What do you get when you combine three live webcams, more than 20,000 Christmas lights and a bunch of inflatable cartoon characters, all of which you can control from your own computer? The answer: Funding for celiac disease research.
Once again, Alek Komarnitsky has decorated his house and rigged it so that viewers can control the effects from their own computers as a way of raising awareness and soliciting donations for the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Access his live webcams right here, and see for yourself how much fun it is to play with this stuff.
Alek's controllable Christmas lights display has an interesting history (learn more about it here). But the best thing about the display is its ability to educate more people about celiac disease as they're using the remote controls to inflate the giant Santa.
Image © Jane M. Anderson
This week and next, many of us will have parties we're supposed to attend -- office Christmas parties, holiday parties held by organizations to which we belong, and neighborhood parties.
I confess, I'm not wild about these gatherings ... and I haven't been since I went gluten-free. It's no fun to watch everyone else chowing down on holiday cookies, brownies and pastries when you can't even trust the punch.
My guess is, many of you are struggling with the same issues. That's why I've pulled together a gluten-free holiday party survival guide that explains how you can cope with these obligatory holiday parties when you're gluten-free. The solutions aren't perfect, of course, but you might find an option you like. And if you really want to skip the party, it's okay -- they'll get over it.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week made it clear that the FDA's recently-finalized definition of "gluten-free" applies to restaurants as well as food products sold in stores.
"We expect that restaurants' use of 'gluten-free' labeling will be consistent with the federal definition" of gluten-free, the FDA wrote on its website. That new federal definition, adopted in August, requires foods carrying a gluten-free label to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
"Gluten-free"-labeled foods -- in restaurants or in stores -- must comply with the FDA regulations by August 2014, although the FDA reports that it has "encouraged the food industry [including restaurants] to bring its labeling into compliance with the new definition as soon as possible."
Realistically, though, what impact will this clarification from the FDA have?
Well, I expect chain restaurants with gluten-free menus to take a close look at their procedures to avoid gluten cross-contamination (and perhaps to tighten up their kitchen procedures as a result). Some restaurants, meanwhile, might opt not to label menu items "gluten-free" in fear of running afoul of the FDA's rules.
Should you do anything differently when you go out to eat? I don't think you should. I still recommend you talk directly to the chef before ordering, and to question everything that seems even vaguely amiss. Read more here:
The bottom line: applying the FDA "gluten-free" rules to restaurants might help in some cases but hurt in others. But since the FDA has acknowledged that it just doesn't have the staff to energetically sniff out violations of the rules, I honestly doubt very much will change once those rules take full effect next year -- some restaurants will take gluten-free very seriously, while others simply won't try as hard.
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It's time for annual flu shots, as Kristina Duda, R.N., About.com's Guide to Cold & Flu, reminds us. And there may be good reason for people who have celiac disease to get that flu shot: a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found an increased risk of hospital admission for influenza in people with celiac disease.
The study, which came out of Sweden in 2010, compared influenza-related hospital admissions in three separate groups of patients. These included a group of 29,008 patients who had a celiac disease diagnosis with a Marsh score of 3, indicating fairly severe intestinal damage; a group of 13,200 individuals who had Marsh scores of 1 to 2 (inflammation but no villous atrophy) on their celiac disease biopsies; and a group of 3,709 people with positive celiac blood tests but a normal biopsy. The researchers also compared results with 224,114 control subjects from the general population.
What do you get when you combine crisp chocolate wafers and candy canes?
Well, if you're lucky, you get this delicious Christmas cookie recipe from well-known gluten-free chef Beth Hillson.
The recipe uses Glutino Gluten-Free Pantry chocolate cake mix and crushed candy canes to create Ore0-like sandwich cookies with a delicious peppermint center. So if you like chocolate and peppermint, you'll really like these:
Just make sure to use gluten-free candy canes (many of them are). I've just updated the list here:
- Gluten-Free Candy Canes (updated this weekend)
The recipe makes 18 large cookies, but you may need to make more than one batch ... they might not last long on your Christmas cookie plate.
Photo © Beth Hillson
Lots of people over-indulge at Thanksgiving. But those of us with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity don't necessarily need to overindulge to feel horrible the day after -- all we need is a tiny crumb of some gluten-containing food.
If this describes you today, I have plenty of sympathy -- we've all been there, despite our best efforts!
When people ask me what it feels like to get glutened, I describe it as a bad stomach flu ... one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But I hate the symptoms of fatigue and brain fog just as much as the gastrointestinal issues, if not more. I cover the gory details in What Happens When You Get Glutened?
There's not much you can do to stop the reaction once it's started, but there are a few strategies you can try to ease your suffering. If you're suffering today due to Thanksgiving missteps, check out Recovering from an Accidental Glutening -- there may be ideas in there that can help.
And, you can check out tips from readers here: Recovering from a Glutening - Readers' Best Ideas
Feel better soon!
