Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie’s Strategies

I’ve been eating out a lot since arriving on Hilton Head Island about a month ago and I haven’t had any bad reactions–just a few mild GI symptoms. I consider this a victory. After all, with over 20 food allergies as well as celiac disease it’s pretty tough  finding gluten-free and allergy-free entrees on a menu. During past trips to the island, I spent many days curled up in a ball with stomach pain while my family was on the golf course or riding bikes on the beach. So what’s making this stay different?

For one, I’m picking safer restaurants and avoiding the “bad ones.” I read online what other allergic foodies say about a prospective restaurant and check out the celiac and allergy apps. I also review the online menus.  People in the south fry everything from octopus to tomatoes, so I look for menus featuring lots of local fish and salads. If I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to order safely, I call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager or chef. By the time the hostess greets us, I usually know what I’ll be ordering.

Sadly, I’m finding more and more restaurants are cooking with vegetable oil because it’s cheap. Many waiters aren’t aware that vegetable oil is soy oil or a combination of soy and another oil.  I react horribly to both soy and corn oil.  One of the first questions I ask a restaurant–even ones I’ve been to in the recent past–is what oil they use for cooking. I also ask about any “fake butter” they may use. I make it clear that I cannot have a drop of vegetable oil.  While many celiacs avoid Italian restaurants because of the flour used in pasta and pizza, I’ve actually had some of my best meals in Italian restaurants. One of my favorites on the island is OMBRA Cucina Rustica. The chefs cook with olive oil and the menu offers lots of delicious gluten-free and dairy-free options.

Another reason I’m not getting sick as often is because I’ve started taking my own dressings and sauces. My go-to meal for lunch is a salad with shrimp or salmon or grilled chicken. I’ve gotten sick so many times from the salad dressing–even homemade dressings from upscale restaurants–that I just don’t want to take a chance anymore.  I carry a small container of dressing with me. If I’ve forgotten, I ask for olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar. As a last resort, I’ll use fresh lemon on my salad.

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I eat a lot of salads so I’m thrilled when one looks like this one!

Last night we tried One Hot Mamma’s American Grille for the first time because I knew they offered gluten-free ribs. (I also was a fan of Orchid Paulmeier when she was on Season 7 of Food Network Star.) I asked for my ribs dry as I’d brought along some Bone Suckin’ Sauce with me. Our server was well-informed about allergies and took my request for no dairy, soy, or gluten seriously. However, when my ribs arrived, they were covered in barbecue sauce (no dairy, gluten or soy). I’d neglected to tell him I was also allergic to corn, which was likely in the catsup they used. While my husband and son immensely enjoyed the saucy ribs, I waited for a rack without sauce (also delish!).  In the south, restaurants cook with a lot of corn starch–I’ve learned this the hard way.  Cornbread and corn on the cob are often featured on menus. This is great for my younger son who has celiac, but not for me.

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Jamaican Jerk Bowl from PURE Natural Market in Hilton Head.

I also have better luck sitting at the bar and ordering from bartenders who are typically full-time professionals and not summertime staff.  We always tip well for good allergy-free service. After coming here for so many years, many of the bartenders know me and my allergies by name.

When I’m in new places, I look for ethnic, farm-to-table and vegetarian/vegan restaurants. There weren’t a lot of options on the island back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed, but there sure are now. One of my recent discoveries is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Delisheeeyo. I order the “Happy Wrap”–veggies wrapped in rice paper with an apple cider vinaigrette.

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The Happy Wrap with gluten-free rice paper at Delisheeeyo.

Pure Natural Market offers lots of Jamaican-influenced allergy-friendly options. I saw a new place called Healthy Habit out by the airport, which I hope to go to before we head back to Colorado Springs. We also now have a Kroger (42 Shelter Cove Lane) with a huge “health-food department” as well as a Whole Foods (50 Shelter Cove Lane). This makes it easy to pick up quick and safe meals for beach picnics.

It’s taken me many years–and many good and not-so-good experiences –to learn how to dine out safely.  If you have a tip for safe restaurant eating, or want to share a good or bad restaurant experience, please comment below.

“Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie Shares Strategies” first appeared at “Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.”

Not All Celiacs Are Skinny

When the doctor confirmed I had celiac disease AND allergies to dairy, corn, eggs, soy, and a bunch of other foods, the first thing I thought was What would I eat?  The second thing that popped into my mind was At least I’ll lose weight! Trying to shed pounds for decades, I figured all those food restrictions would surely make that horrid digital scale go down.

