Archive for February, 2012

Gluten-Free Dining: We Don’t Really Want to Be “Special”

Last Monday, I decided to step away from my desk for a much needed day off. A mental vacation, a road trip to do a bit of shopping, and lunch with my best gal pal would be the perfect way to spend the day off! After stocking up on herbs and spices at Penzeys and checking out the furniture store sales, I met Kyle at her favorite restaurant.

Kyle and Beckee

Kyle and me

History Note: Kyle and I have been best friends since freshman year in college. People mistake us for sisters because we kind of look alike and think alike. We stood next to each other when we married our mates, and we birthed our babies exactly one week apart. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Kyle immediately learned about my diet, figured out how to feed me and threw a dinner party. Over the years, we’ve taken a few ‘girl trips’ where the days consisted of coffee on the patio, shopping, researching fabulous gluten-free dining spots, and ordering everything gluten-free so we could share plates. She is truly a GFBF (gluten-free best friend).

Lunch at the Biltmore

One of our previous "girl trips" - Lunch at the Biltmore

Kyle has been trying to coax me into dining at her favorite restaurant for years. It’s not that I hadn’t eaten there; in fact, I had dined there many times 20 years ago…BC (before celiac). I had not stepped foot inside since because they didn’t offer gluten-free options until recently, and I had been leery of dining there before important business trips or meetings for fear of possible cross-contamination. I just couldn’t take a chance.

So I decide, what the heck, it was close by and they have dynamite salads. How can they screw up a salad, right? Plus, it’s a Monday and surely they won’t be that busy. Plus, Kyle knows the owner/chef and staff well, and I was curious about their gluten-free menu.

I arrive to a packed room. Kyle waves to me from the bar where we plan to sit. After hugs and catching up, we ask for menus. Kyle asks for the gluten-free menu before I do…she’s so excited. We wait.

Eventually, the bartender comes back and spouts off the daily specials. We ask for the gluten-free menu again. He turns away, digs under a pile of menus, and puts it in front of me. Laminated and single-sided, it lists about ten choices. Salads and entrees were listed with instructions about what to leave off the dish. No prices, no restaurant logo, no description of the dish, no GREAT Kitchens seal either, but I knew that wasn’t going to be there – they haven’t gone through our gluten-free training.

I had a bad feeling. It was a busy lunch, I could see the kitchen staff hustling, and I had a gluten-free menu that didn’t really give me much guidance or confidence in the outcome.

Kyle looks at my menu and offers hers with colorful descriptions and prices to help me choose a few options to investigate. She waves over the owner, asks me to dig out a business card, and makes an introduction. (Kyle is extremely proud of me. She’s the one who gave me confidence and support to start a gluten-free consulting business 5 years ago, which lead to my dream job with NFCA.) With a smile, she hands him the card and says, “This is my dear friend who works for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She is the director of a program called GREAT Kitchens.” The owner took a look at my card and replied, “So, am I under investigation?”

Was he kidding? He didn’t look like he was kidding. Did he need to be investigated? We laugh it off, and I ask for some help choosing lunch. The tortilla strips on the salad are fried in the same oil as breaded foods, but the menu doesn’t mention it. The grill does not have bread products cooked on it – good news. The salad dressing ingredients…I can tell by his face he isn’t really interested in sharing the recipe. I order the grilled salmon salad with vinegar and oil on the side. I notice the owner pop his head into the kitchen to possibly alert the staff.

Our salads arrive in front of us. They are fine. We eat. We pay the bill. We leave. Hugs and back on the road.

Driving home, I just felt terrible. I had an hour to stew over what had just happened. I wanted to cry because I just felt awful. My food was fine. No cross-contamination, the salmon was perfectly cooked, the greens were fresh. But I still felt horrible, empty inside. I had just been to a well-known restaurant that many people would give a four star rating for exceptional service, food quality and ambience. Not so much for me…maybe a half a star for their gluten-free guests.