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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which will take many people (especially those new to the gluten-free diet) out of their "comfort zones" and place them instead in the realm of well-meaning -- but sometimes uninformed -- relatives and friends. And that sometimes leads to ... uncomfortable symptoms of a glutening soon afterward.
To keep you safe during the holiday, here are a couple of rules to eat by:
- Whatever you do, don't be tempted to eat turkey that's been stuffed with gluten. I don't care if you try to choose the meat from the outside of the bird -- the juices flow throughout the turkey, and carry the gluten throughout, as well. If you do this, you'll get sick -- guaranteed.
- On a similar note, don't try pie filling from a pie with a gluten crust. The same rule as above applies -- that filling is thoroughly cross-contaminated.
- Quiz the chef thoroughly on ingredients used, and don't eat anything you think is suspect. It's easy for Aunt Edna to forget that her favorite sweet potato casserole recipe contains a tablespoon of flour as a thickener unless you prod her memory. For more on this, see: Should I Eat 'Gluten-Free' Food Prepared by Friends or Relatives?
- Don't be tempted to cheat on the gluten-free diet, even if it's just for one day and you don't get bad symptoms. I've found that cheating once frequently leads to repeated cheating ... and you could really destroy your health.
It's not too late to make yourself some gluten-free food to take to a relative's house, or to follow some of my other tips for a gluten-free Thanksgiving. And once the holiday is over, if you've learned something about how to have a great day gluten-free, share your story here: Readers' Thanksgiving Stories.
Oh, and have a terrific Thanksgiving!
Photo © Getty Images/Alexandra Grablewski
Millions of people are traveling by air tomorrow (the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S.), and those of us with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity will be reminded once again that there's little safe food for us in airports.
So if you're heading to Aunt Edna and Uncle Bert's house for Thanksgiving, you might be wondering what food -- if any -- the Transportation Security Administration allows through the checkpoints.
You can learn about the rules here: What types of gluten-free food will airport security allow in your carry-on?
To summarize: The good news is, you can bring through solid food (I flew to England earlier this year with a huge stash of Larabars, and the TSA agents didn't blink). You also can bring through small packets of such items as gluten-free salad dressing (they count as part of your liquid/gel allotment, and need to fit into the ziplock bag with your toothpaste and shampoo).
The bad news is, you may want to leave that gluten-free pumpkin pie at home -- the filling might also count as a liquid or gel, and the TSA folks might -- or might not -- let the pie through.
Good luck, safe travels, and have a happy Thanksgiving!
Photo © Getty Images/Heath Korvola
Like most people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, I'm very, VERY careful about what I eat. Consequently, it's extremely rare for me to sample anyone else's cooking, even if they assure me that it's absolutely gluten-free.
Although this is standard operating procedure for me, I often get looks and comments from people that indicate I'm being too careful, or worse, just this side of nuts. It comes up more frequently at holiday time than at any other time, most likely because the holidays involve so much socializing ... and so much food-related socializing.
There's no question that the holidays can be rough for us -- everywhere, there's tons of food we can't eat, plus there's plenty of pressure from friends and relatives to "just try a little" (and obvious annoyance when you won't). It's tough to keep your emotional equilibrium when people are getting annoyed at you simply for doing what you need to do to protect your own health.
I don't claim to have all the answers (I wish I did!). But I've outlined a few thoughts in this article, Coping with Your Emotions Over the Holidays, and some ideas to try in Coping with the Gluten-Free Diet Over the Holidays. I'd also love to learn some of your own coping strategies -- if you have any tried-and-true methods, please share them in the comments section below.
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Hanukkah -- the Jewish Festival of Lights -- starts next Wednesday at sundown, so many of us will be celebrating with family and friends and enjoying a traditional dinner. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to fix many commonly-served Hanukkah foods so that they're gluten-free.
For beef brisket, it's hard to go wrong with this recipe from Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com's Expert on Home Cooking: Favorite Beef Brisket. To make certain it's gluten-free, you just need to source gluten-free canned tomatoes (or substitute fresh for the canned variety), plus stick with safe spices (here's the list of gluten-free spices).
For your potato pancakes, Jeanette Bradley, About.com's Expert on Food Allergies, offers this recipe for Allergy-Friendly Latkes -- it's free of dairy, soy and egg ingredients in addition to gluten.
If you want to serve a dairy meal to commemorate the Jewish heroine Judith (Yehudit), this recipe for Herb Baked Salmon is gluten-free (just make sure to use safe spices). And Pepper, Cheese and Sugared Pecan Salad would make a beautiful, colorful side dish ... just make sure to use gluten-free sugared pecans, or to make your own (super-easy recipe here).
To finish off the meal in fine traditional style, check out this great recipe for gluten-free sufganiyot (filled jelly donuts) from Gluten-Free Bay. Enjoy, and Happy Hanukkah!
Photo © Getty Images/Bushnell-Soifer