Posted in First Aid/Staying Healthy, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Labeling Laws, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

It’s That Time of Year Again…

That’s right: cold and flu season is here. (I know,more exciting seasons have arrived too but we’re going to be practical for a minute here.) While it is important for everyone to prepare for cold and flu season, the need for those of us with food allergies/intolerances is just a little bit greater. First of all, for those of us with autoimmune conditions like Celiac, any battle with illness can become more complicated than for the general population. Second, you really want to drag yourself to a store when you’re feeling sick to get the medications you need? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you really want to be sitting at a computer trying to research gluten-free/dye-free/whatever-your-restriction-is-free options when the fog of sickness has already descended, and then driving all over the place trying to hunt down the ones deemed to be safe?

Let me answer those questions for you: no, you don’t. So the time is now: stock up your medicine cabinet with all the cold and flu season essentials now while you are clear-headed enough to look into the ingredients…and not so patiently wait for those company reps to get back to you with an answer about their product.

Now before I dive into my list of suggestions, please remember a few things. First, I am not a doctor, nurse, or any kind of medical professional. My suggestions/recommendations are what have worked for me but you should talk to your own doctor about the best options for you. Second, always, always, always read the labels before you buy or use any product- even one recommended to you. Formulas can change every year and though I’ve done my best to research for this year, you just never know when a new product will hit the shelves so even if you know someone else takes it, always verify for your specific ingredient restrictions. Third, these are just the products that work for me. You may find others that are better suited for you, but hopefully this list at least gets you thinking about the items you should have on hand in your medicine cabinet as we head into the heart of cold/flu season.

cold prevention

If you’re anything like me, as soon as you feel a slight tickle in your throat, you’re doing everything you can to prevent it from turning into a full-fledged cold. Here are my go-to “first line of defense”items:

  • Umcka Cold Care: This was recommended to me by a doctor years ago and it has changed my life (especially when I was teaching elementary school where the little ones are always sneezing!) This one is my personal go-to but any from the line I’ve tried have been great. Maybe it’s all in my head but I swear it has made a difference in preventing full-blown colds, or at least minimizing the severity. It can be hard to find in stores. I’ve usually found it in my local health food store, but some varieties are available on Amazon and even in Walgreens this year. I verified with the company this week that all Umcka products are still gluten-free. (If you have dairy allergies, make sure to check the label and check with your doctor as some do contain lactose.)
  • Zinc Lozenges: Along with Umcka, it can’t hurt to start sucking on those zinc lozenges as soon as you feel that first throat tickle. Cold-EEZE tend to be the most common choice and they do currently label them as gluten-free. You will likely find generic brands that are labeled gluten-free as well. A personal favorite of mine (when I can find them!) are Nature’s Way Sambucus Elderberry Zinc Lozenge. They taste great and that added boost of elderberry can’t hurt, right?
  • Elderberry gummies: Now I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the elderberry craze (and I am still just a little bit.) However, there was a free sample of some elderberry gummies in a blogger bag I received a few years ago and I figured what do I have to lose? I have no concrete proof that they work but I also have no evidence to suggest that they don’t- and they taste delicious- so why not give it a whirl?
Cough syrup
  • Robitussin Honey: I personally love this product because it is tested to ensure it is gluten-free and it seems to actually work (for me!). Also, every part of the package is recyclable which to me is a fun bonus. It is a little pricier than some other varieties, but to me it’s worth it. And there can be sales if you keep an eye out in stores and bring this $1 off coupon.
  • Chestal Honey: This was my go-to cough syrup until Robitussin Honey arrived on the scene. My doctor recommended it to me and I never had a problem with it, but the parent company (Boiron) has a policy of not making gluten-free claims about their products so if that makes you nervous, go with Robitussin.
Cough drops

There are SO many choices when it comes to cough drops. Again, my best advice is to read labels and go with one that is confirmed by the manufacturer. Also be wary of just googling things because I found results from as long ago as 2012 and labeling laws have changed A LOT since then. Here are some potentially surprising/useful things I’ve learned while researching cough drops:

