See more at HEALTHLINE
I photographed this morning’s shadows on the snow-covered mountains before I’d even had a cup of coffee. If I waited too long, the sun would shift and the view would change.
I’ve been reminded this week to appreciate life’s moments. Life as you know it can change in an instant.
A friend I met through blogging, Kathryn Chastain Treat, passed away a few days before Christmas. Her daughter posted this news on Kathryn’s blog. Though I’d never met Kathryn in person, she was more of a friend than some people I see daily. We supported each other through emails and Tweets and Facebook posts. I got to know Kathryn and her family while reading her book, Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope. She was a vibrant and healthy woman until toxic mold changed her life forever. Learning about how she was forced to live in physical isolation made my food allergies and celiac disease seem silly. However, she never made me feel that way. Kathryn always had a kind word to say. I will miss her.
I encourage you to read Kathryn’s book. You can find it on Amazon.
Book trailer for Allergic to Life
Last week I wrote about the hidden risks of vegetable oil and received many insightful comments. Several readers shared their horrific experiences of anaphylactic reactions when restaurants served them food prepared in the wrong cooking oil. Please don’t just ask what cooking oil the restaurant uses–ask to see the bottle. If the restaurant doesn’t want to show you, leave. Don’t take a chance.
In this same post, I shared my frustration with highly refined soybean oil and soy lecithin being excluded from the FDA’s allergen labeling requirements. Some of you only react to soybean protein, but others of you are highly sensitive like I am. Maya Trimner of Maya’s Happy Place sent me this petition asking the FDA to include all soy derivatives in food and drug allergen labeling.
Anyone with any food allergies understands the consequences of eating the wrong food. Please won’t you sign this petition and share with your followers?
Enough musing . . . . time for a morsel!
I’ve been wanting to share this new product since our lunch was served in it at the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention last November.
This lunch box unzips and lays flat, serving as a place mat. As an Allergic Foodie who travels a lot, I love that I can keep my eating surface clean and free of potential allergens. Think about those disgusting airplane trays and the tailgate of your car. I also take my allergen-free meal into fast-food restaurants where my husband eats. Now I don’t have to worry about asking the restaurant folks to wipe down the tables. They especially like doing this when they see I’ve brought my own food. These Flat Box-Lunch Box are great for students, too.
Visit Solvetta’s website to see all the sizes and colors and order yours. I got pink.
In closing, remember to appreciate the moments.
Near our home in Colorado Springs is a Mexican restaurant called Carlos Miguel’s that people rave about. So last Friday evening, when the streets were icy and my husband and I didn’t want to venture too far from home, I called the restaurant to discuss my food restrictions.
“What type of vegetable oil do you cook with?” I asked the man who answered the phone.
“What type? Soy? Corn? Canola?” I asked.
“Just vegetable.” He seemed a little perturbed.
I told the man I couldn’t eat at his restaurant without knowing exactly what was in the vegetable oil because I was allergic to soy and corn. He didn’t offer to check the ingredients label so I said goodbye.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a restaurant couldn’t tell me what was in their cooking oil. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. How absurd it is for restaurants not to know what they are serving their guests!
I also have a hard time with processed foods containing soy and corn. In the United States, corn isn’t one of the top eight allergens required by law to be identified on labeling. While soy is one of the top eight, the FDA exempts soybean oil and soy lecithin from being labeled. The FDA and medical experts, such as Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, MD, author of Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It ( Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), say most soy oil is highly refined so there is little proteins left to trigger an allergic reaction. Cold pressed and expeller pressed soybean oil are not highly refined and may contain soy proteins. The experts also say soy lecithin, a derivative of soy used as a nonstick agent in baking, has minimal proteins and those with a soy allergy need not worry.
My body does not agree with these experts. I’ve learned the hard way that soy oil, soy lecithin and corn oil will all cause a severe reaction, including eosinophilic esophagitis. Blend them together–use soy/corn oil in my salad dressing and spray the grill with cooking spray containing soy lecithin–and I’ll be in really bad shape. Talking with the other soy-allergic folks at food allergy conferences and through social media, I know I am not alone. Of course, if you react to soy (so far 15 allergenic proteins have been found in soy) but can tolerate soy oil and/or soy lecithin, I’m happy for you! And a bit jealous! But do watch and discuss any changes in your health with your doctor.