That was eight years ago and I’m still overweight. This embarrasses me. I’m the person who orders grilled salmon or chicken and a salad with olive oil and lemon, yet I’m the fattest one at the table.

IMG_4321My weight also makes me angry and a little depressed. I mean if I can’t eat cheesecake and lasagna for the rest of my life, let me at least look good in a pair of skinny jeans.

Before diagnosis and for a long time afterwards–while I was learning how to eat sans gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn–food didn’t last long in my body, if you know what I mean. So one would naturally assume, I’d lose weight. Nope. Didn’t happen.

So I went to see a nutritionist. After much testing, she said I was malnourished. This seemed funny considering my pant size was creeping up. She put me on a nutrient-rich diet with much more protein than I’d been consuming and I felt great for the first time in years.

But I didn’t lose weight.

Okay, time to come clean. During these early years of food-restricted eating, I did test the gluten-free products. I mean I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I’d never eat pizza or a croissant or an omelet ever again. So when I came across a processed gluten-free product that was also dairy-free and soy-free, I had to give it a try. Prime example: Amy’s Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze  Plus companies kept sending me free food in hopes of a blog review. I had to eat them–it was part of my job.

IMG_3129 2Turns out a lot of those allergy-friendly treats are high in calories, fat, carbs, and sugar. That Amy’s Mac & Cheeze? 400 calories, 16 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 47 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar. Sure my metabolism was out of whack,  but those gluten-free/soy-free/diary-free chocolate chips I popped into my mouth weren’t helping either.

Also turns out I’m not the only fat celiac. A 2008 study from Northern Ireland found weight gain is common in patients following a strict gluten-free diet. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center summarized three possible explanations for weight gain based on this study as well as some other European studies (Impact, Spring 2008, Vol. 8, Issue 2).

First, when the small intestine heals after eliminating gluten, nutrients are absorbed more normally. Dietary  carbohydrates, proteins and fats then contribute calories to the body. For many celiacs who lose too much weight, this is a desirable outcome. For those of us struggling with too many pounds, not so much.

Another possibility for packing on the pounds is gluten-free substitutes often contain higher amounts of fats and sugars than the wheat/gluten versions. So many of us food-restricted folks are so busy reading the labels for gluten and allergens that we forget to check for calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. I have also noticed potion sizes for gluten-free foods are often smaller than foods with gluten, and I eat two servings instead of one. Oops.

Finally, adults with malabsorption from undiagnosed and active celiac disease may consume more food and not gain weight. Once on the gluten-free diet, they may find they must eat less to maintain a healthy diet. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I was often hungry–food never stayed in me long–and I even craved the very foods that I later learned were making me ill. After diagnosis of celiac and food allergies, I felt so restricted I didn’t really look at how much I was eating. Sometimes, especially when I travelled, I overate because I never knew when my next meal might come. Sure, I often ordered the salad or the plain burger without a bun, but I also grabbed that bag of gluten-free potato chips in case I got hungry later.

IMG_4307I’ve come to realize I can’t keep blaming my tight pants on a broken metabolism. Starting WeightWatchers last summer–Is this my third time?–was a game changer. I began to start paying attention to the portions of the allergy-free food I put on my plate. Rather than just examining labels for caramel coloring and maltodextrin, I paid attention to the nutritional labels as well. With WeightWatchers allotting me 30 points to eat each day, whole foods are much better choices than processed foods such as Amy’s Rice Mac and Non-Dairy Cheeze (16 points!). I now know the dairy-free yogurt, the agave nectar I added to my morning coffee, even the Ruby Red Grapefruit in juice I ate as a “healthy snack” are all loaded with sugar.

I’m losing around two pounds a week and feeling better than I have in years. The WeightWatchers program encourages me to track everything I put in my mouth and it’s been easier pinpointing what foods contain an ingredient I react to. For example, I thought I could eat a little corn but every time I eat citric acid derived from corn I feel sick. No more citric acid for me.

I’m not endorsing WeightWatchers here, but I am suggesting if you’re food-restricted yet struggling with unwanted pounds, you may want to take a closer look at those allergy-friendly food labels and the amount of food you’re consuming.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Not All Celiacs Are Skinny” first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings and Morsels from an Allergic Foodie (1-22-15)

I photographed this morning’s shadows on the snow-covered mountains before I’d even had a cup of coffee. If I waited too long, the sun would shift and the view would change.