  • Ricola is no longer considered gluten-free! I have to applaud Ricola on their transparency here. They honestly state on their FAQ page that their products cannot be considered gluten-free under current FDA regulations…but then they go on to say that their products do contain less than 20 ppm. So essentially it’s up to you and your doctor what’s right for you, but I no longer consider them an option for myself.
  • Hall’s is complicated. The ingredient list seems safe but again the company won’t make a particular claim that the products are gluten-free. Read here for the best description I’ve found and then decide for yourself.
  • Fisherman’s Friend is your friend. This brand is my personal recommendation. They are gluten-free, vegan (that means dairy-free for me), and contain a LOT less ingredients than most of the other brands I’ve seen. Again, they are a little pricier and can be a little strong in flavor initially but it’s worth it to me to know I’m taking something safe for me.
Theraflu: It’s up to you

Theraflu is another one which is complicated. Honestly I have used their hot liquid powder for years now and have never had a reaction. However, when I called to check again this year I received the seemingly-now-standard response from the representative: they don’t use any gluten-containing ingredients but they do not test the final products so they can’t guarantee anything since some ingredients come from third-party vendors. (AKA we have to cover ourselves so we can’t say it’s gluten-free, but we also don’t want to incur the expense of testing to make sure…so good luck.) Also, it took me FOREVER to get someone to respond to me so if you’re planning to call and talk to them about your specific needs, I’d drop everything and start the process right now.

Tylenol/Advil

Obviously this one should always be on-hand, but it is getting more complicated too. Name-brand Advil was always my go-to for pain relief and fever but now they issued a similar statement to Theraflu saying they can’t guarantee it’s gluten-free. Also, some of the liqui-gel products DO contain a wheat derivative so I’m sure cross-contamination is also a concern. Of course, Tylenol (who used to label products gluten-free) also released a similar statement last year to cover themselves after the new labeling laws went into effect.

The good news is there are some generic brands that are still labeled gluten-free. I personally have generic versions from CVS and from Target. I do recommend you check the label, call the manufacturer, and also check with your doctor too to see what is best for you.

tea with honey

Finally, the classic for fighting a cold: lots of tea with honey. Just please, please, please make sure your tea is gluten-free. (That’s right, you have to worry about tea too!) I’ll admit I came close to purchasing a box of sugar cookie sleigh ride tea once before I noticed the glaring CONTAINS GLUTEN on the side of the box. (Thanks, Celestial Seasonings for being on top of the labeling!!) I know the name itself should have stopped me in my tracks, but in my mind it was tea. I never thought about barley as an ingredient. Here is a great (recent) article about your various tea options. Again, especially when you have a cold and might reach for decaf/herbal tea options, make sure to do your homework first. The last thing you need is a gluten reaction when you are already sick!

An ounce of prevention

My final word here is of course to do what you can to prevent illness this cold/flu season. Wash your hands thoroughly (and make sure it’s a safe soap!) and often. Try to get enough sleep and avoid situations where you may encounter a lot of germs in an enclosed space when you can. Finally, I am not here to wade into the vaccine debate, especially because I know it can be extremely complicated when you have an autoimmune condition. All I am saying is I strongly recommend that you see your doctor and talk about what is best for you. I did have a doctor who advised against the flu shot for me for a few years when around when I was sick/in the process of finding a diagnosis so my immune system was haywire already, because he was concerned the risks for me outweighed the benefits (again where the importance of herd immunity comes in). I personally have had a flu shot for a few years now because I have a toddler and I haven’t had any negative reaction. Also, some doctors strongly urge Celiac patients to get a Pneumonia shot each year- which is not standard protocol for an average 20 or 30-something, but I’ve had several- so I would just suggest talking to a doctor that you trust…and of course ultimately do what you think is best for you.

Here’s to a healthy cold and flu season for all of us!

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Holidays, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Thanksgiving, Tips and Tricks

A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

Now that we’re in November the excitement is building for the most wonderful time of the year! For me, there is nothing wrong with starting to celebrate the holiday season before Thanksgiving as long as Thanksgiving still gets its due share of attention and celebration. That being said, Thanksgiving can be a source of stress for people with food restrictions, especially for those who are newly diagnosed. (Holidays centered around sharing a meal are hard- especially at first.) Thankfully, there are many of us who have walked this road for several years now so you’re not alone as you face this first (or second or third) Thanksgiving with food restrictions.

Whether you are reading this for yourself or you are preparing for a food-sensitive guest at your own dinner table this year, I wanted to get this post out now because it includes products which can be more difficult to find at the last minute. With 3 weeks to go until the big day, the time to shop/order is now.

Turkey

The main event!

