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?
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)