Guest Post: Confessions of a Celiac

This is a guest post by Kristen. Kristen can normally be found blogging on her uber-inspiring home renovation and DIY blog, Storefront Life, but I asked her to contribute a piece on her experience adjusting to her recent celiac-diagnosis.

My name is Kristen and I am a Celiac.
I have been gluten free for three months. I feel like I should get a medal for that, or at least a small trophy… three months of gluten free has been a hard road. The thing is, I didn’t want to give up gluten, heck I didn’t even think I had issues with gluten.

Here’s some back story; I had been having problems with my vitamin and nutrient levels for quite some time. I had be fighting (and losing!) a battle with severe iron deficiency anemia for three years. After rounds and rounds of tests, they finally discovered that I had Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease wherein your body thinks gluten is the devil, and tries to destroy it. The problem is that your body also destroys everything else around the gluten, which means some pretty heavy damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) system. My body was so badly damaged, that I was unable to absorb any of the vitamins and nutrients from my food. Hence the anemia. I didn’t have any GI symptoms, or any issues with food. Heck I LOVED any and all food. So being diagnosed Celiac, and given the task of eating gluten free for the rest of my life was a bit of a shock, and a huge learning curve.

When you get diagnosed they tell you to eat plain, simple foods. Don’t drink alcohol, don’t go out to eat, give up your social life and cry alone on your sofa every Saturday night (okay, so they didn’t say that last part, but the rest is true.) The problem is, I didn’t want to give up going out with my friends, eating out, and enjoying my food. So I researched, asked a lot of questions, and I have figured out that with a bit of planning, I can still go out with my friends and have a good time.

So here’s Kristen’s (not so scientific) guide to how to be gluten free while maintaining your social life and loving your food.

Liquor: Alcohol that has been distilled (regardless of whether it was originally wheat based) is gluten free. Beer and any malt liquor are not safe, nor is anything that has had gluten ingredients added in after the distilling process. Wine and cider are inherently gluten free as they are fermented fruit (just check that label and make sure gluten wasn’t added in as a flavor). However, I find that if I am exposed to even a bit of gluten and have had some alcohol my reaction to gluten is much stronger. You will find me upchucking in the bushes like a high school kid who drank a bottle of Jäger. So just be careful when it comes to drink.

Now for food: Some genres of food are mostly out of the question (Italian, Chinese etc.) but at any restaurant you can often find at least one thing safe to eat on a menu (even if it’s the salad, which sucks but hey it’s better than starving). Thai, Indian, Mexican and Steakhouses will most likely have quite a few things you can eat. Still beware of stocks, gravies, seasonings, oyster & soy sauce, and anything malted, all of which may contain gluten.

Fast food & chain restaurants: Don’t even bother asking a fast food employee whats gluten free on the menu. They are not apt to have any clue whats in the food they’re making. However, most chains have a nutritional information and allergy guide on their websites. I have a little stack of printed out allergy charts for all the chain restaurants near my office. As much as I’d love to say that I bring my lunch every single day, that just isn’t reality. At least I know that the chilli at Tim Hortons is GF and almost everything from Chiplote (except the flour tortillas) I can safely eat. Check websites ahead of visits, and know whats safe for you.

Dine at smaller restaurants where the chef actually knows what he’s cooking. Most of the time when you tell the waitstaff that you cant eat gluten, they’ll grab the chef and he will come talk to you about the menu. I have had chefs even offer things off menu, that would be safe for me to eat. If you’re making reservations call ahead and let them know that you have dietary restrictions and they will be prepared for your arrival.

Invite friends to your house rather than heading to theirs for dinner. Most people who aren’t gluten free really don’t understand the breadth of items that contain gluten, what cross contamination means, or how sick it can make you. Its awesome that they want to feed you and that they want to accommodate your special needs, but it’s safer to indicate that its easier to cook GF in your own kitchen. If they really want to contribute you can get them to bring things you know are GF (like the steaks, cheese or wine) or just to give you a hand cooking in your gluten free kitchen.