Of course, the main event. Believe it or not, turkey is trickier than you think. Not all turkeys are gluten-free because they can be marinated in or infused with broth, or even just processed on a shared line. There is a helpful list here of a few national brands with gluten-free turkeys, but the best thing to do is read the label and/or contact the company yourself and check. (For example, Butterball doesn’t label their turkeys as gluten-free but the company representative reported that all frozen and fresh turkeys are gluten-free, with the exception of the frozen stuffed turkey- for obvious reasons.) Which brings me to my next point…

Stop and think before you stuff!

It sounds like common sense but obviously most popular stuffing brands/recipes are not gluten-free…because well, bread. So you as the host or as the guest need to make a decision. If you are going to prepare a turkey and stuffing that is gluten-free and allergen-friendly for everyone, then of course you have to use an allergen-safe stuffing (more on that below). My personal preference (and honestly what makes me feel safer as a guest) is to simply have a separate small gluten-free turkey breast that is cooked just for me (and whoever else may need it). Granted, another thing to keep in mind is oven space- not only room for the allergen-free turkey, but also assurance that it isn’t going to come in contact with something allergen-filled in the stove. (Yes, even when you use one of those turkey bags, you’re usually instructed to poke air vents so if air can get in, so can contaminants.) So again my personal recommendation would be one of the following:

  • Roast the gluten-free turkey breast the day before and just warm it up before dinner
  • OR (new idea this year!) prepare the turkey breast separately in an Instant Pot (again only if you have one that is allergen-safe)

Which bring us to…Stuffing!

This is my personal favorite item on the Thanksgiving table. Believe it or not, your days of stuffing are not over! With a little creativity, you can find a way to make a stuffing that is allergen-safe for you. My personal recommendation is hands-down Aleia’s Savory Stuffing. (NOTE: it does contain eggs, but for me eggs baked into things is OK but make sure you know what is safe for you and your guests.) Otherwise, it is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and Kosher. I have been able to find it at my local Stop and Shop but you may need to order it so check out their website for a store locator near you and for ordering deadlines to guarantee arrival by Thanksgiving. Also, I have seen it on Amazon but I would just warn you to be careful when you order from there because there are older varieties I’ve seen that aren’t dairy-free so make sure it’s from a trusted seller.

Can you believe that’s gluten-free??

What’s turkey without gravy?

I’ll be honest: I was never a huge gravy fan even in my gluten-filled days so this one wasn’t so hard for me to give up. However, a few weeks ago I attended the Greater Boston Gluten-Free Expo and met the lovely people from Full Flavor Foods, and let’s just say my life will never be the same. They handed me a sample of the gluten-free AND dairy-free turkey gravy and it was like all of a sudden a little piece of the world was right again. It brought back warm memories of childhood Thanksgivings at the kids’ table and touched my soul in the way that just the right unexpected food can. I have a packet stashed away for my Thanksgiving table, and if I were you, I would head to their website today to order one for yours!

In the words of my 2-year-old: “SO GOOD.”

Other Important Ingredients to Have On Hand

All of the items mentioned above are important, but so are the smaller ingredients that are necessary to complete the perfect allergen-friendly Thanksgiving meal.

  • Earth Balance Butter: This is key for keeping those mashed potatoes dairy-free, soy-free, and delicious. It can sell out or just not be available in stores (especially for people like me who need the soy-free version) so plan to snag one ASAP.
  • Chicken broth: Both the stuffing mix and my favorite mashed potato recipe require chicken broth. AND NO, NOT ALL CHICKEN BROTH IS SAFE!! I personally love Pacific Foods brand because I know it is safe, but it is expensive. I’ve also found success with the Trader Joe’s brand, Aldi’s brand, and College Inn brand BUT I cannot stress this enough: CHECK THE LABEL. Recipes and procedures change all the time and even brands which were once safe can change (and vice versa!). For example, the College Inn chicken broth in the box is gluten-free BUT the same thing in a can is not because it has hydrolyzed wheat gluten. I know, it’s enough to make my head hurt too.
  • Pie crust!: If you’re lucky enough to have a gluten-free bakery near you, you might consider ordering a pie. Yes, they’re expensive but especially with the limited oven space and the cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen, it might be worth it. If you are planning to try making your own, I would recommend looking for either the King Arthur pie crust mix or my personal favorite (because it’s so easy), these pre-made pie crusts from Wholly Wholesome.
  • Most of the other necessities (potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and onion for the stuffing, green beans, etc.) can wait until the week of Thanksgiving when you make the big grocery store run for everything else.

OK now that I have given you the product rundown, I want to close with 2 important reminders.

