To Eat or Not to Eat

My  husband, He Who Eats Everything, and I searched the aisles of Harris Teeter for something easy to eat before catching a plane. So many options for him: a pre-made sandwich from the deli, prepackaged tuna and crackers, fried chicken and chips (okay, I didn’t say healthful options). I wanted more than a coconut-milk yogurt or slices of gluten-free lunch meat. I wanted to be full and not tempted to eat the fattening potato chips on the plane.

This chicken curry stared at me from the prepared food section in the refrigerated  deli section:
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I flipped the package over to read the ingredients. Surely there’d be at least one allergen likely more. Soy lecithin? Wheat? Corn (unidentified maltodextrin)? Milk slipped into the coconut milk?

Nothing. I couldn’t find one of my allergens! And there was no warning of contamination either.

There was no “certified gluten-free” label either.

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The curry and rice looked so good–and filling. I put it into my cart.

As we looked for something for Eater of Everything (he was having trouble making a decision!), I kept hearing a voice in my head: “Don’t eat anything that isn’t labeled certified gluten-free.” How many times have I told my celiac son the same thing?

I also kept thinking about that plane ride–and those tiny airplane bathrooms. Anyone who’s ever experienced a GI reaction on a plane–especially during takeoff and landing–never forgets it.

Damn voice. I put the chicken curry back. I bought ingredients for a salad and Applegate lunch meat and a So Delicious yogurt.

Better to be safe than sorry.

For more info on labeling, see What the FDA says .

To Eat or Not to Eat” originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

New Book–The Food Babe Way–Can Help Those with Food Allergies

The Food Babe Way by Vani Hari hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list last week. This says a lot about how our country feels about the food industry. If you haven’t heard about Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, you will.  She’s the lady who decided several years ago that she was sick and tired–literally–from eating crappy food, so she took on the momentous task of telling food companies to stop contaminating our food with chemicals and additives. With the help of millions of like-minded folks–which she calls the Food Babe Army–and in less than three years (three years!) she’s succeeded in getting companies like Chipotle and Kraft and Subway to eliminate controversial ingredients and be more transparent in labeling.

Vani Hari Grocery Store - Credit Kwaku Alston

I began following the Food Babe on social media and joined her activist army soon after I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and celiac disease. I didn’t need a PhD in nutrition to figure out if my body was rejecting food, there must be something wrong with the food I was eating. Vani Hari’s blog shed light on the toxins I’d been unwittingly putting into my body for decades. Add these to the multiple rounds of antibiotics and painkillers I consumed for several years for a chronic health problem, it’s no wonder my gut sprang a leak. More importantly, Hari’s blog taught me what I should eat.

When her book came out this month, I was slightly worried that it would be another diet book by someone who was probably always slender. I mean she’s called the Food Babe and she is tall and thin and beautiful as the book cover clearly shows. Watch this video and you’ll see she struggled with weight like most of us. She is also smart–and a bit sassy which I like. Within the first few pages, I was underlining facts and figures, jotting down notes, and starting her 21-day program. Warning: Your significant other will not appreciate being told the same chemical used to make Silly Putty is most likely in the fastfood French fries he’s popping into his mouth.

About halfway through the book, I experienced an epiphany. Many of the good food and good habits that Hari outlines, I was already doing–because of my celiac and allergies! My body had rejected soy and corn and gluten and dairy, so I no longer eat GMO-infested processed foods. I eat organic as much as I can. I buy additive-free and antibiotic-free meats and wild fish. I cut back on soda and alcohol. I don’t eat fastfood.

The Food Babe Way

I often tell people the positive side of my celiac and food allergies is that I eat better foods and I cook more. But what if I’d done this long ago? In my teens and twenties, I thought the low-fat food I ate and the diet soda I drank were good for me; now I know I was swallowing fistfuls of chemicals and additives. When I was a tired mother, I was convinced it was faster to feed my family Taco Bell between hockey practices than make a homemade meal. When I went out to restaurants, I never questioned what was in the food I ordered. I snacked on whatever was available in airports and hotels.

