Surprising facts on GF Safety for You Non-Celiacs

Did you know that once a person with celiac disease stops eating wheat it becomes even worse when they do accidentally consume a food containing gluten?  After I quit wheat I thought that I could cheat once in a while and not really suffer any consequences.  Not so. It is like your body becomes incredibly sensitive to all gluten substances and even a tiny bit is too much.

A few examples: if I splash beer on my hands while serving a mug at Musikfest and then unthinkingly touch a finger to my mouth; instant contamination and feeling sick is sure to follow.  Same goes if I am volunteering in a church kitchen and touch bread or flour and then touch my mouth with that contaminated hand. Zapped again!

Then there are multiple ways to be contaminated by food that should be safe: If I eat at a pancake house and order eggs and home fries, if my food is cooked on the same griddle spot as your pancakes five minutes earlier; instantly it is contaminated and unsafe for anyone with celiac disease.  And sometimes the home fries have flour in them and waitresses seldom know about every bit of what goes into a dish and may tell you it is safe when it contains wheat of some sort.

If the chef sprinkles seasoned salt or spice mixes on my rice or potatoes, it is likely uneatable for me.  The reason is that manufacturers often put all purpose flour in seasoning mixes to facilitate flow and to create a smooth mixture of spices.  This is why many things that appear safe are not; “seasoning mixes” are the culprit that makes rice pilafs often uneatable by celiacs.  rice pilaf

Thanksgiving is coming up.  Beware, some turkeys have brine that contains some gluten; I got sick that way last November.  Butterball turkeys fresh or frozen are gluten free.  Plus, a turkey stuffed with regular bread stuffing is unsafe for someone with celiac to eat even if they don’t touch the stuffing.  Really. You need to buy or make a gluten free stuffing; either based in rice, gf cornbread or just buy a bag of gluten free bread to make your stuffing. Aldi’s has gluten free stuffing for both chickens and turkeys.

butterballbutterball

Even GF pasta can be contaminated if it is drained in a colander that is used for wheat pasta.  The gluten in pasta is extra sticky and it is nearly impossible to get all of it off a colander.  So, many times pasta that should be safe gets contaminated when the cook drains it in a colander that has tiny particles of wheat gluten sticking around the strainer holes. Restaurants that advertise GF menus need to have dedicated equipment like strainers, colanders, pots and utensils. Really: I often ask about the colander when I attempt to safely eat pasta at a restaurant.colander

The times I fail to carefully read a list of ingredients are the times I have to throw things away later as I find out they are unsafe for me.  Same goes for times I eat at places which don’t have GF menus.  They often tell me they serve GF foods but they really don’t understand fully how much they have to do to keep my food safe.  See three paragraphs above….

A few people seem to feel celiacs are exaggerating or being over cautious.  When in reality all that caution is necessary to eat safely and avoid gluten.  It only takes a tiny amount of gluten to contaminate food or drink.

So if you are cooking for someone with gluten intolerance, be sure to read my previous posts that cover how to plan, prepare, and serve a GF meal that is safe (November 2014) and your meal will be a success for everyone enjoying it!

And if you are in a restaurant don’t roll your eyes when the person at the next table starts to ask pointed questions on ingredients and method of preparation with respect to gluten.  They are just trying to eat a safe meal out.  Sometimes this experience is kinda a roll of the dice for us celiacs so be patient and polite if you come into contact with this situation when you are dining out.  And yes, that goes double for you wait staff persons!  We are not trying to hassle you, just attempting to stay safe and enjoy a good safe meal.

Also, I know people who get exasperated by labels that say gluten free on stuff you assume is safe.  I hear those comments sometimes in the store! Well, I as a celiac applaud when companies put that GF label on foods. I feel much more safe consuming food that is labeled gluten free because of all the sneaky or hidden ways we can accidentally eat food with some amount of gluten.  Still, there are stories going around about food labeled gluten free which upon closer examination clearly had a gluten ingredient.  I am guessing companies love to slap those two words on labels to sell food, whether the food is really gluten free or not.  I have to read the label regardless just to be sure.

Finally, foods labeled gluten free make my life easier as I’m someone who must avoid the stuff at all costs.  Just know that I am thrilled when I find something safe to snack on, especially when it is in the main stream of foods; food not specifically manufactured for me as a celiac.  Why? I love it because those things tend to be cheaper and tastier than stuff marketed solely to the gluten free consumer.  If it is for everyone the price is better; they can’t afford to sock your average buyer with a doubled price just because it is also gluten free.  And if it doesn’t taste good; few in the main stream will purchase it so we are ensured better tasting products.

In summary; now you can see how important it is to have products that are labeled gluten free and why your friend with celiac has a zillion questions when you have lunch together! Be understanding!

Revised but originally published November 2014.

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