First, I am not exaggerating when I say that planning early is important for preparing an allergen-safe holiday meal.

Even if you have a natural food store near you that carries a lot of these products, it is a BUSY time of year for these companies. This is the one time of year when a lot of people who don’t usually buy gluten-free/dairy-free items are stocking up for someone in their family.

Second, and honestly most important, whether you are preparing to be a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner or you are preparing this meal for someone with food restrictions, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE communicate first.

Levels of sensitivity vary. While one gluten-free guest may not be worried about shared cutting boards, sponges, or wooden spoons, the reality is that for many of us each of those things matter. If you feel more comfortable making your own food at home and bringing it with you, just say so. If you would rather be the one in the kitchen to oversee everything and show up with your own cooking utensils, say so. If you are the chef and you really just don’t feel comfortable doing this safely, say so. The last thing anyone wants is for Thanksgiving dinner to end in someone getting sick so just communicate with one another to see what is best for your particular gathering.

Now, let the countdown continue! Less than 3 weeks until the perfect (for you) gluten-free, dairy-free, whatever-else free Thanksgiving dinner.

Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Pumpkin season!

So Much Pumpkin, So Little Time

As usual, October is somehow flying by and here we are at Halloween week. I don’t know about you but I feel like every year I spend September getting excited for all things pumpkin, and then somehow October arrives, flies by, and I feel like I didn’t savor it enough. (Granted yes, November/Thanksgiving are also time for all things pumpkin, but with Thanksgiving so late this year I plan to shift into gingerbread and peppermint mode a little early this year.) So now that we have less than a week left of October, it’s time to celebrate with all things pumpkin.

If you have been worried about missing out on pumpkin treats now that you’re gluten-free or dairy-free, I have great news for you: pumpkin treats are just as delicious without those pesky allergens. I think it’s because the pumpkin itself is so moist that it helps prevent drying out that often happens with gluten-free flour or dairy-free substitutes. Now if you have been a long-time reader of this blog, I’ve shared some pumpkin recipes before. Here is one for cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffins (which I still love!) I also shared a recipe for pumpkin creamer, which is also still good but I must admit I don’t use it anymore since I discovered Califia Farms pumpkin spice creamer. Now that I have a 2-year-old, it was worth $5 to get the bottle at my grocery store instead of making it from scratch. I also shared a pumpkin muffin recipe in that same post 6 years ago BUT it’s time for an update because I have found one that is a dramatic improvement.

I stumbled across this recipe on Pinterest one day in September and decided to give it a try in advance of pumpkin season (in case it needed some tweaking). I was AMAZED at how they tasted, but especially how they stayed moist and didn’t crumble at all (a rare feat in gluten-free baking!). Even my husband was amazed by them and happily devoured several, even though he doesn’t have any food restrictions. Perhaps, the biggest test of all: my 2-year-old happily enjoyed them and would request a second. For anyone who knows how finicky 2-year-old eaters can be, that should tell you something!

Now I can’t take credit for this recipe at all; all that goes to Molly at What Molly Made. I just adapted a few ingredients to make these dairy-free and egg-free. Here are the ingredients I used:

I have a little baking assistant these days…
  • 2 Tablespoons of flaxseed mixed with 6 Tablespoons of warm water (egg replacement)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup Earth Balance soy-free spread, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten-Free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup Enjoy Life Semi-sweet mini chips

Then I followed Molly’s pumpkin muffin recipe exactly (including the oven temperature change) and the result was pure magic:

Yum!

We have made several batches of these this month and I can’t wait to enjoy another one this week as we countdown to Halloween and savor the final days of October. I hope you soak up all the October magic you can over the next few days…and don’t worry the magic of gingerbread won’t be far behind 🙂

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” -L.M. Montgomery
Posted in Uncategorized

Why I Almost Stopped Blogging…and Why I’m Back

Hello, friends. You have probably noticed that my blogging has been pretty sporadic over the last few years. For most of that time, it was simply a matter of being too busy. When you get married, move to a new city, start a new job, and have a baby all in the span of 14 months, life gets a little crazy. Then in the 2 years and 5 months since our son was born, balancing mom life with blogging monthly for the Boston Moms Blog and working part-time on Saturdays just didn’t allow much time for writing, researching, taste-testing, etc.

However, I have to be honest. For almost a year now, it hasn’t been so much a lack of time, but more of a lack of motivation on my part, which kept me from writing.