Musings and Morsels of an Allergic Foodie (!-22-15)

I’ve been reminded this week to appreciate life’s moments. Life as you know it can change in an instant.

A friend I met through blogging, Kathryn Chastain Treat, passed away a few days before Christmas. Her daughter posted this news on Kathryn’s blog.  Though I’d never met Kathryn in person, she was more of a friend than some people I see daily. We supported each other through emails and Tweets and Facebook posts. I got to know Kathryn and her family while reading  her book, Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope. She was a vibrant and healthy woman until toxic mold changed her life forever. Learning about how she was forced to live in physical isolation made my food allergies and celiac disease seem silly. However, she never made me feel that way. Kathryn always had a kind word to say. I will miss her.

Kathryn Treat, Author

Kathryn C. Treat, author of Allergic to Life

I encourage you to read Kathryn’s book. You can find it on Amazon.

Book trailer for Allergic to Life

My reviews: Part I and Part II.

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Last week I wrote about the hidden risks of vegetable oil and received many insightful comments. Several readers shared their horrific experiences of anaphylactic reactions when restaurants served them food prepared in the wrong cooking oil. Please don’t just ask what cooking oil the restaurant uses–ask to see the bottle. If the restaurant doesn’t want to show you, leave. Don’t take a chance.

In this same post, I shared my frustration with highly refined soybean oil and soy lecithin being excluded from the FDA’s allergen labeling requirements. Some of you only react to soybean protein, but others of you are highly sensitive like I am. Maya Trimner of Maya’s Happy Place sent me this petition asking the FDA to include all soy derivatives in food and drug allergen labeling.

Anyone with any food allergies understands the consequences of eating the wrong food. Please won’t you sign this petition and share with your followers?

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Enough musing . . . . time for a morsel!

I’ve been wanting to share this new product since our lunch was served in it at the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention last November.

Solvetta: Flat Box-Lunch Box

This lunch box unzips and lays flat, serving as a place mat. As an Allergic Foodie who travels a lot, I love that I can keep my eating surface clean and free of potential allergens. Think about those disgusting airplane trays and the tailgate of your car. I also take my allergen-free meal into fast-food restaurants where my husband eats. Now I don’t have to worry about asking the restaurant folks to wipe down the tables. They especially like doing this when they see I’ve brought my own food. These Flat Box-Lunch Box are great for students, too.

Visit Solvetta’s website to see all the sizes and colors and order yours. I got pink.

In closing, remember to appreciate the moments.

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.

Start the New Year with Udi’s Gluten Free–Enter Giveaway Today!

The Udi’s Gluten Free “care packages” arrived just in time for the College Celiac’s Christmas Break. It’s been a rough four years, trying to adapt to life with celiac disease while being away from home. Okay, truth be told, it’s been harder on me than him. I worried if he was eating enough nutritious foods.

So I was thrilled to introduce my son to new foods from a company I trust. These burritos were a hit. He added Cholula Hot Sauce. What is it with college boys and Cholula?

Udi's Gluten Free has eight varieties of burritos. Allergens: Egg, Dairy, Corn

Udi’s Gluten Free has eight varieties of burritos. Allergens: Egg, Dairy, Corn

Based on the dirty dishes I woke up to on several mornings, the Udi’s Gluten Free Plain Tortillas were also quite good.

These tortillas come in small and large. Dairy, soy and nut free. Allergens: egg.

These tortillas come in small and large. Dairy, soy and nut free. Allergens: egg.

For those of you who are regular readers, you know I’m not much of a baker. Thankfully, Udi’s provided the College Celiac with treats this holiday: Snicker Doodle Cookies and Dark Chocolate Brown Bites (both soy and nut free). I have no photos because they disappeared so quickly.  And someone only left one  Double Vanilla Muffin.

Who ate all the Udi's Gluten Free Muffins?!

Who ate all the Udi’s Gluten Free Muffins?!

My plan was to add berries on top of the muffins with some whipped cream.  In fact, I’d planned on creating several of the terrific ideas Udi’s Gluten Free pinned on Pinterest, but then the other hungry son with food allergies came home.

For Christmas dinner, I served Udi’s Classic French Dinner Rolls. Even my husband–the Eater of Everything–said they were delicious.

