“Prior to my husband’s diagnosis of Celiac Disease 7 years ago, I had no clue what exactly it meant to be a person who could not tolerate gluten. I had never even heard of Celiac Disease, and I can assure you if I had I would have felt badly for anyone who had it while simultaneously stuffing my face with a bagel.”
Since then, in order to keep him from getting sick, I have become intimately familiar with the exact ingredients of almost any food you can think of in the average supermarket, and the effects of those foods on the overall health of a person with Celiac disease, and I take it far more seriously.
Before he was diagnosed, I had no idea there was wheat flour in a can of chicken broth. Or that wheat, wheat products and anything containing gluten could also be found hiding in foods you’d never expect to find it in.
Foods like most brands of orange juice, soy sauce, condiments, ice cream, yogurt, pasta sauces, alcohol, chocolate, licorice, processed (pretty much) everything, marinades, salad dressings, mayonnaise, flavoured milks, and way more.
Or that some of the gluten in these products could be disguised with alternate names (monosodium glutamate, modified food starch, maltodextrin, (some, but not all, just to keep it confusing) “artificial flavours”, and in some cases, baking powder, to name just a few). No idea.
I also had no idea that gluten can also be found in rye, barley and even oats or other grains. Oats and other grains that don’t naturally contain gluten can still cause someone with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease to become ill because these grains are often processed on the same machinery that processes wheat products, and so they get contaminated.
Contamination is a thing, too?
In fact, someone with Celiac Disease (my husband, for example) can be so sensitive to gluten –even tiny trace amounts- that it can leave them horribly ill for days, or even weeks. The level of severity can be different in different people, but my husband is on the highly sensitive end.
And so, we have to be exceptionally careful about what he eats.
Buying and preparing our own food for home is no big deal. It was intimidating at the beginning, and felt like it would be a huge learning curve, but despite how complicated it may seem to come up with meal ideas, it’s really fairly simple.
We don’t buy many things that are processed anymore, for one (unless certified Gluten Free). We also very carefully read the ingredients of any packaged foods we buy (even if we’ve bought them many times previously, as ingredients can and do occasionally change), and we watch for the “Gluten Free” symbol which (thankfully!) more and more foods in the grocery store are starting to boast. My husband’s doctor advised us not to buy anything at all without that symbol, but we have had some luck here and there with products that do not, again by carefully reading the ingredients list. It can be risky, but we’re careful and we make a lot of our meals from scratch.
Scratch??? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Yeah, I hear you. I didn’t think so, either, but again it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. We now stick mostly to meat and veggies or fruit, and enjoy the packaged, gluten free products wherever possible. For example, we can still have store bought ham, sausages, hamburgers, chips, pastas and sauces, so long as they state “gluten free” on the packaging. We regularly make (gluten free) pancakes and bacon for family breakfasts and the like. It’s really not a huge sacrifice.
BUT… it does apparently make us a giant pain in the ass when it comes to eating at restaurants.
There are luckily a few gluten free options at restaurants these days, and perhaps I will delve more deeply into that in another article. We’ve gotten more comfortable with restaurants now and like cooking at home, it’s less complicated than it once seemed. But we’ve had some very bad luck as well, mostly depending on how seriously the restaurant takes potential contamination issues. My husband has had countless otherwise “gluten friendly” meals arrive with sides (such as breaded onions or… bread!) we had asked them specifically not to include, he’s had eyerolls from annoyed waitresses, and extremely painful, lengthy gluten-induced illnesses as a result of totally avoidable contamination.
I have so many stories.
While there is clearly still a long way to go where the restaurant business is concerned, we have noticed in recent years how far many have come, and we are grateful for it. It’s also clear a lot of food companies are finally getting on board with labeling items gluten free as well. There is always room for improvement, but we’re getting somewhere.
The biggest hurdle we’ve had so far is in helping friends and family better understand gluten intolerance in order to be able to enjoy meals at their homes when we’re invited. I have a separate blog post coming up about this, and look very forward to sharing it in the hopes it may help others.
In the meantime, do you or someone you love have a food allergy? What has your journey been like so far? Please feel welcome to share in the comments- your post may help someone too!
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