All of these bad habits and bad food choices resulted in serious health consequences. I believe if I’d followed the 21-steps in The Food Babe Way in my younger days, I wouldn’t be facing the health issues I am today.  Of course, it’s never too late for any of us to make changes in our dietary habit and to start letting the suppliers of our food know we want accountability. It’s certainly not to late to teach our children good eating habits.

Here’s the other cool thing about Hari’s book–most of her advice for eating and cooking and shopping and traveling are fit for allergic foodies. So go get a copy of The Food Baby Way today and let me know what you think.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books A Million
Indie Bound (find your local store)

The Food Babe Way Can Help Those with Food Allergies first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know

Near our home in Colorado Springs is a Mexican restaurant called Carlos Miguel’s that people rave about. So last Friday evening, when the streets were icy and my husband and I didn’t want to venture too far from home, I called the restaurant to discuss my food restrictions.

“What type of vegetable oil do you cook with?” I asked the man who answered the phone.

“Vegetable.”

“What type?  Soy? Corn? Canola?” I asked.

“Just vegetable.” He seemed a little perturbed.

I told the man I couldn’t eat at his restaurant without knowing exactly what was in the vegetable oil because I was allergic to soy and corn. He didn’t offer to check the ingredients label so I said goodbye.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a restaurant couldn’t tell me what was in their cooking oil. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.  How absurd it is for restaurants not to know what they are serving their guests!

 

 

I also have a hard time with processed foods containing soy and corn. In the United States, corn isn’t one of the top eight allergens required by law to be identified on labeling.  While soy is one of the top eight, the FDA exempts soybean oil and soy lecithin from being labeled.  The FDA and medical experts, such as Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, MD, author of Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It ( Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), say most soy oil is highly refined so there is little proteins left to trigger an allergic reaction. Cold pressed and expeller pressed soybean oil are not highly refined and may contain soy proteins. The experts also say soy lecithin, a derivative of soy used as a nonstick agent in baking, has minimal proteins and those with a soy allergy need not worry.

My body does not agree with these experts. I’ve learned the hard way that soy oil, soy lecithin and corn oil  will all cause a severe reaction, including eosinophilic esophagitis. Blend them together–use soy/corn oil in my salad dressing and spray the grill with cooking spray containing soy lecithin–and I’ll be in really bad shape.  Talking with the other soy-allergic folks at food allergy conferences and through social media, I know I am not alone. Of course,  if you react to soy (so far 15 allergenic proteins have been found in soy) but can tolerate soy oil and/or soy lecithin, I’m happy for you! And a bit jealous! But do watch and discuss any changes in your health with your doctor.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil

Soy oil, or a blend of oils including soy oil, is used in restaurants because it’s inexpensive. Soybean meal and vegetable oil consume around 85% of the world’s soybean crop. By the way, the soybean is not a vegetable–soybean is a legume–but soy oil is still  referred to as vegetable oil.  Other plant-based oils include:

  • Canola (rapeseed)
  • Coconut
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive
  • Palm
  • Peanut (a legume, not a nut)
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

Unless the label says the oil is 100 percent, it may a blend of other oils. Read my post The Olive Oil Controversy. People can be allergic to any of these plant-based oils.