The next morning Kyle called and said, “Have you ever been treated so poorly in all your life? I can’t believe how rudely we were treated. And that menu, how could you call it a gluten-free menu with nothing to help you make good choices? I’ve been getting madder by the minute thinking about it.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first time dealing with restaurants that offer gluten-free options/menus to keep up with the trends but don’t really understand the customer. This past year, restaurants offering gluten-free options rose 61% according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic. Gluten-free guests have made progress in getting the attention of the restaurant industry by requesting options. But we have a long way to go to make sure they understand that special diet customers don’t really want to be special. They want to know that their food is safe and that their needs are understood. They just want to enjoy their lunch with a friend.

– Beckee

Learn more about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens


February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am 7 comments

Could Those ‘Glutening’ Symptoms Actually Be Due to Sugar Alcohols? has become one of the top resources for information on gluten in medications. Clinical pharmacist Steven Plogsted is the man behind the site, and he’s been a huge help in spreading the word about NFCA’s Gluten in Medications Survey. Recently, Steve graced our inboxes when he responded to a listserv query about a particular medication. His response explained a mix-up related to sugar alcohols in certain medications, and we thought it was important information to share. So, we asked him to do a quick Q&A.

Steven Plogsted - GlutenFreeDrugs

Steven Plogsted

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are better known as the artificial sweeteners. They are not truly sugars or alcohols (chemicals with a specific type of carbon and oxygen bond), rather they are carbohydrates with a structure similar to sugars and alcohols and impart a sweet taste to the foods or drinks that to which they are added.  Examples include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and others.

Why are they used in medications?

They are used in medications as sweetening agents, general fillers, tablet coatings and as an emollient. Applied topically, they can act as a cooling agent on the skin like menthol.

Why should celiac and gluten sensitive individuals be aware of sugar alcohols in medication?

When taken in large amounts, sugar alcohols can cause significant abdominal discomfort, but it is not due to gluten. Celiac and gluten sensitive individuals who are on a gluten-free diet don’t need to be concerned about sugar alcohols affecting their disease. However, they should know that sugar alcohols could be the cause of some discomfort.

How are sugar alcohols causing confusion among manufacturers and gluten-free consumers?

One method of manufacturing these products is by purification of any starch, including wheat. Since they are highly purified, there are no gluten remnants remaining and therefore they are gluten-free. My feeling is that these manufacturers are taking labeling practices to the extreme and informing people that it contains gluten because it was derived from wheat. Since the manufacturers are telling consumers that their product contains wheat, individuals with celiac disease are avoiding those products.

If sugar alcohols can cause GI issues, are they actually safe to consume?

Taken in moderation, these are generally safe to consume. Anyone who consumes large amounts of the sugar alcohols will most likely experience GI symptoms since they act as an osmotic cathartic (laxative).

You encourage consumers to push manufacturers to explain why their product ‘may’ contain gluten. Why?

I encourage consumers to push manufactures to disclose the source of the gluten contamination in case they are claiming gluten contamination due to one of these sugar alcohols or other reasons. As an example, one company I called told me their product contained gluten. When I pressed them to disclose where the gluten was from, they told me it was from the corn starch. I explained to them that corn starch and corn gluten were OK, but they told me that to them, gluten is gluten, so they don’t differentiate what kind of gluten it is. They just tell the caller that it contains gluten.

To summarize, if you experience GI issues as a result of taking a medication, gluten contamination may or may not be the culprit. Sugar alcohols can cause similar symptoms, so contact the drug manufacturer to learn more about the medication ingredients.

– Cheryl

*Don’t forget to take the Gluten in Medications Survey. The survey closes next Tuesday, Feb. 28!

Take the survey »

February 24, 2012 at 11:07 am Leave a comment

7 New Habits for Body and Mind

Last month, I saw food activist and writer Michael Pollan speak at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. As a fan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Michael’s prescriptive to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

During his talk, Michael noted some astounding facts that, despite all my work with the food industry, I was surprised to hear. Here are my top takeaways:

  • 40 new products are launched in supermarkets every day. That means we have a lot of choices, but also a lot of confusion about what’s best for our bodies.
  • Americans eat 20% of meals in our cars. We are all in a rush, and our on-the-go consumption is far from the mindful eating dietitians recommend.
  • There’s a new term, “nutritionalism,” that refers to our tendency to overhype “good” foods and villainize “bad” ones. We’re better off keeping things simple: more fiber, less sugar and plenty of exercise.

