Thoughts On Life Gluten-Free

by Valerie on May 31, 2012 · 8 comments

Lately I have been thinking a lot about life gluten-free – some of it is the controversy surrounding Domino’s (not-really) gluten-free pizza and the many thoughtful blog posts surrounding it, including Alta’s, Shirley’s, Debi’s and Linda’s (be sure to also check out Jules (of Jules Gluten Free) and the interview on this topic this month). Some of it is because May is also National Celiac Awareness month.  Some of it is the 10 Days of Gluten-Free series that Linda sponsored with several other bloggers is pretty fabulous.

Really though, this post has been brewing for several weeks, ever since I realized that I did not feel quite right after eating Food for Life’s Brown Rice Tortillas.  It took me a while to realize it too – after all, those tortillas were on the list of foods that I had eaten ever since switching to a gluten-free diet 3+ years ago.  I always felt fine.  Initially I ascribed the not-quite-right-feeling to stress, since I was not eating out nor had eaten something new.  And then I read Debi’s post on the topic, and Shirley’s link to this alert, and I realized that this was not about stress.   The tortillas were one of the few packaged products I relied upon, especially in long weeks where I was low on time, and I had been relying them even more than usual.  I knew Food for LIfe products were not GFCo certified, but I had also trusted the brand, considering they had been around for a long time, before many other gluten-free brands. I stopped eating the tortillas, and then decided to see how it would play out. Would there be a change to their website? An apology? An acknowledgment? Announcement of the company seeking GF certification?

gfco

I heard nothing from the company.  I do not plan to ever purchase a product from them again.  The episode was a good reminder of reviewing what I bought that was gluten-free certified (most packaged goods) versus not. I don’t worry about fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, but I do pay close attention of things like nuts and seeds, gluten-free grains and pretty much anything that runs through a product line and is packaged.  Gluten-free certification is more important to me if the facility also handles gluten than if the facility is entirely gluten free – for example, the last time I checked, one of my favorite brands, Lundberg, is still not gluten-free certified, but operates a gluten-free facility and has a strong demonstrated commitment to gluten-free.

My goal is to focus on brands that do not pay lip service to gluten-free.  Yes, it about my health and making sure I don’t eat gluten, but it is also about supporting brands that are doing it right.  I was thrilled when Nuts.com published their gluten-free policy. Many of their products are gluten-free certified.  I know it means that any nuts, seeds (or beans or gluten-free flours or snacks) I order from them is truly safe and that they have worked up the supply chain to figure out what is gluten-free (it will be a very happy day for me when they stock more dried beans.  Life gluten-free is not just about finding naturally gluten-free things (like rice) but it is also about focusing on sources of cross-contamination. 

What does that mean for eating out? Obviously I cannot apply the exact same strategy as for the home food shopping.  Instead,  I view eating out as rolling a die every single time. I figure it is all about rolling the die intelligently, because I don’t want to giving up eating out. It is wonderful that many restaurants are offering gluten-free options, but gluten free can mean different things in terms of avoiding cross-contamination. Some restaurants have dedicated gluten-free station, but many do not. Rice at one restaurant may be completely cross contaminated, while at another it could be pristine and truly gluten-free. I have to rely on others to tell me that (also, given the choice between a baked potato and rice, I will always go for the baked potato). I am going to continue to be smart about eating out i.e. seeking out restaurants with dedicated stations, knowledgeable kitchen staff, well-trained wait-staff, and largely naturally gluten-free menus (I figure, the less gluten in a place, the better).