New French Roll from Udi's is dairy, soy and nut free. Allergens: egg and corn

New French Roll from Udi’s is dairy, soy and nut free. Allergens: egg and corn

Udi’s also has a new French Baguette that I’m planning to serve with split pea soup this evening. The boys are rallying for baguette pizza.

When I post Instagram photos of  my meals using Udi’s foods, I’m often asked where followers can buy Udi’s. Udi’s started in Colorado and I live in Colorado, yet many of my stores don’t carry the foods Udi’s offers.  If you go to their website catalog, there is a link to either order the products or find a store near you that carry the items. I suggest you ask the manager at your favorite grocery store to start carrying Udi’s; sometimes there is a form you can fill out.

Okay, so now that I have your mouth watering, I bet you’re wondering how you can enter to win one of Udi’s holiday prize packs or coupons for free product. It’s quite easy–just click here.

Good luck. And may you have a happy, healthy gluten-free New Year.

Udi's Gluten Free Giveaway

 

Start the New Year with Udi’s Gluten Free–Enter Giveaway Todayfirst appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie

Flashback Tuesday: I’m enjoying the holidays with my family as I hope you are. This post appeared last year. The appetizers from my friend’s party were a hit. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays to you and your family.

It took another Amy–my friend Amy Brown–to teach me it’s okay to serve your nonallergic guests allergy-friendly foods.

Maybe it comes from having a husband who has yet to embrace gluten-free, dairy-free foods (to be fair, he doesn’t have to) that makes me think everyone else will feel the same way he does: Not going to try it if  I don’t have to.

So I often go to the trouble of serving “regular” food at our social gatherings. A few years ago when we moved into our new home, I hosted a potluck open house where everyone brought an appetizer.  As you might guess, there was very little for me to eat.

Then last year I hosted a holiday cookie exchange. I figured this was a fun way for my kids and my husband to get treats without me having to touch a stick of butter or sift flour. Ironically, it was over Christmas break last year that my younger son realized gluten was making him sick and my oldest son gave up everything dairy.

So when this holiday season came around,  I decided to skip hosting a party. With our sons home, I just didn’t want to have foods around that they couldn’t enjoy.  And frankly, I didn’t want to do all the work of preparing both allergy-free and regular foods.

Then I went to Amy Brown’s party.  Take a look at this table of yummy appetizers:

Delicious appetizers for an allergic foodie

Photo by Amy Brown

 

The food was incredible!  Amy and her husband, Brandon, follow a “Whole30” diet, eliminating grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. This made many of the appetizers free of  gluten, soy, and dairy!  They did include some macaroni and cheese the kids devoured and deviled eggs that my husband devoured.

My favorite appetizer was incredibly simple: A BLT on a toothpick!

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomatoe Appetizer

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Then there were these adorable olive penguins.

Gluten-free treats

And the zucchini wrapped around sausage with pesto and olive oil were fabulous.

Delicious sausage/zuchinnin wraps

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Amy also made several types of dips, including one with eggplant and red peppers that she found at She Cooks . . . He Cleans  (recipe follows). I’m not a big fan of eggplant, but I’ll be making this dip soon.  I eat a lot of veggies and hummus, so–cover your ears, Amy–I wasn’t that excited to try the black bean hummus. But I did, and it was delish!

And who wouldn’t want to eat their veggies when presented this way?

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Amy also served the gluten-free crackers on a separate plate and labeled them!

None of the guests seemed to notice the appetizers were “different” or “allergy-free” or “gluten-free.”  The food was just good . . . actually, better than good.  And oh so cute.

Roasted Egg Plant and Red Pepper Dip

(Note this recipe includes sesame seeds)

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to start with…)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • juice of one lemon
  • lots more good extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the eggplant up into 1-inch square pieces.  (Before cutting, I like to take off some of the skin in stripes around the eggplant.  Up to you.)   Cut the red bell peppers into 1 inch strips.  Toss the eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper.

Spread the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place the vegetables in a food processor; add the tahini, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, and another glug (or two) of olive oil.  Process in pulses until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Try to avoid over-processing or it will become paste-like in texture.)

Drizzle with more olive oil on top, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic FoodieRoasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip originally appeared at She Cooks . . . He Cleans.  Thank you to Amy Brown for sharing these treats and photos.