Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Joe and John: Coffee and celiac disease

Contrary to appearances, my coffee doesn't love me anymore.
I have a confession: My morning joe sends me straight to the john. I love my morning coffee, so I have been in denial for a long, long time about this issue. But what I don’t know is if this problem is a gluten issue or something else. Does celiac disease cause my problems with coffee? If it has nothing to do with celiac disease, is it harmful for me to continue to drink it, even though it sends me on a sprint for the loo?

Apparently, many people with celiac disease are also in a state of confusion (or panic) about coffee and celiac disease. When I googled “coffee and celiac disease,” the search results were prolific and wide-ranging.

The first article on the list was simply an information sheet titled “Coeliac Disease Diet Sheet” from the medical website www.patient.co.uk. On that sheet coffee is listed with many other beverages as “Allowed.” (Coeliac, by the way, is the British spelling for celiac. Try googling it with that spelling, if you want to find more answers to your celiac questions.)

The next article, “8 Gluten Free and Celiac Myths Debunked,” was from a blog called prettylittleceliac.com. The author, who had attended International Celiac Disease Symposium 2013 (ICDS 2013), wrote that medical experts at the symposium said, “Yes! You can enjoy your coffee.” She also points out, “in fact, the coffee flowed everywhere during this conference. Could you have another, separate problem with coffee or caffeine? Yes! But, it is not linked with gluten or celiac as a cross reactive food.”

Then came an article by Lauren Lindsey from Celiac.com called “Cautions for Coffee and Caffeine Drinkers.” In this article, Lindsey doesn’t say that coffee is definitely off limits for celiacs, but she does write, “it’s commonly understood that coffee is a trigger for IBS.  Even in modest amounts, coffee produces a laxative effect within minutes after drinking.”

So I'm learning to love another beverage ...
Erica Dermer, another attendee of ICDS 2013, blogged vehemently about the coffee issue on her website called celiacandthebeast.com: “Can you drink coffee with a gluten-free diet?  But what about all the cross-reactivity with gluten I’ve been reading about on the interwebs? Luckily, 86% of the conference said no, because the answer is no. IT IS A MYTH. STOP SPREADING THIS CRAP!!!! Drink your coffee, again, (sic) there is no scientifically validated research on cross-reactivity. However, coffee is a bowel irritant to EVERYONE. My mom. Your mom. The baristas at Starbucks. If coffee gives you the runs, congratulations – you’re like everyone else. Also, stop drinking coffee if you do. It’s that simple.”

Few credible sources claim that coffee cross-reacts with gluten (although there is some question about instant coffee), but I’ve given up my morning joe, anyway—and I haven’t dashed to the john ever since. Dermer is right, I guess. It was pretty simple. I’ve replaced the coffee with tea, which I’m learning to appreciate to some extent. Under certain circumstances, however—like when my hands are trembling and my eyelids are heavy (and there’s a toilet nearby)—I’m still going to partake of that most wonderful of all beverages.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In the long run ...

Em and I "chill out" after a 25-mile training run along the Hudson
 River from the Staten Island Ferry to the George Washington
Bridge--and back. 

For years running a marathon has been one of the to-dos on my bucket list. When I saw an ad in the Springfield News-Leader last April announcing the formation of a Galloway method training group, I decided that maybe it was time to check this (probably ill-conceived) goal off my list. After all, I reasoned, I’m not getting any younger.

So I joined the group and began the training process for the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Fitness Festival Marathon (on Nov. 2), running long runs each Saturday with my long-suffering fellow trainees. I also enlisted my daughter Emily (who lives in NYC) to run the marathon with me. (She had already run a couple of the 26.2-mile races, so she knew what she was getting into, but she quickly agreed anyway.) Then I booked trips to NYC to trudge through a couple of long runs with her.  (Any excuse to visit the Big Apple.) Finally, my dear, patient husband Doug, a seasoned marathoner, also agreed to endure a couple of other grueling long runs with me while we were traveling to the Grand Canyon in July and to Berlin in August.
Even though I’ve had serious doubts about my ability to cover the marathon’s distance, my biggest concern throughout the process has been dealing with the issues that arise from celiac disease: What happens if I accidentally eat gluten before a run? Will I have to run for a restroom while I’m out on the trail? Since I can’t eat most carbs, will I have the energy to cover the long distance? What can I eat during the long runs to avoid “bonking”?

By trial and error, I’ve found workable solutions to these problems as my training has progressed. First, I’ve tried to be extra careful to avoid “glutening” during this six-month-long training process, preparing as many of my own meals as possible or eating at restaurants that I know to be reliable sources of gluten-free meals.

Morning-time diarrhea has been an ongoing problem for me, even when I’m certain that I haven’t ingested gluten. I’ve discovered that if I get up a couple of hours before my run, eat a light breakfast, and hydrate, I usually have enough time to complete my bathroom business so that I’m not looking around for restrooms along my routes. Before the very long runs, I take Imodium, which has helped me keep things under control. (By the way, even non-celiac runners find Imodium to be helpful for long runs.)

A few of the many gluten-free options for energy
in the long run.
To maintain strength throughout the long runs, many runners drink sports drinks or eat gels, power bars, or jellybeans, and I have found that I need these pick-me-ups as well.  But this is another place where runners with celiac disease must be wary. It is important to research ingredients and locate the gluten-free candidates before you do your long runs. When I need a power bar, I almost always choose Kind bars or Larabars.  My go-to gels are Gu Energy Gels, Honey Stinger Gels or PowerGel, and the best beans I’ve found are Jelly Belly Sport Beans, which come in a variety of nice flavors. Most sports drinks are gluten-free, including Gatorade, G2 and Powerade varieties, and Gu Brew electrolyte tablets are handy if you want to add electrolytes to your water.

