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 Labeling Laws

It’s Going to Be LEGEN-wait for it- DARY!! (Or Non-Dairy as the Case May Be:-)

I miss HIMYM already…
(Photo courtesy of: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/565201821954797545/)

Today is a day which many gluten-free friends have been working towards and dreaming about since before I even knew that a pesky little protein called gluten even existed. And August 5, 2014 is a date which has been circled on most calendars for both gluten-free producers and consumers (I recently found out I’m teaching an economics course this year…I need to bring back out the business lingo:-) for almost a year now. Today is the day the FDA officially regulates the term gluten-free when applied to food products sold in stores across this great nation.

All these foods fall under the regulations…
Whether you’re gluten-free yourself or not, I have a feeling you’ll notice the changes…or perhaps you already have. Since these changes were announced a year ago, many food companies have spent the past year clambering to get their products (or more specifically their labels) into conformity before the sun rose this morning. Yes, it was all over the news this morning. No, it didn’t seem like the news segments really provided much information…but in their defense, I think it’s because the laws are so confusing that it really can’t be adequately explained in a brief 45-second news segment. 
So what does all of this mean? Why am I not outside flipping cartwheels or throwing some kind of “Happy Day that the Gluten-Free FDA Regulations Go Into Place!” party? Trust me, I’ve been reading excited posts and emails and in solidarity I did already take a cupcake out of my freezer to thaw and enjoy after a long-awaited digital reunion with my college roommates later tonight. I am over the moon for my gluten-free friends and I do love that there is now something concrete we can do as gluten-free consumers when we are duped by a product’s claim or false labeling. However, I must admit I’m also a little nervous. Partially because I have so many other food sensitivities that the label only establishes 25% of the criteria I need to cover before diving in…but also because I think there are some opportunities for potential confusion, or perhaps even flaws, as newly gluten-free consumers (and to be honest producers too) try to navigate their ways through the murky waters of FDA land. That being said, I do sincerely appreciate all that the FDA does to keep us safe on a regular basis…and I’ll end there because I have never and will never turn this blog into any kind of political commentary. If you want any feedback on that, you’ll have to come over for an actual cup of coffee with Katie…or look at pretty much any newspaper or TV news program, it’s everywhere.
Here is my condensed summary of the new laws in effect today:
What Makes Me Smile
  • Anything labeled gluten-free cannot contain more than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. That means if it contains any gluten, gluten-derived substance, or remnants of a gluten-derived substance, it cannot state gluten-free on the package unless that trace amount measures less than 20 ppm.
  • It applies to ALL packaged foods sold in the United States…which means all imported goods are subject to the same regulations in order to be stocked on American shelves
  • It ends the wheat-free vs. gluten-free confusion. Gluten is a protein also found in rye, barley, spelt, etc. However, most newly diagnosed patients, or their well-meaning friends and family, assume wheat-free on a package means it’s safe. NOT TRUE. So now if a package only says wheat-free, chances are it’s not gluten-free or it would say so.
  • It addresses cross-contamination…sort of. Prior to today, any food which didn’t include any gluten ingredients could state gluten-free on the label, regardless of where it was manufactured. So in other words it would be like me whipping up a loaf of gluten-free bread from rice flour, kneading it on the same surface that just held countless loaves of gluten-filled bread, cooking it in the same breadmaker with the spinner which has gently kneaded countless loaves of gluten, then wrapping it up and labeling it as gluten-free. Is it a lie? No. However, I can guarantee that within an hour after eating it, I’d be on the bathroom floor. Starting today, such a product can only be labeled gluten-free if the total gluten content is less than 20 PPM, factoring cross-contamination chance into the probability equation. (yay math!!)
  • IT INCLUDES VITAMINS!! Perhaps shopping for vitamins will no longer involve an hour in Walgreens or a phone call with Trader Joe’s corporate which ended with me saying “Oh great, I don’t care if it contains meat, I just was looking for a vegan label so I know there’s no egg or dairy”. Problem is I’m pretty sure he was vegan and let’s just say I don’t think I made a friend at corporate office that day.
  • There is something you can do if you get glutened! (You know aside from lie lifeless on your couch, holding your stomach and swearing that you’re never letting another morsel of food you haven’t cooked yourself cross your lips). There is now a hotline to contact at the FDA if you think a package is mislabeled as gluten-free and they will follow up and investigate! 
Maybe as a GF team we can make the grocery store a safer place!
What Has My Palms Sweating:
  • First and foremost, it needs to be noted that this regulation requires that any packaged food PRODUCED from this day forward must adhere to the above standards. In other words, the foods that are already packaged and out there on grocery shelves and in warehouses are not required to be thrown out (thank goodness) or altered. Hence until the shelf life of all current gluten-free products has expired (which honestly is not ALL that long), the products on the grocery shelves do not necessarily adhere to these standards. In short, shop with caution, my friends…though really what else is new?? ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • The FDA has no jurisdiction over foods overseen by the USDA (i.e. meat, poultry, eggs, etc.) or the TTB (i.e. alcoholic beverages)…so finding that you-safe steak dinner and accompanying spirit hasn’t gotten any easier. Good thing you probably mastered that around Week 2 ๐Ÿ™‚
  • The regulations do not apply to restaurants. So your gluten-free dining out anxiety is here to stay…
  • There is no actual testing required before products are consumed. That’s right. This is one of those “Let’s scare them all into conforming and then figure out later what we’ll do if they don’t” type discipline strategies. (Teachers and parents of the world, you probably understand why I’m a little uneasy) Manufacturers cannot label a product as gluten-free unless it contains under 20 PPM..but there is no actual test ever required to ensure it does. It just means the manufacturer is confident enough to put the label knowing that if someone gets sick and reports it, the product will be tested and sanctions will be brought if they are found in violation. Who knows what that means…
Why I’m Somewhat Indifferent:
  • My life won’t really change. The FDA will never pass any kind of regulatory practice to disclose the use of corn…considering it’s in well, everything…so I’ll be investigating packages, googling products, and making things from scratch for the rest of my days. And to be quite honest, I’m more than OK with that. It’s become part of my life so much so that I forget it isn’t normal to travel with a packed lunchbag and a spare clean sponge.
  • I’m sure this will just fuel the “gluten-free people are just high maintenance” culture, especially because of the people who go gluten-free simply because they’re convinced it’s healthier and they’ll lose weight (I can almost guarantee that won’t happen).
Then why do I think today is legendary? Well, because it is. Today’s law change means that the FDA has finally acknowledged that Celiac Disease is real, that it is dangerous, and that for some of us gluten-free is not simply a passing fad, but rather a medical treatment…and a key to happiness, or even sanity.
So cheers to you, members of the Celiac and Gluten-Intolerant Community! I hope today is the start of an even better gluten-free life for you. And especially those of you who were fighting for this regulation back in the days when I was still naively devouring bagel sandwiches for breakfast, I’m happy for you and I hope you enjoy your moment in the sun.
As for me, I’ll celebrate this monumental day with you in spirit. And then tomorrow morning, I will wake up and my world will be relatively unchanged, minus the one less cupcake in my freezer supply that is. And for the first time in quite some time, I can honestly say: I wouldn’t have it any other way ๐Ÿ™‚
Click hereif you want to read the official statement from the FDA.