When I was about 12 years old, I launched into a weird period in which if I ate spicy food and then I ate chocolate my upper lip began to itch and would then swell up to look like what today we would call a horrifying Botox moment. Think Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and to this day I try to avoid that combination.
But, lucky me, that—I think—has been the extent of troubles I’ve had with food, beyond loving it too much, of course. Unfortunately, a growing number of people in the U.S.—some 2 million, or one in 133—are having to live and deal with something far worse and debilitating: celiac disease. For these folks, eating habits must be reinvented. They must live without gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, because their small intestine can’t tolerate it, causing a variety of health problems including gastro-intestinal distress, bloating, fatigue and muscle aches. It’s not easy and not straightforward. They’re giving up more than conventional bread, cookies and pasta. In a world in which so much of what we eat is processed, we don’t know for sure what is added by manufacturers to seemingly safe items. Every purchase of packaged goods at a grocery store can be a potential disaster for someone suffering from celiac disease.
And, of course, for years people suffering from this disease—or from wheat allergies—have either had to avoid dining out or become a server’s worst nightmare, carefully ordering at best a grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables or something equally innocuous and then still worrying because gluten can show up in the oddest places—bread crumbs that extend tuna salad or chicken salad or a slight teaspoon of flour in an omelet. There can be cross-contamination in a kitchen and the restaurant may use packaged products that contain gluten, including items like soy sauce.
Happily, that’s changing, especially in
I was on KPBS radio’s weekday morning show These Days on Tuesday, May 26 at 10 a.m. to discuss gluten-free eating, as well as vegan and sugar-free diets. With me was Erin McKenna, a former San Diegan who now operates BabyCakes, a
I’ve been doing a fair amount of research for this so I thought I’d share my findings, although I don't pretend that this is comprehensive. If you or a loved one are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or have wheat allergies, I hope you find it helpful. And if you’ve got a great resource I’ve missed, please leave a comment so others can benefit from your knowledge.
Restaurants with Gluten-Free Menu Items
Urban Solace (printed menu of options)
Sammy's Woodfired Pizza (offers gluten-free pizza)
Ritual Tavern (has gluten-free vegan or meat shepherd's pie and many gluten-free appetizers, entrees, cider and beer)
Pizza Fusion (has gluten-free and vegan options)
Del Mar Rendezvous (has gluten-free menu with over 40 items)
Markets with Gluten-Free Products
I spent some time at Henry’s and found what looks to me to be a wealth of different items, from salad dressings to frozen meals. Everything is well marked by the store and stocked with similar conventional products. In other words, there’s no special GF section you have to find. Here are some examples of products I found:
Frozen foods: Gluten-Free Café’s Lemon-Basil Chicken, Amy’s Asian Noodle Stir Fry and Indian Paneer Tika. Bagels, bread, pizza crusts
Baking: Pamela’s Cake Mix (chocolate and vanilla), Pamela’s Frosting (chocolate and vanilla), Pamela’s Brownie Mix, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Bread Mix, Baking and Pancake Mix. Arrowhead Mills Brownie Mix, All-Purpose Baking Mix, Pancake & Baking Mix. Four Sisters & A Brother Italian Herbed Breadcrumbs. Red Mill’s vast selection of flours, a baking mix and chocolate cake mix.
Pasta: De Boles rice lasagna noodles, multi-grain angel hair, penne and spaghetti noodles. Ancient Quinoa Harvest spaghetti noodles and shells.
Cookies: Pamela’s chocolate chip mini cookies. Mi-Del ginger snaps
Salad Dressing: There was too much here to list, but included a vast array of Annie’s brand, including Natural Raspberry Vinaigrette, Red Wine and Olive Oil Vinaigrette and Artichoke Parmesan Dressing
Ethnic Foods: Thai Kitchen has a large selection of sauces and rice noodles. Patak has some Indian-style sauces including the Korma Curry, which I’ve used in the past and enjoyed.