I am still learning lots of things about life gluten-free. Some things I wish I had known earlier on:

  • Do not shop from bulk bins, ever, as cross-contamination can be rife.
  • Get tested for gluten intolerance and Celiac’s before you stop eating gluten – no matter that your doctor tells you reintroduction later for testing can be done. I feel like my health regressed by 6 months when I did the reintroduction.
  • There is value in seeking out gluten-free grains that are not cross-contaminated (this piece by Cheryl is helpful)
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda June 1, 2012 at 3:30 am

Valerie, you’re right. There has been a lot to think about. I have bought more processed foods since my son went gf. He and I are both pretty sensitive so I mostly stick to certified companies or companies who only do gluten free. But there is still some risk because both my son and I have reacted to products that are GFCO certified. Whether the product was above 10 ppm (which could happen simply due to margin of error) or we can’t handle that amount, I don’t know. However, one case in particular, we did fine with the product numerous times before reacting. Once you react to something or even think you did, it’s so hard to try it again.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post and for the link love. :)

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2 Valerie June 3, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Linda, that is helpful to hear – I am sorry you and your son have reacted to GFCO certified products. I actually had a reaction once after eating something GFCO and ascribed it to dairy cross contamination, but now am wondering if maybe it was gluten. One thing I have noticed is that I do particularly well with raw packaged products (ie dehydrated crackers and kale chips and cookies) that are GFCO certified. My theory is that since raw cuisine is so low in gluten to begin with, there is even less likelihood of cross contamination.

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3 Debi June 1, 2012 at 3:41 am

It’s amazing how companies/agencies will stay silent when they know they are in the wrong. I wrote The Cheesecake Factory a rather scathing complaint 1 1/2 years ago when their gf cheesecake listed in their allergen menu wasn’t really gf because they changed what they sprinkled on it at the factory, so it came to the restaurant like that. Luckily, the server knew this and told me not to order it. Problem was, I was looking forward to it so much that I nearly started crying at the table.

It just drives me mad, too, when I feel like I’ve eaten gluten on accident and having to dissect everything I’ve eaten, put on my hands, and put on my face to pinpoint it. And those tortillas. I’ve not touched anything from Food For Life since then. Not that I bought the tortillas or English Muffins a lot.

(thanks for sharing)

:D

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4 Valerie June 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Yes, I have no plans to ever eat something from Food for Life. It also takes out several dishes at a couple of restaurants here in DC that do use their products, but that’s fine. So not worth the risk.

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5 Shirley @ gfe June 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Thanks so much for this post, Valerie, and for sharing my link. I’ve been more troubled this month than at any time during my gluten-free life, even during the initial period when I was clueless and overwhelmed. I’m appalled at the behavior of so many companies, like Food for Life who is totally ignoring the test results and still saying on its website that they’ve never had any complaints, and Domino’s for coming up with a way to sell “gf” pizza that’s anything but. I’m appalled at the attitude of “gluten-free” individuals are who are giving kudos to companies like Domino’s for either stating the obvious (that their products are not safe) or for making “progress towards being gluten free” (strictly a marketing ploy in my book; no progress–or even interest–towards being truly gf). I’m appalled at the number of folks who say they live gluten free (for celiac, ngcs, and other medical reasons) who it turns out don’t really eat gluten free at all; they eat “sort of” gluten free. I am appalled at the number of folks who want us all “to just get along” and “make nice” when newly-diagnosed folks who don’t know all the in’s and outs of the gf diet and don’t even recognize their own gluten reactions as such yet are continuing to be damaged by products that are not safe. So much disillusionment this month and, frankly, no end in sight. I just got an email today from a company selling einkorn, clearly a gluten grain, talking about its low gluten content as “promising for those with gluten intolerance.” They went on to say that they are not recommending it for those who choose not to eat gluten, but the implication is there … hey, you know, this might be safe for you. Yes, I did send an email right away, but got the expected reply that oh, no, we didn’t say that it was safe. In fact, we said it wasn’t. Then why even mention gluten intolerance in association with this grain? We all know the answer. Companies are learning to doctor their words and get more customers. It’s sickening. Literally.

Thank you for this post, Valerie. All you’ve shared is very worthwhile. I especially like your points on choosing naturally gf items and giving the example of the baked potato vs the rice that could well contain gluten (even though rice is naturally gf, as you said, it’s often not gf when prepared).

Shirley

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6 Valerie June 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Shirley, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It really has been a disconcerting time, and I am so grateful for all the activism you do on this topic.

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