So here’s what I do to avoid an allergic reaction because of a vegetable oil mishap:

  • I read the ingredients labels of all oils before I buy them, and I stick to companies I trust. For a cooking spray, I use Winona Pure which does not contain soy lecithin.
  • I avoid all restaurants that cook only with soy oil and offer no other options (even if I’m ordering a food that doesn’t require oil–it’s just too risky). If they cannot identify what is in their  “vegetable oil,” I leave. In my experience, most Mexican restaurants and many Asian restaurants use soybean oil.
  • If it’s a questionable restaurant, I ask if the olive oil or other oil is 100 percent. This doesn’t usually go over well, but it’s been a lifesaver on several occasions.
  • I read allergen menus with a magnifying glass. Because of the FDA exemption for soybean oil and soy  lecithin, restaurants do not have to list them under “soy allergy.” Some allergen menus note this exemption with an asterisk, but not all do.
  • I ask a lot of questions before I order. What oil do you use to cook with? Does your vegetable oil contain soy? Do any other foods contain soy lecithin? Do you use cooking spray?
  • If possible, I call the chef in advance and discuss my dietary needs. I have celiac disease and allergies to dairy, eggs and corn, but I always stress the soy allergy because it’s the one that gets missed by waitstaff the most. Untrained waitstaff think tofu and soy sauce.
  • When I make reservations on OpenTable, which I do a lot, I note I have a soy allergy including soy oil and soy lecithin. I also check out what people say on Urban Spoon and Food Allergy/Celiac Disease apps.
  • When I travel, I try to stick to chain restaurants that never use soy oil (these are usually higher-end chains).
  • When eating out in my hometown, I’m a regular at restaurants that don’t use any soy at all. I let them know how grateful I am to have a safe place to eat.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Eat, Drink and Be Weary

So I think I ate too much turkey and gluten-free pie over Thanksgiving because I can’t seem to snap out of this funk I’m in. Or maybe it’s because the season of holiday parties is upon us and I hate, hate, hate having to do the food two-step every time a well-meaning host offers me a plate of cheese . . . and then a plate of  sliders  . . . and then a plate of desserts.

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I usually love the holidays, but this year I want to hibernate in my Snuggly with my Netflix subscription until New Year’s Day.

I think I know why I’m feeling so blue. And it’s not just that I can’t bake cookies without buying a college education’s worth of allergy-friendly ingredients, or that Breakfast with Santa means no breakfast at all.

It’s because I’m tired of the people I love STILL NOT GETTING IT.

There. I said it. On the Internet. For everyone to read.

It’s been almost six years since I first learned the food I was eating was making me sick. Six years! I’ve had time to adjust. My loved ones have had time to adjust. Yet Dear Old Mom still reminds me how I ate everything and anything as a kid (yes, I was on the plump side). Is this her way of saying the numerous doctors I’ve consulted are all wrong about my dozen plus food allergies? Does she think my celiac disease–which was passed on by my parents’ genes!–is a figment of my imagination?

Then there’s Darling Husband, the Eater of Everything. Unlike Mom, he doesn’t dispute that my allergies and celiac are real and he supports my need for a special diet.

He just doesn’t want my restrictions to restrict him.

He still insists on eating at his favorite restaurants–including the ones that gluten or soy or dairy me every time I eat there. He loves Italian food, and he doesn’t understand–or want to try to understand–why I’m fearful of restaurants that can’t help having wheat flour floating in the air. Nor does he get how monotonous the plain salmon and spinach gets after eating it every Friday night year after year.

Recently, during a rather heated discussion about where to go for dinner, Darling Husband, Eater of Everything, said, “Can I  pick the restaurant this time?”  As if I’d been choosing the places to eat these last years for fun–not out of the need to stay healthy and keep breathing.

And then there are those “friends,” the ones who think it’s funny to mock my special food requests after I place an order.  It is not funny. It is annoying. It is hurtful.

A fellow allergic foodie recently expressed in an online support forum how upset she was when her family didn’t want to come for Thanksgiving because they didn’t like her allergy-free food. I’m pretty sure people have passed on dinner at my house for the same reason. But this was THANKSGIVING. A time for loved ones to come together and be thankful.  My heart broke for her.

The one present I would like this Christmas is for my family and friends to accept and respect my food restrictions.

Otherwise, just wrap up another Snugly.

Eat, Drink and Be Weary first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

The smiling white-coated waiter glided up to our rooftop table and introduced himself as Paul.