Trader Joe’s has a wide assortment of gluten-free products. Their house products are labeled and throughout the store I found some surprising gluten-free options, including salad dressings, chutney, marinara and other tomato sauces, dips, brown rice penne pasta, brownie mix, pancake/waffle mix, granola, sausages and flourless chocolate walnut cookies. I saw the same brown rice bread I bought at Henry's, only on the shelf, not frozen, and less expensive. Look on the shelves for blue tags with a "G" "Gluten-Free" on them. And, here is their list of gluten-free store items, edited as of May 20, 2009.
OB People’s Co-Op has a wide variety of gluten-free products and a staff well-versed in helping customers identify what will work for them.
GNI Bakery in
thepurepantry.com is a website launched by a San Diegan selling gluten-free baking mixes.
Gluten-Free Mall offers a vast selection of products for celiac diets.
Take a look at the big supermarkets, too, but you'll have to look hard. I spent some time at the Ralphs in Hillcrest. They carry a wide selection of Bob's Red Mill products and some Arrowhead Mills gluten-free products. But only one Thai Kitchen packaged meal is labeled gluten-free. Be careful with the Annie's condiments. While the selection that Henry's carries has a number of gluten-free products, read the labels carefully at Ralphs.
For basic information on celiac disease:
On Being Gluten Free:
Living Without magazine
Artist and cookbook writer Karina Allrich has become a friend and is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve come to know in this arena. Her blog is filled with wonderful recipes and resources, like her gluten-free cheat-sheet. She recently launched a gluten-free recipe search engine on Google and has put together and hosted a marathon gluten-free Twitter party, which you can find on Twitter by searching #gfree.
Shauna Ahern has also been at the forefront of blogging about being gluten free. She’s the author of the book, Gluten-Free Girl. Her blog has a wealth of information and online resources for those with celiac disease. Definitely worth bookmarking.
Vegetarian/Vegan: Some people who are gluten free are also exploring vegetarian and vegan options. Many of these same San Diego markets and restaurants also have vegan options. You can find lists of these at:
All Vegan Shopping website (includes a downloadable PDF of a vegetarian dining guide)
Urban Spoon (includes reader reviews and blog resources)
Happy Cow Compassionate Eating Guide (includes reader reviews)
- Read labels carefully and be on the lookout for wheat, rye, barley, spelt, wheat starch and commercial oats, according to Karina Allrich. “Oats themselves are okay, but those that are commercially grown tend to contain gluten because of cross-contamination,” she explains. “Some small farmers like Bob’s Red Mill are carefully growing oats to give people the option of eating them.”
- When in doubt about a packaged product, look on the label for the customer care or information number for the manufacturer and call to find out if the product is truly gluten free.
- Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. That’s where you’ll find produce, dairy and meats. It’s the center aisles with processed foods that prove difficult and dangerous.
- Enjoy grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Try sorghum flour with its lovely, grassy flavor.
- Ask questions when dining out. Find out if the chef adds anything like flour to egg dishes or breadcrumbs to tuna salad or chicken salad. Many restaurants now have gluten-free menus on request, so be sure to ask if they're available.
- Don’t assume that because spelt is low in gluten that you can eat it or that someone with celiac disease or a wheat allergy can. Allrich says that the equivalent of 1/10th of a grain of rice could set off a sensitive auto-immune system. Low gluten isn't no gluten; it doesn’t help and could make someone very ill.
- Make sure you keep gluten-free items and conventional items completely separate and well labeled so you don’t inadvertently cross-contaminate the gluten-free products.
Note: If you'd like a copy of BabyCakes, please leave a comment below. I have two copies to give two readers. Tell me your experiences with gluten-free, vegan or sugar-free eating, shopping for food and dining out. More resources? Let us know! The deadline is Friday, June 5 at 5 p.m. PDT. I'll randomly select two readers who have left a comment.