Let me explain. When I first started this blog 6 years ago, it was mainly because I was feeling overwhelmed and lost and I needed an outlet. Plus, as a busy teacher who was also dealing with fatigue, brain fog, and all the other symptoms that were still working themselves out due to new diagnoses, it was an easy way to keep friends and family updated without explaining everything over and over again on a phone call. Within a few weeks though, I received so many kind emails and messages from people who were reading the blog- some of course were just friends of mine without any food issues, but many were from people who had been sent the link by friends of mine and were so grateful to share my experience.

Before long, I felt like I was part of this community of people who knew exactly how I felt and what my new life looked like- even if we lived far apart and never actually met in real life (the wonders of technology).

And for almost 5 years, that feeling continued to grow. I loved writing, I loved feeling like a part of a virtual community, and I loved that my story could help someone feel less alone. Then about a year ago, that started to change. I attended a local Expo I had been a part of several times before and was surprised to feel a dramatic shift. First of all, we were no longer referred to as bloggers, now we had a new name: influencers. I’ll be honest- I wasn’t a fan of that term. I soon realized the change was necessary though, because I learned that less than half of us there actually had blogs. Apparently everyone just sticks with social media, primarily Instagram.

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I LOVE Instagram. I think it is a great way to share quick tips about new products, gluten-free restaurants, etc. that don’t warrant an entire blogpost.

What concerns me is the shift this change has created in quality of content. On Instagram, it matters how many followers you have or how many likes you can get from a certain post. Even certain companies now send an “application” if you’re interested in trying some new products which requires you to report how many followers you have. Now I have a business background, of course this makes sense from a marketing perspective.

What worries me is that suddenly people care more about the appearance of their Instagram posts than the actual content- and for someone who is gluten-free by necessity, this can be dangerous.

I have seen gluten-free accounts post pictures of products or restaurants that I personally would NEVER trust. For someone who is new to the gluten-free world, it can be easy to trust someone else who claims it is safe (and they have a thousand followers, so it must be safe, right??) Along with that, I’ve seen a shift at Expos I’ve attended. Where I used to feel like all the bloggers banded together and became friends at these events, there seems to be an increased sense of competition now that we’re “influencers”. Let me clear, this isn’t true of everyone I’ve encountered- but it is definitely a shift I have noticed.So I left that Expo a year ago thinking that I needed a break….and I took one. I logged in from time to time and even started a few posts here and there, but my heart just wasn’t in it. So I stopped.

I took time away. I immersed myself in all things Elmo and Thomas the Train (mom of a 2-year-old here) and paid less attention to new products in the gluten-free world. And I don’t regret it at all.

Of course that leads to the big question: what brought me back? (Well, I guess the first question is, are you back??)

Yes, I am Back.

I won’t promise daily postings, or even weekly content at that…but I do have a number of posts in the works and lots of content in the pipeline that I am excited to share. And of course, I’m excited to share some insight into being a gluten-free mom to a non-gluten-free toddler (who is not careful with crumbs yet).

What brought me back?

This one could take days to answer so I’ll leave it with 2 reasons for now. First, I realized that it doesn’t matter if the name changed or even the culture changed among the bloggers-turned-influencers. My mission hasn’t changed. I can still share my experiences in my own way and if I can help just one person with my blog or posts, that’s all that matters to me. I don’t care how many followers or likes I have- I never cared about that in the first place – so I won’t let this new number-focused culture change that.

Second, we lost a family member this summer. I could write pages and pages about the person that he was, what he meant to me, and how he made the world a better place- but I am not in a place where I could do that yet. What I will share is that I used to joke with him that he was my main (and often only) source of unpaid publicity. I lost count of how many times he would text me to let me know that he shared my blog with a friend (or sometimes just someone he met in passing) who was dealing with food allergies/intolerances. I used to wonder how he managed to befriend so many people with food issues, but I realize now that it was more that he simply took the time that most of us don’t to talk to people and really get to know them- even if it was just someone he happened to sit next to on a bus. I’ve received messages from a few of those people he sent my way- a few before he died and a few since- that reaffirmed for me the rare person that he was. He not only took the time to learn about each person he met, but he also tried to do whatever he could to make their life just a little bit easier- even if it was as simple as sharing his sister-in-law’s blog.

So here I am. I want to be a trustworthy voice in the midst of a gluten-free world that is growing more and more confusing by the day. I want to be a source of comfort and hope for someone at the beginning of his/her gluten-free/dairy-free/(insert food here)-free life. I want to continue to build community in the Celiac and food intolerant communities. And if I can do that for just one person, that’s all the “influencer” status I need.