“I understand there are some food allergies at this table,” Paul said,  handing  us leather-bound menus.

When I’d made the reservation for Watermark Restaurant in Nashville on Urban Spoon, I listed my son’s and my celiac disease as well as my allergies to soy and dairy. We were driving through Nashville on our way home to Colorado and wanted to have a special family dinner with our college boy. Watermark was on our bucket list of restaurants to try.

“I’ve gone over your food restrictions with the chef and I’ve marked what dishes have your allergens.” I looked down at the extensive menu where Paul had placed an X for not gluten-friendly and crossed out the items containing dairy. “Of course, we can also make accommodations, such as leaving off butter. And you don’t have to worry about soy here.”

The chef marked what I could and couldn't eat before I arrived

His words were music to An Allergic Foodie’s ears. I told him how much I appreciated his efforts. Little did he know I had recently had a terrible experience when a chef didn’t want to communicate with the waitstaff and didn’t take my food restrictions seriously. I actually think this demon chef, as I’ve come to call him, intentionally “poisoned” me by including allergens in my food.

After taking our drink orders, Paul then told me because we had decided to eat outside, he didn’t have our table. I panicked. I wanted Paul! The waiter who had done his homework to provide a complete stranger with a safe meal. We considered changing to an inside table, but after a day in the car driving for eight hours, we were enjoying the pleasant evening air.

Watermark Restaurant in Nashville

Paul returned with our drinks. “Well, looks like I’ll be your waiter after all.  The other waiter is uncomfortable with your food allergies.”

This was a first.  A waiter who fully admitted food allergies alarmed him. I appreciated the other waiter’s honesty, especially since it meant I got Paul back. I’ve often witnessed  a waiter’s anxiety over serving me, but I’ve never had someone pass the reigns to a waiter who was more experienced and comfortable with special dietary needs. Kudos to the waiter who didn’t want to serve me for the right reason–not because I was a pain in the neck, but because he wanted to keep my son and me safe.

Executive Chef Joe Shaw’s  food was heavenly. Each of our appetizers and main meals were a work of art and just as delicious as they looked.  For appetizers, Steve had pan-seared scallops with duck confit over a sweet potato puree and poultry demi glace. I had New Orleans style barbecue shrimp, and George had corn and duck egg custard with pan-seared foie gras.

Watermark Restaurant

Watermark uses a wood grill–absolutely no gas–that lended my main dish,  a Niman Ranch pork chop a mouth-watering hickory flavor. Even the rapini melted in my mouth. Steve had lamb on ratatouille and George had his usual ribeye though he said there was nothing usual about it.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

Since developing food allergies and celiac disease I’ve had more terrible experiences than good ones. But Paul gave me hope that there are those in the restaurant industry who do take my son’s and my health seriously–and who take pleasure in serving us.

Thank you, Paul, for renewing my faith.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

The Waitress Who Went to Bat for An Allergic Foodie

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Just getting over a few days of food-allergy misery. I’ve been eating out a lot–just check my Facebook or Instagram photos!–so I’m not all that surprised a bit of gluten, soy, dairy, or corn snuck into my food. I guess I tempted the Food Allergy Gods one too many times.

This may sound slightly paranoid to some of you, but I kind of wonder if this time at this particular restaurant the chef didn’t intentionally leave an allergen in my order. It’s horrible to suspect someone who is preparing your food isn’t taking your food restrictions seriously, but we all know it happens.

The Close-minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Here’s how the dining experience–er, dining disaster–played out. The waitress is terrific–very aware of my needs because she herself is gluten sensitive. She asks myriad questions and goes over the menu in detail. To be safe, it’s decided I’ll order plain grouper and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The table will share crab legs for an appetizer, butter on the side.  The only unanswered question is what kind sauce of the six offered I can have on my fish. She goes back to the kitchen to find out.

