
It turns out that he carries gluten-free focaccia bread, along with gluten-free rolls and occasionally cookies.
Sounds great, I thought (I love focaccia). But the wide variety of gluten products on display made me nervous, so I asked him how careful he was when preparing gluten-free products.
"Honestly?" he said. Yes, I replied -- I'm very sensitive to gluten cross contamination, even in commercial gluten-free foods. "Then I wouldn't go near my products," he said. "We're as careful as we can be, but we're a full-service bakery. There's flour dust everywhere. We're just doing it for people eating gluten-free because it's trendy."
I thanked him for his honesty and (obviously) walked away empty-handed. Later, I realized this shows just how careful we all need to be -- now that the gluten-free diet is so popular, lots more local "mom-and-pop" companies are getting into the market. Some of these will understand the intricacies of the diet and how to avoid cross-contamination, but too many others simply won't take the necessary time to do it right. And people will get sick as a result.
I love to see local businesses advertising gluten-free products and meals. But ... a word to the wise: as gluten-free foods become more available, make sure those preparing the foods have a good grasp of what "gluten-free" really means before you buy. If in doubt, skip it: even the best focaccia is not worth a bad reaction.<
Photo © Getty Images/Tim Graham
Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are not true allergies. But that shouldn't stop us from piggybacking onto Food Allergy Awareness Week this week -- our issues with gluten are most definitely food-related, and many of us refer to them as "allergies," anyway.
Some in the celiac community get a little defensive when they hear others call the condition a "gluten allergy," since it's really an autoimmune condition, and a serious one at that.
But I don't mind the use of the word "allergy" a bit -- almost everyone (especially restaurant staff members) understands the term "allergy," whereas fewer are going to get up to speed quickly with autoimmunity.
Yes, in most situations, it's just easier to say "I have an allergy to gluten" than to launch into a long-winded explanation involving my medical history (which is none of their business, anyway).
So do you have a gluten allergy? What kind? In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, here's some information to help you figure out just what it is you have ... in case you really do need to explain it to someone.
- What Is A Gluten Allergy, Anyway?
- Five Different Types of Gluten Allergy
- Gluten Allergy Symptoms Checklist
- Nine Signs You May Have A Gluten Allergy
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There are few treats that say "summer" more than ice cream. I remember going out for soft-serve cones as a kid at a Carvel outlet not far from my house ... and I remember how that shop always served our dachshund his own cup of vanilla with a dog biscuit on top.
Even though my daughter and I now eat gluten-free, we still can stash away those same types of memories of summer ice cream. Although it's somewhat tricky to order ice cream out and stay clear of gluten cross-contamination, it definitely is possible (Carvel, being soft-serve, actually is a pretty safe option).
My article Gluten-Free Ice Cream Parlors explains the precautions you should take to have a completely safe ice cream parlor experience.
Of course, sometimes you just want to stay at home and have a huge bowl of ice cream in front of the T.V. So while I was researching that article on ice cream shops, I also decided to pull together a list of store-bought ice cream that's safe for those of us following the gluten-free diet. Check out my article Gluten-Free Ice Cream for that list -- you might find something new to try.
Yup, we definitely all scream for ice cream ... and there's plenty out there that we can eat!
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Frozen yogurt shops seem to be opening up everywhere, and that's good news for those of us who follow the gluten-free diet -- lots of flavors (all of them at some stores) are considered gluten-free.
I've pulled together a list of the major frozen yogurt chains in the U.S., along with their gluten statements and gluten-free lists (where available), and you might be surprised at how much you can eat at these shops. Want to try Brownie Batter fro-yo? Well, one chain actually makes it gluten-free. What about Cheesecake flavor? Yup, that's possible too (I tried some last week, and it was great).
My article, Gluten-Free Frozen Yogurt, tells you where to go and what to put in your cup when you get there.
In addition to the fro-yo gluten-free lists, I also list the precautions you should take when getting frozen yogurt -- there are a few, and you could risk gluten cross-contamination if you overlook them. But given these few simple precautions, you should be able to enjoy frozen yogurt perfectly safely.
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Today marks Children's Mental Health Awareness Day ... which means it's a good time to talk about gluten's effects on our kids' mental health.
Most of us know that celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity affect far more than just our digestive systems. In our celiac/gluten-sensitive children, accidental gluten ingestion can manifest itself as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression or even as incredible anger (teenage rebellion on steroids).
It's not unusual, in fact, for a parent to report to me that she knows her child has gotten into some gluten, simply because the child's behavior is so suddenly horrid. (I've seen this myself.)