Posted in Boston Recommendations, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Uncategorized

Nourished Festival!

I have to be honest: when I first heard about the changes coming to one of my favorite events of the year, I was less than thrilled. (Full disclosure: I rolled my eyes as I read the email.) After all, I’m only human.

I’m a human who cannot eat the tiniest crumb of gluten or casein without sending my immune system into absolute chaos. So as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with people who adopt “fad diets” or even “fad lifetsyles”.

As someone who cannot enjoy the occasional cupcake or slice of bread, it can be frustrating to understand why a person who is fully capable of doing so makes the choice to give up such treats willingly. So when I first saw that the festival had somewhat rebranded to include paleo and keto lifestyle choices, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go back. (I’m telling you- jealousy can turn you into an irrational person.)

However, once I came back to the computer and actually read through the details and description, I realized I was hasty in my judgment. (I guess maybe we’re just a little possessive of the things we love sometimes so we’re initially resistant to change.)

First of all everything at the Expo is still gluten-free (I was worried about that one!) but there are additional categories for nut-free, paleo, keto, and plant-based diets.

Though paleo, keto, and plant-based diets are sometimes a choice, the reality is that many people do require these diets for their health. And even for people who don’t officially require these diets, if someone feels better following a certain diet, then I should be there cheering them on toward health and happiness- not harboring a grudge.

So now that I am back to my original level of excitement for this upcoming event: here are the details you need to know.

What: Nourished Festival

Where? DCU Center– Worcester, MA

When? Saturday July 20th and Sunday July 21st 10 AM – 3 PM

Why?

More than 70 vendors (and counting!) showcasing their gluten-free products, providing samples, and coupons, of course!

Designated booths for products that are also nut-free, paleo, keto, or plant-based

5 classes related to gluten-free cooking, adapting to a keto/paleo lifestyle, and entertaining with a variety of food allergies in mind

Sign me up!

If this sounds like a weekend you don’t want to miss, come join me! Tickets are available here. ($15 for a one-day pass, or $20 for the weekend) BUT I have some tickets to give away so send me a message through the “Contact Me” link and tell me which vendor you are most excited to see at the Expo for your chance to win free tickets!

I hope to see you there!!

Some of my haul from the last Expo!

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

The Mystery of Grocery Shopping (AKA Deciphering All Those Labels)

When I was new to the gluten-free world, one of my biggest challenges was deciphering those confusing gluten-free (maybe??) labels at the grocery store. I wish I could say it gets easier with time. In some ways it does, but I’ll be honest, you’re in for a lifetime of detective work. Fortunately there have been some legal changes since 2013 in an effort to make this process less of a mystery, but as you’ll see below, they still leave you with a few cobwebs to clear.

If you have walked through a grocery store lately, chances are you saw more than a dozen products bearing a gluten-free label. Most grocery stores have an ever-growing gluten-free/natural products section which of course fills your heart with glee because that means so many more safe options for you, right?? Well, the answer is maybe, depending on your level of sensitivity.

The mysterious land of gluten-free food…

When I was diagnosed in 2011, there were no official FDA requirements for gluten-free labeling. Thankfully the Celiac community is a passionate one and their efforts led to the FDA issuing Gluten-Free Label Laws, which were passed on August 5, 2013 and went into effect a year later (August 5, 2014). You can read the full text of the FDA statements here but allow me to give you a concise summary.

FDA Gluten-Free Label Requirements

  • Sets the acceptable limit for gluten in a product at 20 ppm (parts per million)
  • States that products with the gluten-free label must be either inherently free from gluten-containing grains OR derived from a gluten-containing grain, provided that it has been processed to remove the gluten, to a point which measures below 20 ppm
  • Classifies gluten-free as a voluntary label (meaning manufacturers can decide whether or not to include it on their packaging)
  • Requires food imported into the United States to meet the same requirements if using the gluten-free label
  • Does NOT require manufactures to test for gluten in their products but the FDA will randomly test products to confirm compliance

Now let me start by saying that I am extremely grateful for the measures taken in 2014 in that at least I can be (relatively) confident that anything with a gluten-free label contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. However, the FDA law still leaves me with some concerns. First, because manufacturers are not required to test final products to ensure 20 ppm, I have to make sure it is a company (or person) that I trust. The good news is that in 2017, the FDA released data of their sampling and of the 250 products sampled, only 1 failed/was recalled. Second, the reality is that 20 ppm can still be too much for some people. In the FDA’s defense, this is the threshold agreed upon by the “celiac experts”, but every person’s sensitivity can vary. I’m not saying the number should necessarily be decreased- I just wish there was a way this was included on the label so that newly-diagnosed patients in particular, were aware of the threshold. Lastly, the labeling law does allow for manufacturers to use other phrases, such as “not made with gluten-containing ingredients” without meeting the established requirements. For a new shopper, that can certainly be confusing.