It’s time we all found more balance in our lives – physically, emotionally and socially. Inspired by Michael’s 7 Rules for Eating, I’ve developed 7 New Habits for Body and Mind. I encourage you to try these and to make your own list!

1) I read labels. When I shop, I not only check for gluten-free ingredients, but also read the label for sugar and carb content.

2) I have switched from olive oil to coconut oil in much of my baking.

3) I drink a green drink in the morning made with vegetables.

4) I set aside Sunday afternoons to cook a casserole and wash and cut veggies so I have wholesome weeknight meals and ready-to-grab nutritious snack foods.

Chopped Vegetables

Prep, prep, prep!

5) I stick mostly to the perimeter of the supermarket. That means fruits, veggies, lean meats and dairy.

6) I will not be orthorexic (having an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating). With so many “health” messages out there, it’s easy to go overboard. It is much better to enjoy life and savor each meal – and that includes the social aspects!

7) I have added yoga back into my life. I get stressed just like everyone else, and feeling frazzled all the time just isn’t fun. Yoga is a great workout and helps me wring out all that tension.


– Alice

February 21, 2012 at 10:03 am 1 comment

10 Fun (and Gluten-Free) Things to Do Since the Groundhog Saw His Shadow

[The groundhog saw his shadow. Now what? Our volunteer Annsley Klehr has some ideas for keeping the kids occupied until Spring rolls around. Find more tips from Annsley in NFCA’s Parenting Articles.]

By Annsley Klehr

We all know that winter can bring on a feeling of hibernation, but only to a certain degree.  After a while, you get that cooped up feeling.  You know, like when you were a little kid and were driving your parents nuts because you kept begging them for a playmate? Of course, any activity also has to account for dietary restrictions, but don’t worry!  Here is a list of activities that kept me gluten-free and plenty busy with my daughter this winter, even if we have to spend a little extra time indoors.

1.  Watch a Movie – Take your family to a movie and stash some bagged popcorn or HalfPops in your bag. You can also make some homemade hot chocolate and popcorn on the stovetop to enjoy with a movie on your comfy couch (a warm blanket is a plus!).

2.  Play a Game – Remember your good ole deck of cards or a board game that could entertain you for hours?  Dust them off and put them to use!  There’s bound to be some good laughs.  Even if your child is young, he/she can still find matches or pairs in a simplified version of Go Fish.  When that gets old, make up your own game.

Layla in chair

No cabin fever here!

3. Read a Book – Cuddle up on the couch with your kid(s) and share a quiet moment either reading together or separately. Sometimes it’s fun to read something like Where’s Waldo? together where everyone is a part of the book.

4. Put Together a Puzzle – Puzzles are a great calming way to help develop spatial skills.  Doing them together helps to reinforce communication skills and teaches how to negotiate with others.

Layla with puzzle

Everyone loves a good puzzle.

5.  Make a Gift – The art of making something for someone you care about, whether it be a card, birthday present, housewarming gift or just something small to show someone you care often gets overlooked.  It is quite a special way to share joy with your child and teach them other ways to show love and appreciation.  Out of ideas?  Try checking for inspiration.

6. Take a Hike – Check out the trails around you and enjoy the respite from the hubbub of daily life. Point out trees and plants budding, animals that live in the woods, sounds of nature, etc.  We take time to use many of our senses to describe what we see, smell, hear and touch. Don’t forget to make yourself some gluten-free GORP (good old-fashioned raisins and peanuts) for using your sense of taste!  We like to make it using peanuts, gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate chips, dried fruit, assorted seeds and nuts from the grocery store, raisins, and gluten-free O’s cereal, to name a few.

7.  Pop Popcorn – Make popcorn from organic corn kernels over the stovetop and watch them pop, Pop, POP.  Then add your favorite toppings: butter, cheese, salt, chocolate, etc.

8.  Create an Indoor Scavenger Hunt – What’s more fun than reading simple clues and finding what might normally be a boring object in your house?  It will provide hours of entertainment.

For Example (from simple to complex):

  • A purple crayon
  • Something blue and white?
  • Something long?
  • Something that can get wet?
  • It’s hiding in a room of red, behind a heap and used for bed.

Not ready to create your own?  Fantasy, Jr. has printable ones for you.