Pre-run carbo-loading, which typically involves pasta, is another detail that is necessarily different for celiacs. For my evening meals before most of my long runs, I’ve had risotto, rice dishes, or rice/corn-based gluten-free pastas. These easy-to-find carbohydrates have worked well for me so far, so I intend to stay the course with these reliable choices.

With the training behind me and my gluten-free groceries in order, I’m actually looking forward to marathon day on Sunday—and especially to ticking this activity off of my bucket list—if I don’t kick the bucket in the process!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dodging Gluten in Deutschland

The kitchen in our HouseTrip apartment--perfect
for preparing gluten-free breakfasts and lunches.
Summertime travels have kept me away from my blog, but even though Doug and I will still be spending plenty of time on the road this fall, I’m ready to return to a more regular writing routine.

Our most recent—and lengthiest--trip of the summer was to Berlin. In 2001-2002, our family hosted foreign exchange student Caroline Meurer for a year. Through the years we’ve had the opportunity to visit back and forth with her and her family, and we were delighted to return to Germany this summer to celebrate her marriage to Max Helms. (Max had also stayed with us for several weeks in 2011, and we had grown to love him and consider him family as well).

The couple was stunning. The wedding was beautiful. The reception and dinner party afterwards were elegant. And the time we spent with her family and ours—Emily and Bryson and were able to make the trip as well—was truly precious.

I was also pleased with the ease in which I was able to manage my gluten-free diet. I discovered that even if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, spending 17 days in Germany is very doable. 

The gluten-free label on a bag of potato chips.
We found it very simple to find an apartment with a fully functional and well-equipped kitchen where we could eat breakfast and lunch every day. We used HouseTrip to find a place close to the Meurers’ house, making it handy for us to spend time with the family. (VRBO and Airbnb also had multiple listings of places to stay. We’ve had great success with all three of these vacation home rental websites in countries and cities far and wide.) Grocery stores abound in Berlin, so finding gluten-free and whole foods was no problem at all.

To my surprise and delight, the labels on food products in Germany list the major allergens, just as they do in the United States. Most of the grocery stores also carry Schar and Udi’s and other popular gluten-free brands. Hooray!

One of my favorite gluten-free dishes--tunafish
nachos--from a restaurant called La Batea.
We usually ate our evening meals in local restaurants. Even if you haven’t practiced your German for a while (or if you never learned it at all), it is fairly easy to communicate the fact that you can’t eat Gluten (or Mehl).  Most restaurant personnel in Germany speak English as well as we do, anyway—and we found that most are familiar with celiac disease and other gluten issues. (If you are worried about communication, though, carry the handy Gluten Free Restaurant Translation Cards by Gluten Free Passport or download the iEatOut Apple app or the Gluten and Allergy Free Menu Helper Android app for $4.99.)

Although I must admit I suffered the effects of “glutening” on a couple of days during the trip, the symptoms were no worse than I occasionally struggle with at home. (They presented nothing I couldn’t handle by popping a few tablets of Immodium.)  I admit that I could have been (and should be) more careful at times. But it’s a risk that I’m willing to take. While many people determine that such risks aren’t worth it—and they are probably the healthier for it--I refuse to allow celiac disease to stop me from experiencing some of the best times of my life--which this trip was among.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Enoch's BBQ makes the grade

Gluten-free and delicious at Enoch's BBQ!

I loved my career as a high school teacher. I loved my subject matter, I loved my colleagues, and, I’ll admit it, I loved the summers off. Most of all, though, I loved my students—their youthfulness, their creativity, their constant ability to make me laugh, and even (on occasion) their orneriness made me look forward to Mondays.

But the one thing I didn’t love about teaching English, the thing I dreaded most of all, the thing that ultimately drove me to an early retirement was grading papers. Even now, I break into a cold sweat when I remember those stacks of research papers, sometimes numbering as many as 180 at once (and usually gathered just before a holiday).

One of the “shortcuts” to grading that made life more bearable was using a rubric (or scoring guide) that listed the expectations and/or weaknesses for each student’s paper. With a rubric, a teacher can assign points and make comments with a mere checkmark and the student can better understand his grade and, hopefully, make improvements in his future work.

Ok, I'm not the NYC health department,
but I do give Enoch's BBQ a great big A!
In my retirement, the only type of scoring guide I use is the mental checklist I have for trying out new experiences. Because I am a foodie, restaurants are the most frequent recipients of my grading, with my main criteria being the following:

  1. Does the restaurant have a gluten-free menu or offer easily identifiable gluten-free foods?
  2. Is the food tasty?
  3. Is the wait staff friendly, helpful, and efficient?
  4. Is the price reasonable?
  5. Is the restaurant within walking distance of my home?
  6. Does the restaurant have outdoor seating?

Now, a restaurant may fail in one or two of these areas and still make a “passing grade” (but not offering gluten-free food is obviously a deal-breaker, an automatic F, as far as this celiac is concerned). Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to give out many straight A’s—but last week I did just that--to Enoch’s BBQ at 307 S. National in Springfield, MO.

Before walking to the location from our loft (Check!), I had contacted the restaurant to find out if they had a gluten-free menu, which they did (Check!). When Doug, his cousin John, and I arrived at the restaurant, we sat down at our outdoor table (Check!) and were greeted by our friendly, efficient and helpful waitress (Check!) Within moments we were eating fantastic barbecue and excellent side dishes (Check!), and we left feeling satisfied, having paid our very reasonable (Check!).

In addition to passing each of the criteria with flying colors, Enoch’s received extra credit for its chef coming to our table to greet us personally, for offering a nice selection of drinks, and for hosting Mark Bilyeu and Cindy Woolf on Tuesday evenings from 6-8.

Final assessment: Add Enoch’s (Straight A) Barbecue to your list of restaurants to “check” out!