Keep a Larabar (or three) in your purse at all times: The reality is that sometimes there’s just nothing you can eat. I also recommend getting a gluten ingredient app on your iPhone. I use one called GFShopping, which has an ingredient list with green or red labels. Green is safe to eat, red is not. This is super helpful when you’re roaming the isles of the grocery store unsure what an ingredient is.

So don’t fret, it does involve a bit of work, but you can still have the social life you love, just with a bit of effort.

 

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Gluten Free Garage at Artscape Wychwood Barns

I’m always looking for new gluten-free tricks and treats to make cooking, snacking, and eating out easier. Just yesterday I discovered that my local bakery has amazing gluten-free treats but I had been avoiding it in order to avoid the treats I’m not allowed to have any more! Imagine going to an event or store where you don’t have to read the labels on everything? Well I’ve found just the opportunity:

Gluten Free Garage

Gluten Free Garage is a pop-up market place featuring local merchants, bakeries, and restaurants that cater to gluten-free eating needs. You will be able to enjoy gluten-free food prepared onsite by local chefs, sample and purchase gluten-free food and lifestyle products from vendors, and hear from guest speakers who will speak on their experiences and expertise in gluten-free living and take the chance to chat with local health experts. You can also grab coupons for future #glutenfreegluttony purchases!

Want information about gluten-free living? The Canadian Celiac Association will also be onsite to provide information, resources, and support! Proceeds from all ticket sales ($10 for those aged 12 and up!) go to the Canadian Celiac Association.

Sunday April 28, 2013
10am – 4pm
Artscape Wychwood Barns in the Covered Street Barn

 

Gluten-Free Beers in Toronto

Gluten-free beer is made from ingredients that do not contain the grains barley and wheat that normal beers include. These ingredients, even in small amounts, can cause violent health reactions in those who have a gluten intolerance. Brewers who produce gluten-free beers are required to test every batch for gluten and record levels for each batch.

While I have cut down on the amount of beer I consume due to the reaction my body has to do since eliminating gluten, I haven’t eliminated it from my diet completely. I have taken the opportunity to try a couple of gluten-free beers that are available in Toronto and you might understand why I have been putting off eliminating regular beer from my diet:

Nickel Brook Gluten Free

Nickel Brook Gluten Free Beer

This pale ale is made with a blend of sorghum, demerara sugar and pear juice was the first gluten-free beer made in Ontario!

Available at the LCBO in 6-packs for $13.50 or in 473 mL cans for $2.95 each.

 

 

 

 

 

Snowman Brewing Co Gluten Free Beer

Snowman Gluten-Free beer was brewed for gluten-intolerants who actually like beer, as opposed to a drink to have instead of beer. They have experiemented with a number of gluten-free grains to produce a brown ale, a pilsner, American pale ale, and a British-style amber. This beer is nearly impossible to find in Toronto, though I have spotted it on occasion at the Rhino.

Looking for other ways to get tipsy without getting sick? Stick to distilled spirits or wine. Remember to double-check your labels and don’t be afraid to call the manufacturer if you have any questions. 

TasteAway Delivers Gluten-Free Magic Oven Goodness

I think I mention my love and fondness for pizza in every post, so maybe you’re starting to get an idea of how much I miss my favourite pies. Enter: TasteAway.com, a sister site of Teambuy.ca. TasteAway is the latest online pick-up and delivery ordering platform to launch with a selection of over 150 restaurants in Toronto and the GTA. Their goal is to provide a more visual marketplace for customers to “eat with their eyes”.

Similar to the other online delivery ordering services, TasteAway.com offers a selection of restaurants based on your delivery address. You can browse through menus and popular dished from local restaurants, order directly from the website, and pay online by credit card or with cash on delivery of your order.

TasteAway.com

Ordering gluten-free foods online is generally fairly easy when you have a large selection. I lean towards thai or vietnamese dishes because they tend to be rice-based.