Then you have your more traditional poems like the one from Scavenger Hunt Fun, in which a clue is left and you have to solve it to get to your next clue.  The final location usually has a surprise waiting for you.

9.  Ride a Train – Too cold to go outside, but need something to get you out of the house?  Pack a few snacks and get on the train for a quick tour of your city.  Looking out the window of a moving train can be incredibly thrilling.  If that’s not enough, bring travel bingo cards with you.  Make them yourself, use online printables, or buy them here.

10. Roast S’mores – Thought you couldn’t have them anymore?  Make a fire over your grill, your gas burner or a fire pit and then bring along a box of gluten-free graham crackers or bread, marshmallows and gluten-free chocolate for melt-in-your-mouth s’mores.  If you want to try something a bit more original, after roasting your marshmallow, sprinkle some gluten-free chocolate chips into the middle for a different mouth-watering sensation!

Please add your own ideas to this list to share!

About Annsley

Annsley Klehr is a classroom teacher and owner of Gluten Freedoms, LLC, a gluten-free coaching and consulting business.

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February 17, 2012 at 9:08 am Leave a comment

A Special Delivery: Tweason’ale Gluten-Free Beer

One day last week, NFCA’s Vice President Jenn walked into our shared office with an outstretched hand that was holding a special delivery and said, “This is for you. Mike Savett asked that I give it to you.”

Any takes on what the “special delivery” entailed? Well, if you guessed Dogfish Head’s new gluten-free beer, Tweason’ale, you’re right!

Tweason'ale Gluten-Free Beer

Dogfish Head's new gluten-free beer

Back in January when Mike of Gluten Free Philly broke the news that the craft brewery would be coming out with a new gluten-free beer, I was ecstatic.

I was diagnosed just 2 months after completing my Bachelor’s degree from James Madison University in 2007, at the exact time I was beginning to discover the taste of real beer. (And, no, that wasn’t a dig at gluten-free beer. Let’s just say the quality of beer you consume during college is not always premium.) So needless to say, my desire to expand my taste in beer was halted, and as far as I knew, it was halted forever.

That is definitely not to say that I haven’t enjoyed any of the ciders or beers that abound in the gluten-free marketplace. The availability of Redbridge at every Phillies game is a serious plus; having the option to sip a banana-bread style gluten-free beer at the GREAT-trained Devil’s Den in South Philly is fabulous and truly delicious; I enjoy the occasions when my dad picks up whatever new limited edition Woodchuck Cider has for the current season just so we can have a taste test; and, of course, when the Crispins of the world send a special package to our very own NFCA office!

But, something has definitely been missing, which is why I was ecstatic to have Jenn hand me a Tweason’ale. I quickly stuck the single beer in our office’s minifridge and shot off a quick emailing thanking Gluten Free Philly for his gift.

The next morning I came into the office to find an email from him with no actual content, but a single word in the subject line – “So?”

For anyone that has not had the opportunity to sip on Dogfish Head’s newest gluten-free craft beer, I suggest you run to your local distributor. I’m happy to say that this fun, craft-like gluten-beer has my vote!

– Kristin

February 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

My Special Diet

I used to be the rogue in my family.

I became a vegetarian more than 20 years ago, when vegetarianism may have been mainstream in California, but was a radical idea in my New Jersey suburb.

I was the veto vote. I was the one everyone had to accommodate. I got to pick the restaurants, I had the “pleasure” of asking the server again and again which menu items might be appropriate for me, and my family did everything they could to avoid having a holiday meal at my house. Face it, no meat eater likes Tofurky (and since my daughter’s celiac diagnosis, we don’t eat it anyway).

I remember how enraged I would get when a piece of sausage was found in my soup. I actually ended a friendship with someone because she fed my daughter a fish stick.

Life has gotten much easier for me. It’s hard to find a restaurant today that doesn’t have a vegetarian entrée to offer its guests. Restaurants understand that chicken stock is not vegetarian. I hardly have to ask questions anymore.

Now, my daughter, Molly, is the veto vote. She has celiac disease; I don’t. I can eat anywhere, but she needs to be picky. And if I thought eating out could be challenging with my preferential vegetarian diet, I was sadly mistaken. Exposure to a bacon bit might make my stomach turn, but that is entirely figurative. If my soup is made with chicken broth or my miso with fish paste, I might not even know. And I can go about my business undisturbed by the ignorance of the person who served me.