Soy oil, or a blend of oils including soy oil, is used in restaurants because it’s inexpensive. Soybean meal and vegetable oil consume around 85% of the world’s soybean crop. By the way, the soybean is not a vegetable–soybean is a legume–but soy oil is still referred to as vegetable oil. Other plant-based oils include:
- Canola (rapeseed)
- Peanut (a legume, not a nut)
Unless the label says the oil is 100 percent, it may a blend of other oils. Read my post The Olive Oil Controversy. People can be allergic to any of these plant-based oils.
So here’s what I do to avoid an allergic reaction because of a vegetable oil mishap:
- I read the ingredients labels of all oils before I buy them, and I stick to companies I trust. For a cooking spray, I use Winona Pure which does not contain soy lecithin.
- I avoid all restaurants that cook only with soy oil and offer no other options (even if I’m ordering a food that doesn’t require oil–it’s just too risky). If they cannot identify what is in their “vegetable oil,” I leave. In my experience, most Mexican restaurants and many Asian restaurants use soybean oil.
- If it’s a questionable restaurant, I ask if the olive oil or other oil is 100 percent. This doesn’t usually go over well, but it’s been a lifesaver on several occasions.
- I read allergen menus with a magnifying glass. Because of the FDA exemption for soybean oil and soy lecithin, restaurants do not have to list them under “soy allergy.” Some allergen menus note this exemption with an asterisk, but not all do.
- I ask a lot of questions before I order. What oil do you use to cook with? Does your vegetable oil contain soy? Do any other foods contain soy lecithin? Do you use cooking spray?
- If possible, I call the chef in advance and discuss my dietary needs. I have celiac disease and allergies to dairy, eggs and corn, but I always stress the soy allergy because it’s the one that gets missed by waitstaff the most. Untrained waitstaff think tofu and soy sauce.
- When I make reservations on OpenTable, which I do a lot, I note I have a soy allergy including soy oil and soy lecithin. I also check out what people say on Urban Spoon and Food Allergy/Celiac Disease apps.
- When I travel, I try to stick to chain restaurants that never use soy oil (these are usually higher-end chains).
- When eating out in my hometown, I’m a regular at restaurants that don’t use any soy at all. I let them know how grateful I am to have a safe place to eat.
So I think I ate too much turkey and gluten-free pie over Thanksgiving because I can’t seem to snap out of this funk I’m in. Or maybe it’s because the season of holiday parties is upon us and I hate, hate, hate having to do the food two-step every time a well-meaning host offers me a plate of cheese . . . and then a plate of sliders . . . and then a plate of desserts.
I usually love the holidays, but this year I want to hibernate in my Snuggly with my Netflix subscription until New Year’s Day.
I think I know why I’m feeling so blue. And it’s not just that I can’t bake cookies without buying a college education’s worth of allergy-friendly ingredients, or that Breakfast with Santa means no breakfast at all.
It’s because I’m tired of the people I love STILL NOT GETTING IT.
There. I said it. On the Internet. For everyone to read.
It’s been almost six years since I first learned the food I was eating was making me sick. Six years! I’ve had time to adjust. My loved ones have had time to adjust. Yet Dear Old Mom still reminds me how I ate everything and anything as a kid (yes, I was on the plump side). Is this her way of saying the numerous doctors I’ve consulted are all wrong about my dozen plus food allergies? Does she think my celiac disease–which was passed on by my parents’ genes!–is a figment of my imagination?
Then there’s Darling Husband, the Eater of Everything. Unlike Mom, he doesn’t dispute that my allergies and celiac are real and he supports my need for a special diet.
He just doesn’t want my restrictions to restrict him.