While the online food delivery companies generally have the same or at least the same types of restaurants, there is very little room to stand out. So what makes TasteAway stand out to me?

Two words: Magic Oven. 

Magic Oven Gluten Free Pizza

Magic Oven is a Toronto-based family-run chain of restaurants offering pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches. Their healthy pizzas can also be made to accommodate a large range of dietary concerns by offering organic spelt or gluten-free rice flour crusts and vegan or lactose-free cheese, and organic meats. With over 6 fully licensed locations in Toronto, there are lots of opportunities to treat your gluten-starved brain and body with a healthy pizza!

A few months ago, I treated a fellow gluten-free girlfriend to a special night in with her favourite wine and a gluten-free rice flour crust pizza to try out the TasteAway delivery service. Our verdict: delicious, gluten-free pizza delivered hot in no time! And a new favourite restaurant for us to indulge our carb cravings!

Magic Oven gluten free

 

My Gluten-Free Story

A year ago, if you told this girl she would be giving up fresh pastries, pastas, bread, and pizza she would have laughed in your face.

Now, more than 2 months in, I’m beginning to really see the benefits of a gluten-free diet. And while I don’t think I will ever stop missing thick crust doughy pizza or a fresh pastry, I’m trying to manage my cravings.

The Beginnings

At the end of last year I tried a 3-day juice cleanse and despite really missing food and the social routines that surround it, I felt absolutely great. When I was done the cleanse and began reintroducing food, I decided to try to avoid gluten as a test to see how I felt. After a few successful weeks (which were way easier than I anticipated), I noticed that I hadn’t felt bloated and I was consistently losing weight, and more importantly, feeling better. After surviving Christmas with my new restrictions, I knew this was something I could adopt consistently.

My Game, My Rules

I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to be celiac or have a gluten intolerance. While eating anything with gluten now makes me quite uncomfortable, I know that I can eat it whenever I want to. I also have a short list of cheats that I can also decide to eliminate at any time. My list of allowable foods include things made with spelt flour (which is on a weird spectrum of gluten-free where some people allow it and others don’t), soy sauce, beer, rye, and whiskey.

In exchange for my cheats, I try not to substitute my favourite gluten-filled foods with gluten-free alternatives. In addition to feeling better, part of this challenge is to eat healthy in general. Eating gluten-free has encouraged me to eat way more fresh fruits and vegetables and protein in the form of meat and nuts. It wouldn’t be eating any healthier if I ate equal amounts of gluten-free pizzas, pastas, and breads!

Gluten-free

Despite feeling like this some days (and I can’t imagine how my personal chef boyfriend feels about it), I am really happy with my decision to eliminate gluten from my diet. I hope to share with you some challenges and frustrations in eating gluten-free, some great recipes, and my own personal story in living gluten-free.

Here are my adventures in gluten-free gluttony. 

Welcome to my Gluten-Free Adventures!

Have you noticed the new Page in my menu bar? Probably not, it’s pretty new. But it’s there now:

Gluten-Free Gluttony Blog

Gluten-Free Gluttony – It’s a new blog topic I’ve started as part of a class in digital strategy that I’m taking right now instructed by Martin Waxman and Eden Spodek. My current blog probably would have sufficed for the project, but I like a challenge and wanted to build a new blog and talk about something that I don’t always get to talk about on here: eating and my new gluten-free diet challenge.

What Can You Expect?

  • My personal journey in eating gluten-free including challenges, successes, my thoughts, and how I’m feeling
  • New recipes
  • Favourite new gluten-free snacks
  • Adventures in dining out, travel, and more
  • Guest posts from nutritionists, celiacs, and others?
  • What not to eat
  • Maybe some blogs? We’ll see…
  • And some good old fashioned FOOD PRON (gluten-free, of course)
Image Credit: foodnetwork.ca

Image Credit: foodnetwork.ca