So now that I might have you feeling even more overwhelmed, there is good news too. You might have also come across products with that little certified gluten-free symbol (as opposed to just the phrase written on the package somewhere).

This little symbol is about to become your best friend.

This is because the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG) developed the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) which provides 3rd party certification of gluten-free products. Again, you can read all the specifics here but the basics are below.

Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO)

  • Requires that all ingredients AND finished products with this logo contain 10 ppm of gluten or less
  • Does not allow any barley-based ingredients in a product
  • Requires annual inspection of equipment, raw materials, and finished products in order to maintain certification

In other words, a product bearing this logo has been certified to be safe sometime within the past calendar year. You can add those products to your cart with as much certainty as you can probably find these days.

So of course now this begs the question: should you only buy items with the certified gluten-free logo?

Only you can make that decision but I will tell you for me the answer is no. Yes, I do feel safer when I pick up a new product with that logo; however, leaving out any product without the logo would mean giving up some wonderful, safe options for me. While the gluten-free certification is a great process for consumers, it is both expensive and time-consuming for the manufacturer. It states on the GFCO website that it can take anywhere from 6-18 weeks to get through the certification process and even then, new packaging has to be printed which includes the label so it will be even longer before it gets on the store shelves. Also, for a small start-up company, the cost of certification (and then annual inspection) might just be out of budget range for the first few years. This is why I love the chance to meet creators of new products at Gluten-Free Expos because I can talk to them in person about their products and production process and decide for myself whether it is safe for me.

So now what??

I know, I may have just added to the confusion in your life with all this information so let me leave you with a Cliffs Note version of how to navigate the puzzle that is grocery shopping in a gluten-free world.

Labeled Gluten-Free: Proceed with relative confidence that this item contains less than 20 ppm of gluten and should be safe for most consumers with Celiac or gluten sensitivity

Certified Gluten-Free: Proceed with strong confidence that this item contains less than 10 ppm of gluten and is most likely safe for consumers with Celiac or gluten sensitivity

Labeled Not Made with Gluten-Containing Ingredients (or some variety of that phrase): Put it down and walk away. This phrase is not held to the FDA standard of gluten-free. It means exactly what it says: the product is not made with gluten-containing ingredients, but also the manufacturer doesn’t have the confidence necessary to put the label gluten-free so it may or may not test below the 20 ppm threshold

No label at all: This is where common sense kicks in. The FDA designated gluten-free as a completely voluntary label so you may see it popping up on anything from bottled water to diced peaches if the manufacturer thinks it might help the product to sell. However, that also means there are many inherently gluten-free products (canned fruit, frozen vegetables, etc.) that will not have any kind of gluten-free label or logo- because it just isn’t in the best interest of the manufacturer to go through that whole process. Again, this is where you have to decide what is best for you and your body.

I hope this little guide helps you (slightly) in your quest to navigate your new grocery shopping world. I will say that if you are shopping for gluten-free guests, I would recommend choosing certified gluten-free items because it will likely put their minds more at ease. Of course, you can also touch base with them about brands or products that they know are safe for them. (I’ll have a future post about hosting gluten-free guests)

Last but not least, if you do have an adverse reaction to a product which is labeled gluten-free, the FDA has established two ways to report this information. You can contact FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System at 240-402-2405 or by email at CAERS@cfsan.fda.gov or you can reach out to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state where the food was purchased. You can find the number for your state listed here. We have to stick together to keep each other safe- if a product makes you sick, you can help prevent it from happening to someone else.

Now, happy (and safe!) shopping! I promise, you’ll get the hang of it 🙂

Posted in Easter, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Holidays

Is There Life After the Chocolate Bunny? (5 Years Later)

5 years ago I posed this question when writing about my first dairy-free Easter. I was making a batch of Katie-safe peanut butter eggs this week and pulled up that old post to double check the ingredient ratios. (Yes, sometimes I have to look up my own recipes.) As I read I could remember so distinctly how I felt: sad, wistful, grateful, confused. I was still mourning the way life had once been, but was also so incredibly grateful to wake up feeling healthy each day. Keep in mind, I was 28 at the time; just imagine how it feels for people who are much younger.