People with celiac disease and severe forms of gluten sensitivity do not have that luxury. Every business trip I go on, someone gets sick from cross-contamination. It’s impossible to go through every scenario to uncover every place where gluten might be hidden in a meal. You have to be educated, you have to be confident, and you have to be diligent. Every meal, even if ordered from a gluten-free menu, requires detective work. Every sauce is suspicious. Grill marks are a dead giveaway. And that gluten-free dessert may be riddled with airborne flour.

I sure hope it doesn’t take 20 years for the restaurant industry to catch up.

– Jennifer

Learn about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens

February 3, 2012 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

Mrs. Alaska International 2012 Wants YOU to Attend NFCA’s Webinar

[Recently, I’ve been chatting with Brandy Wendler – a.k.a. Mrs. Alaska International 2012 – on Twitter. I knew she is a celiac advocate, but it wasn’t until she sent us a nice note that I learned she has a passion for heart health, too. I invited her to share her story and explain why she’s excited for next Tuesday’s FREE webinar on Gluten-Free and Heart Health.]

I was diagnosed with celiac disease when I was working as a nurse in Atlanta. I worked in a cardiovascular ICU where we did everything, including heart transplants. I love the sound of a heartbeat. It has always been soothing to me. I feel the heart symbolizes the core of who a person is and represents their life. I like to think it is the most important (and beautiful) organ in the body. So, when I found out I had an autoimmune disease, I found myself wondering: How does this affect my heart?

Brandy Wendler

Brandy Wendler

Before my diagnosis of celiac disease, I had been sick and having symptoms for almost 10 years – which is an average time from onset to diagnosis. Being a medical professional did not increase my chances of diagnosis. In some cases, it hampered it. I had a colleague tell me my symptoms were all in my head. After all, I had been treated for anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and restless leg syndrome. I could sleep for days and not feel rested.  However, my illness wasn’t imagined. It was real.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis shortly before my celiac diagnosis, I suffered from chronic anemia and frequently had low levels of B vitamins and Vitamin D on my blood tests. Many celiacs have similar stories. All of these issues, though, led to a huge lack of motivation for exercise that would be beneficial to my heart. I was also malnourished and ate anything high in calories – another choice that was not good for my heart.

After I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my depression and chronic fatigue went away. I have normal iron, Vitamin B, and Vitamin D levels now. My thyroid disorder is under control, and I have a lot more energy! I have also changed the way I eat. Not just removing gluten, but also focusing more on eating my servings of vegetables, fruits and lean meats. The carbohydrates that I choose to eat are typically complex carbs like sweet potato, brown rice, and certified gluten-free oats. All of these are high in fiber and good for your heart.

With the training of a master’s in nursing, these choices come pretty easily for me. Being in the medical field is definitely an advantage when you have two autoimmune diseases. What about my celiac friends with no medical background, though? I sometimes worry if they are making the most informed choices. Most of the pre-packed gluten-free foods are high in saturated fats, sugar, salt and calories, which is not good for your body, much less your heart.

At the end of the day, it can be overwhelming. Having celiac disease is a huge adjustment, but it is possible to live with celiac disease and be kind to your heart. The first step is starting and maintaining a gluten-free diet. Sneaking a piece of gluten here or there is simply not going to help you in any way – no matter how good it may taste. The diet is essential to keeping all associated disorders in check.

NFCA webinars

The next step would be to educate yourself and make the right choices. I was thrilled to see that NFCA is offering a webinar on Gluten-Free and Heart Health. It makes it easier for my extended celiac friends to be informed and take care of themselves. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.. Early action to prevent heart disease is the key. So please sign up for the webinar with me and take your heart health seriously. Your heart has been with you from day 1, and it truly beats only for you!

About Brandy

Brandy Wendler just completed her year as Mrs. Alaska United States 2011 and now holds the title of Mrs. Alaska International 2012. She is currently working on Alaska state legislation SCR 16, which aims to recognize May as National Celiac Awareness Month. Last month, the legislation was read on the floor and was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read more on Brandy’s blog.

February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

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