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.

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.

Food Allergies have many symptoms

We Didn’t All Grow Up with Food Allergies

Sitting at the hotel bar during a recent food allergy conference I was surprised–no, shocked– when two mothers of food-allergic children told me that adults shouldn’t need help coping with their allergies. They were wondering why I was at the conference. Now before you get angry, let me explain their side. They assumed all adults with food allergies had developed them as children. Hence, by adulthood, food-allergic folks should be experienced–physically and emotionally–at handling restrictions and reactions.

Imagine! I had no idea some people thought this way! Of course, I quickly took this opportunity to tell them how wrong they were.

I explained people can develop food allergies and celiac disease and other health issues requiring food restrictions at any time in life. I shared that my symptoms started in my late thirties, though it took nearly ten years to find out multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis were the cause.

My kids ate everything–and I mean everything!–when they were little. Their food issues developed as teens. My oldest son realized dairy and eggs were off-limits in high school, and my youngest started showing signs of celiac disease his first year in college. I also mentioned one of my adult friends couldn’t eat dairy and gluten due to Crohn’s Disease and another developed life-threatening reactions to many foods in her thirties. Oh, and by the way, one of my favorite attendees at the conference was a spunky senior citizen with over 40 recently diagnosed food allergies and intolerances.

Adult with 40+ Allergies

After we were all on our second glass of wine, I may have suggested that getting diagnosed with food allergies as an adult may actually be more difficult than being diagnosed as a child. What I was trying to say is the food-allergic adults needed the conference as much as the parents of food-allergic kids did.  Figuring out all the foods containing soy, dairy, gluten and corn fell on my shoulders–I didn’t have mom and dad to guide me. My young adult sons taught themselves how to negotiate school cafeterias and participate in social activities with peers who didn’t get that food could make them horribly sick. My oldest even figured out how to eat dairy- and egg-free in Italy, the land of pizza and cheese.  After years of not needing to worry about allergy-friendly menus, or planes with peanuts, or explaining to family members why they couldn’t double-dip, becoming  “the weird person who can’t eat anything” is like being a foreigner in a new land–yet the doctors don’t offer any counseling.

I think the women were kind of tired of me by then. They wanted to get back to talking about preschools and camps. But this conversation opened my eyes to how some people may view adults with food allergies.  Will a waiter or chef who thinks I’ve managed celiac disease all my life  have a false sense of security that I know what I’m doing when ordering my food? Will my co-workers and friends not believe me when I become sick from food; after all, shouldn’t I know how to eat by now? My own mother doesn’t understand my health issues because I didn’t have food allergies as a child, so how can I expect strangers to understand?

Fortunately, there are those out there who do get it. The next few blog posts will focus on resources for teens and adults, starting with Erica Brahan’s “A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.” Gotta love the title.

Please be sure to let me know of any resources I miss. And remember, I do know how difficult a later-in-life diagnosis is–I am here to help.

We Didn’t All Grow Up with Food Allergies first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus

Ten days ago I posted a photo on Instagram of an awesome gluten-free pizza using Udi’s Gluten-Free crust that I enjoyed at Flatiron’s American Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant for over six months because all I could ever order was salad. You all know what that’s like.

Some Restaurants Shouldn't Have Gluten-Free Menus

So imagine my surprise when I learned Flatiron’s now had a huge gluten-free menu that could also accommodate my dairy and soy and corn allergies. We’d just picked the College Celiac up from the airport and I was thrilled we went to Flatiron’s because he could eat safely. I even tweeted my appreciation. The restaurant is locally owned and I like to support neighborhood businesses.

Last night I was craving that pizza. So my husband and I went to Flatiron’s and I ordered the exact pizza I ordered ten days earlier: Veggie pizza but substitute the poblano peppers and garlic for pepperoni. I clearly stated that I was celiac and needed the pizza to be as clean as possible.

The pizza arrives with cheese, which was entirely my fault. I sometimes forget pizza typically comes with cheese! I send the pizza back and the next one arrives with no cheese and no pepperoni. Overcooked, barely any sauce, it tastes awful. And I know that Udi’s Gluten-Free pizza crust tastes good when cooked correctly.

I whip out my camera and show the ten-day-old Instagram pizza photo to the manager who says matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like our gluten-free crust, it looks like our regular crust.”

Here’s a photo of the one I got last night. The only difference I see is this one is overcooked and lacking sauce and pepperoni.