The good news is, here I am 5 years later and that mix of feelings is so foreign to me now. Now I feel nothing but joy and excitement as we look forward to Easter celebrations…and not just because I miss Twitter and the screentime I gave up for Lent.

I have found SO many Katie-safe options. (Of course, having a toddler brings a whole new sense of wonder to the celebration too.) I have learned that there was no need to ask that question in the first place- because even in a world that no longer includes dairy, you can still have a chocolate bunny!! Not to mention, plenty of other chocolate treats 🙂

You can find SO many Easter Candy allergy lists out there with a quick Google search. However, I want to share with you some of the treats I have personally ordered (and eaten!) so I can give them the Katie stamp of approval and feel confident that you won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind that Easter will be upon us in just about two weeks (hopefully the Spring weather will come along too!) and some of these allergy-safe treats need 7-10 days for shipping so…

…if the Easter Bunny has baskets to fill for kids (or grown-ups!) dealing with food allergies, now is the time to make sure he knows where to find the best options.

No Whey Chocolates

Yes, there is a reason I’m listing No Whey Chocolates first. They are AMAZING. As in, double check the ingredients list because this can’t possibly be dairy-free, amazing. And there is no reason to fear because all of their products are free from the 8 major allergens! They’re also vegan, Kosher, and free from artificial colors and flavors. They have an ADORABLE line of Easter products this year…and if you sign up for their emails, they often have promotions where you can try a product for free (with another purchase). Plus, what might be most exciting (to me anyway) is…THEY NOW HAVE PRODUCTS ON AMAZON. That’s right, Prime members, you can procrastinate with the knowledge that 2-day shipping can be yours! (But I wouldn’t because you never know what will sell out as Easter gets closer)

Katie’s Recommendation: Literally anything on their website…but if pressed I’d say the Truffles can’t be beat.

Amore di Mona

Now this is definitely a fancier product, so this might be great for the adults your life (teacher gift!). They even have some cute bunny-shaped treats this year. This chocolate is also alarmingly delicious (I definitely checked the ingredient list again on this one too) but all of their products are free from gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. They also use only organic, kosher, non-GMO, sustainably-sourced ingredients…and there is NO refined sugar. (I know you might be skeptical, but trust me this will change the way you think about chocolate.) You can order directly from the website, use the store locator to find products near you, OR you can find them on Amazon too!! (I promise this is not an Amazon Prime ad…it just seems like it.)

Katie’s Recommendation: This Perfetto 3 Pack. I mean, chocolate and coffee?? You can’t go wrong 🙂

Free2B

All of the products made by Free2B are free of the 12 major allergens instead of the typical “Big 8″(sesame, corn, mustard, and coconut are the additional 4). The sunbutter cups are the perfect size for an Easter basket- and the perfect surprise for anyone with a peanut allergy. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of their Snack Breaks until today, but based on how much I love their sunbutter cups, I’m excited to try them next! You can use the store locator to find the products near you (if you have a Whole Foods, chances are you can find them there) or you can place an online order. Right now everything on the website is 30% off! (But I’m not sure how long that will last.)

Katie’s Recommendation: Definitely the Dark Chocolate Sun Cups. Of course now that I have seen the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Snack Break, that is what I personally want to try next 😉

Enjoy Life

This brand is probably most familiar to you since they are now in most conventional grocery stores. They have a huge selection of products, which seems to be constantly growing, and everything they make is free from 14 common allergens. That’s right, 14! I will be honest and say that if you’re looking for a chocolate, I would recommend one of the brands mentioned above. (Though Enjoy Life does have some cute Easter designs this year if that matters more than taste.) However, their Protein Bites and Crunchy Cookies are phenomenal and would be a perfect (non-Easter-themed) addition to any Easter basket.

Katie’s Recommendation: The Double Chocolate Crunchy Cookies…or if it’s a gift, the 10 Snack Trial Pack!

Make sure to remind the Easter Bunny that anything ordered online needs some buffer time to arrive- so he should probably order this weekend 😉 However you celebrate the holiday (and holy day) this year, I hope it is filled with joy, faith, happiness, hope…and a you-safe chocolate bunny, of course.