When she returns, her face is flushed  She explains that the head chef is “old school” and believes the front of the house–the waiters and servers–shouldn’t converse with the back of the house–the chefs.  I thought this only happened in the movies! How in the world is our waitress suppose to find out if  food is allergen free without talking one-on-one with the person preparing the food?

“I told him you’re not going to have to use an epipen on my watch!” she says. Her pen flies up in the air like a sword.

This waitress went to battle for me. How awesome is that? But that’s also why it makes getting sick from this meal even worse–and why I suspect foul play.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just leave the restaurant then. In hindsight, I should have. But it was late, few other restaurants were opened, and we were so enjoying this view of the full moon.

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So I ate my plain grouper that was nondescript, which was fine if it meant not getting sick.

Of course, you now know how that panned out.

While rolled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I rehashed that meal in my head. I pictured the chef ignoring that lovely waitress. I wondered what he missed–or added–to my order that made me so sick. I kept asking myself, If this chef had a wife or a child with food allergies, how would he feel about interacting with the front of the house then?

I’m often quick to blame a waiter for leaving croutons on my salad or butter on my vegetables, but maybe I don’t know what he is dealing with behind those swinging steel doors. When a hierarchy exists in restaurants–when good communication between all food staff members doesn’t exist–those of us with food restrictions pay the price.

The only time I’ll return to this restaurant is to see the sunset. I’m pretty sure this chef could care less about losing me as a customer, but the waitress may. She did her job exactly right. I’ll give her a high-five the next time I see her.

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

I Have Exciting News! (Hint: Big Ears)

My sons have shown very little interest in my blogging–except for when complimentary allergy-friendly cookies arrive in the mail. My husband likes to good-naturedly poke fun at my blogging at cocktail parties: “My wife gave up her day job to write a blog–for free.” Such a comedian, my husband.

But now they all think my blog is pretty darn cool.

You see I’m going to the very first  FOOD ALLERGY AND CELIAC CONVENTION in WALT DISNEY WORLD!!!!

I may or may not take the family . . .  they have four months to be really nice to me.

Here are the top reasons why I’m so excited about going–and why you should meet me there on November 22.

1. It’s WALT DISNEY WORLD people . . . c’mon who wouldn’t want to go to a convention in the magical kingdom?

2. I’m AN ALLERGIC FOODIE— I LOVE allergy-friendly and gluten-free food! FACCWDW promises food demos by topnotch Disney chefs and culinary professionals.  I’m pretty sure they’ll hand out samples, don’t you think? This means free food–food I can actually eat.

3. Experts–people who know more than I do about celiac disease and food allergies–will be speaking and answering questions. I’ve got lots and lots of questions.

4.  The behind-the-scene fairies of FACCWDW are two smart gals who look extra cute in those wings: Laurie Sadowski and Sarah Norris. Their desire to “celebrate awareness of food allergies and celiac disease” started it all. How could I not join in?

5. There will be a nondairy ice cream buffet.

6. I get to hang with the rest of the  Blogger Street Team. People like Erica of Celiac and the Beast, Janice of The Adult Side of Disney, and Christy of Celiac 411 . . . these and all the other bloggers are people I’d like to have a glass of wine with at the end of the day–wouldn’t you? I’ll introduce you to more of the Blogger Street Team later.

7.  The sponsors of the event, including Enjoy Life Foods and Allergic Living Magazine and many others, are companies that make my food-allergic/celiac life better. I’d like to shake their hands (and yes, maybe get a free chocolate chip cookie or two from Enjoy Life).

8. Disney is known as the “gold standard” of special dietary food preparation. Not only do I get to go to an awesome convention in an awesome hotel in an awesome setting, I get to EAT and not WORRY about getting sick. Magical? I’d say so.

Disclaimer: FACCWDW is not affiliated or hosted by the Walt Disney Company, or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries.

I’ve Got Exciting News! (Hint: Big Ears) first appeared at Adventures of An Allergic Foodie.