Bad Gluten-Free Pizza at Flatiron's

I turn to my husband. “So I guess I can eat gluten now.” I was being sarcastic. It was late and I was hungry.

The manager says, “Maybe you’re not allergic anymore, I’ve heard that can happen.”

I just stared at my husband with my mouth wide open. Here is a manager of a restaurant with a huge gluten-free menu–they even advertise 20 percent off gluten-free items on Thursdays–who clearly has no understanding of celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

I should have said something like, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with over 300 symptoms and it is not reversible. The only cure is to not eat gluten.” But at that point, I just wanted to go home and get in my jammies and heat up a can of soup.  We left cash to cover our wines and bolted out the door.

Of course, as soon as I got home I tweeted about my bad experience.

People jumped to my defense and were appalled by the manager’s ignorance.  I just love my Twitter friends.

So here is what I woke up this morning thinking: If a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, every single employee must be educated and trained. They must understand what celiac disease and food allergies are, and why preventing cross-contamination is so important. They must understand that one wrong ingredient can be life-threatening. They must take their customers’ health concerns seriously.

Otherwise, don’t even bother offering a gluten-free or allergy-friendly menu.

I’d rather order that boring old salad than risk getting sick. I certainly don’t want my youngest son with celiac disease and my oldest with dairy and egg allergies to think they are ordering safely when they aren’t.

Ten days ago, I thought I’d re-discovered a restaurant I could eat in. Obviously I was wrong. Just because a restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there. I’m pretty sure this restaurant, like so many others, jumped on the gluten-free diet movement to make a profit. If they are serious about serving their celiac and allergic customers, they’ll immediately remove the gluten-free menu while they get proper training for the waitstaff and the chefs and the managers. This experience makes me question every restaurant’s reason for offering gluten-free choices–unless I see a certification from a third-party or talk to a manager who clearly “gets it,” I won’t feel safe dining out.

Here’s the other thing that bothers me about this whole experience. As a blogger and social media guru, I recommended this restaurant to my celiac and food-allergic brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks after doing so, I realized this is not a safe restaurant to eat in. So should I stop reviewing restaurants and posting food photos on Instagram? I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Oh, and by the way, I did get sick the next morning–even after eating one small piece of the pizza.

Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus appeared first on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

The Allergic Foodie Rap

The Allergic Food Rap

 

See those  girls at the bar banning gluten to look fit?

They’ve got no clue how rye and wheat make a celiac sick.

They sip their Skinny Girl martinis and Omission beer,

Feeling like Gwyneth Paltrow when it was cool to be her.

Even Dr. Oz can’t decide if gluten-free is good or bad,

But smart chefs sure know how to profit on a fad.

Every corner restaurant got wheat-free spaghetti,

Even the waiters say no bread’s made them skinny.

“Well good for you,” An Allergic Foodie wanna say,

“I haven’t lost a pound since eating this way.”

Neither can the girl eat dairy, corn and soy–all make her sick.

Ah, yes dude, take out your pen and pad–this isn’t a trick.

This girl’s diet has nothing to do with the media craze,

For most, this gluten-free thing is just another phase.

But after the gluten-free menus are long gone,

A.F.’s need for A.F. food will still be goin’ strong.

So treat her right–don’t give that girl food without checking

That nothing she eats will be a reaction in the making.

Your tip will reflect the attention you’ve given,

To make sure that girl leaves your restaurant livin’.

But see those girls at the bar skippin’ the crackers?

They don’t get how for celiacs gluten-free matters.

At the end a meal, celiacs will pass on the cake.

But NOT  the girls at the bar cuz their GF diets are fake.

(C) Amy E. Tracy

The Allergic Foodie Rap originally appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Symptoms and Celiac

Not All of Us Want to Share Our Symptoms

I explained to the white-coated chef at the Marriott Residence Inn that I had celiac disease and a bunch of food allergies so I couldn’t eat the potatoes cooked in butter or the eggs or the yogurt or the cereal.

While I scooped fresh blueberries from the waffle station to top my Bakery on Main oatmeal, she circled me like paparazzi around Gwyneth Paltrow.

I knew what was coming.

“What are your symptoms?” she asked loud enough to make my husband cringe.

I looked around the room full of men and women in business attire and families with young children on school break and said softly, “Unpleasant ones.”