Here's some more information on child mental health and how it relates to gluten issues:
- Depression and Behavior Problems in Celiac Teens
- Gluten and ADHD (there's definitely a link)
- New Gluten Sensitivity Biomarker Could Help Some Autism Cases
As always, staying as gluten-free as possible can limit these issues or even eliminate them entirely. Of course, that's easier said than done when you have a rebellious teen on your hands. Here's how to deal with that issue:
So as you hear more about kids' mental health during Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, it can't hurt to also be aware of how gluten might be affecting your children's mental health (not to mention your own).
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The scary answer is, maybe.
I recently took a look at a bunch of medical studies that examine this question, and I found that yes, several show an increased risk of early death for people who have celiac disease. The risk stems in part from a large increase in diagnosis of certain types of cancers, but it appears to extend across all causes of death.
I told you it was scary.
But there is one group of people with celiac that seemed to fare far better than average, and even better than the general population -- believe it or not, they died early far less often than people without celiac. I'll let you read the article to see who was in this group:
The bottom line is, celiac disease can affect your longevity, but it appears you potentially can control that effect.
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So it's National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and you've heard enough about the symptoms to think you might actually have the condition. What now?
Well, it's time to see your doctor to start the process of getting a diagnosis.
Celiac disease is diagnosed through blood tests that look for signs of the condition, followed by a procedure called an endoscopy in which a physician winds a tiny surgical instrument down your throat to take actual samples of your small intestine.
Another doctor looks at those samples under a microscope to see if they show the characteristic villous atrophy of celiac disease -- if they do, you have celiac disease.
This really isn't as bad as it sounds (the endoscopy itself usually is a piece of cake), but the entire diagnostic procedure, from start to finish, can take weeks to months. And, you have to keep eating gluten until all testing is completed, or the results may not be accurate.
Here are the details:
- How To Get Diagnosed with Celiac Disease
- What Kind of Doctor Treats Celiac Disease?
- Celiac Disease Blood Tests
- What To Expect from an Endoscopy
- Celiac Disease Diagnosis with Capsule Endoscopy
- Why Do I Need To Be Eating Gluten for Testing to be Accurate?
Yes, this probably seems like a lot to take in. But the first step -- seeing your primary care doctor to get the blood tests -- is reasonably easy ... and you can take the following steps one at a time.
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Quick quiz: What gastrointestinal condition has more than 100 possible symptoms, most of which are not related to your stomach?
What gastrointestinal condition can lead to problems in other parts of your body, such as your thyroid gland, your skin or your joints?
And what gastrointestinal condition sometimes doesn't have any symptoms at all, even as its damaging your body?
If you answered "celiac disease" to all three, you're correct (and yes, this was a pretty easy quiz!).
For National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, which began yesterday, I'm highlighting the many, many possible celiac symptoms you can have. Here are the comprehensive details:
- Celiac Disease Symptoms - Digestive, Neurological, Skin-Related
- Celiac Disease Symptoms in Women
- Celiac Disease Symptoms in Men
- Celiac Disease Symptoms in Children
Too many people (and worse, too many doctors) believe you can't have celiac disease unless you suffer from weight loss and diarrhea, even though study after study has shown that celiac with weight gain and constipation is common, too. And too many people (doctors included) don't realize it's possible to have celiac disease without any symptoms (unfortunately, it is).
In honor of this annual awareness month, consider forwarding these symptoms lists to someone you love who might benefit.
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Today marks the start of National Celiac Disease Awareness Month ... and more awareness would certainly help.
For example, did you know that, of the estimated 3 million celiacs in the U.S., at least 2.6 million of them remain undiagnosed?
And, despite many recent advances in awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet among physicians and other health professionals, it still takes more than four years, on average, before someone with active celiac disease symptoms gets handed the correct diagnosis?
Yes, we've come a long way from a decade or two ago, but we still have a really long way to go.
Therefore, I want to use this 2013 national awareness month as an opportunity to get the word out to people about celiac disease, its symptoms and diagnosis, and the gluten-free diet. In the days ahead, I'll be sharing information on symptoms, testing and diagnosis for those who believe they may have the condition or who want to be tested.
To start off, here are the basics: What Is Celiac Disease?
Do you know someone who shows symptoms of celiac disease? What about a family member who remains undiagnosed? For the sake of their health (and to help increase celiac disease awareness this month), please consider forwarding them the article linked above as a start on providing them with some information on the condition.
If we all work together to increase awareness of celiac disease, I suspect we could go a long way toward improving the health and well-being of a lot of people.
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