Now I have no problem talking about celiac disease and food allergies. After all, I spill my guts in this blog (pun intended). Of course, you may  notice I hide behind a lemon in sunglasses.

But if I’m in public, I’d rather not talk about my bathroom habits. And I’m almost positive these people eating their bagels and cream cheese didn’t want to hear about my flatulence and IBS.

This gal was relentless. “How unpleasant?”

Really? You really want me to talk about my diarrhea and painful cramps before I’ve even had a cup of coffee?  I glared at her. “I experience gastrointestinal issues.”

She got it. Finally.

Blushing, she said, “Oh, I just asked because I have eczema and people tell me maybe I should go off gluten.”

Why didn’t she just say that!

“Have you gone off gluten to see if it helps?”

“I probably should,” she said. “But I couldn’t possibly live without bread and pasta.”

May is Celiac Awareness Month

Let me share another story.

We are at a restaurant and the waiter asks what kind of allergy I have: “Is it the kind that makes you run to the bathroom, or run to the hospital?”

I know what you’re thinking: I’m making this up. I wish!

I could have told this waiter–who happened to look like one of those bronzed guys with the abs of steel in middle-of-the-night infomercials–if I eat even a crop of the sauce with the cream, I will spend the next three days glued to the toilet seat.  I could–and probably should–have told him it didn’t matter what kind of allergy I have–both symptoms are bad. If I continue to get sick from restaurants like his, I could get cancer.

Actually, I can’t remember what I said.  I’m pretty sure I went to the bar and ordered a goblet of wine, and my husband ordered me a plain filet with olive oil, salt and pepper and steamed broccoli (my go-to-allergy-safe meal).

Food Allergies have many symptoms

Now some people–I can think of several of my fellow bloggers–can easily speak out about their bathroom habits. Erica Dermer has a chapter in her book, Celiac and the Beast, titled “Let’s Talk About Butts: A Story of a Girl, Her Rectum, and the Scope That Loved Her.”  Erica probably wasn’t raised by a mother who ordered “chicken chest” for dinner, as I was.

Ironically, Erica doesn’t have the nasty GI symptoms that many of us do. In the first line of her book, she says, “I wish I could tell you that if I ate a bowl of Pasta Roni right now, I would swiftly crap my pants. I only wish this because then you would plainly see that something is very, very wrong with my insides.”

Erica goes on to say that her symptoms appear days or weeks later–sores in her mouth, a swollen tongue, extreme tiredness. “I experience the same life post-gluten as every other celiac,” she writes.

While we all are in this together, our symptoms may be similar and different. Celiac disease has over 300 symptoms! 300!  Throwing food allergies into the mix only complicates matters.  Your autoimmune system reacts to proteins in foods differently from my autoimmune system.

So when a waiter, a chef, your spouse’s boss, or someone in the grocery store checkout line who sees you buying Udi’s gluten-free bread asks you what your symptoms are, feel free to share if you like. But I prefer telling them to go to one of these websites:

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)

Fare has recently launched SafeFare, a resource center to make dining out safer

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

Make sure you print out NFCA’s Celiac Awareness Month 2014 Toolkit

* * *

May is Celiac Awareness Month, and Food Allergy Awareness Week starts May 11, 2014.  Please share information about celiac disease and food allergies–especially symptoms so people will stop embarrassing An Allergic Foodie.

Not All of Us Want to Share Our Symptoms first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Doesn't always pay to be polite when you have food allergies

The Evolution of An Allergic Foodie

Lady in food counter overhears An Allergic Foodie regurgitate her litany of allergies and says: I would just die if I couldn’t eat cheese!

An Allergic Foodie smiles politely because her mother taught her if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Waitress at upscale restaurant: How do you not eat bread and butter?  (She may have really been thinking, You look like you eat a lot of bread and butter.)

An Allergic Foodie smiles politely because her mother taught her if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Cafeteria server during son’s college tour: Lady, you sure are picky.

An Allergic Foodie smiles politely so as not to embarrass teenage son and because she taught him if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Waitress at Japanese Restaurant: You can eat the tofu (I’d just told her I was allergic to soy).

An Allergic Foodie smiles, stands up, loudly tells the waitress that tofu is soy, tells the manager he needs to train his staff, then stomps out of the restaurant because her mother never had to cope with food allergies or celiac disease.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, LEAVE THE RESTAURANT.

The Evolution of An Allergic Foodie first appeared at Adventures of An Allergic Foodie.