He still insists on eating at his favorite restaurants–including the ones that gluten or soy or dairy me every time I eat there. He loves Italian food, and he doesn’t understand–or want to try to understand–why I’m fearful of restaurants that can’t help having wheat flour floating in the air. Nor does he get how monotonous the plain salmon and spinach gets after eating it every Friday night year after year.
Recently, during a rather heated discussion about where to go for dinner, Darling Husband, Eater of Everything, said, “Can I pick the restaurant this time?” As if I’d been choosing the places to eat these last years for fun–not out of the need to stay healthy and keep breathing.
And then there are those “friends,” the ones who think it’s funny to mock my special food requests after I place an order. It is not funny. It is annoying. It is hurtful.
A fellow allergic foodie recently expressed in an online support forum how upset she was when her family didn’t want to come for Thanksgiving because they didn’t like her allergy-free food. I’m pretty sure people have passed on dinner at my house for the same reason. But this was THANKSGIVING. A time for loved ones to come together and be thankful. My heart broke for her.
The one present I would like this Christmas is for my family and friends to accept and respect my food restrictions.
Otherwise, just wrap up another Snugly.
My husband and I drove through Nashville this past weekend and stopped to have dinner with the college boy. You’ve heard me refer to our son often as the “College Celiac.” Yes, he inherited his mom’s celiac genes, something we discovered after he left home and went far, far away. Actually, he believes the amount of wheat he ate during freshmen year–pizza, pasta, bagels, cookies–triggered his celiac. He’s probably right.
Over gluten-free appetizers, I asked my son if he ever cheated and ate a slice of pizza or a cookie. Okay, I was really wondering if he ever slipped up and had a beer at a party. Perhaps it was the dozen of red solo cups and the beer pong table in his rented house that made me wonder this.
“I’m never even tempted,” he said. “It’s not worth feeling stupid all week.”
My son’s worst celiac symptom is brainfog. Feeling lethargic and air-headed can obviously make learning and studying hard. Trying to adapt to college life is challenging enough without having to worry about eating the wrong foods and getting ill.
And oh how I hated those terrible middle-of-the-night phone calls when he was doubled over in pain. I wondered if it was truly a gluten reaction or if he had appendicitis or food poisoning. Should he go to the ER, or wait it out?
When he ate in the school cafeterias, he got glutened often. We tried moving him to a suite with a kitchen and that proved to be even worse–the other boys left half-eaten pizza and breadcrumbs everywhere! Moving to a house last year helped, but he still keeps a toaster in his room and gluten-free foods under his bed.
We’ve both learned a lot in the last four years. So when I was asked to speak about our experience for the FOOD ALLERGY WELLNESS SUMMIT–a FREE ONLINE 4-day event with 12 food allergy experts–I jumped at the chance to help other parents and students about to embark on the college journey. There seems to be a wealth of information out there for younger kids with food allergies and celiac disease, but not so much for the high school and college student.
If you have a child with food allergies, or you are a high school student preparing for college, please join me on November 4 for “I Can’t Eat That: Living with Food Restrictions in College.” I’ll offer lots of advice on everything from choosing the right school to preparing to leave home to eating and socializing on campus.
After listening to my talk, you’ll receive TWO FREE DOWNLOADS specific for college students from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and Food Allergy Research & Education. Plus you’ll have a chance to WIN THREE GREAT PRIZES perfect for the college student: a $25 gift certificate to Well Amy; an assortment of treats free of the top ten allergens from Surf Sweets; and an autographed copy of The Everything Gluten-Free College Cookbook by Carrie S. Forbes.
SIGN UP FOR THE FOOD ALLERGY WELLNESS SUMMIT TODAY!
Just getting over a few days of food-allergy misery. I’ve been eating out a lot–just check my Facebook or Instagram photos!–so I’m not all that surprised a bit of gluten, soy, dairy, or corn snuck into my food. I guess I tempted the Food Allergy Gods one too many times.
This may sound slightly paranoid to some of you, but I kind of wonder if this time at this particular restaurant the chef didn’t intentionally leave an allergen in my order. It’s horrible to suspect someone who is preparing your food isn’t taking your food restrictions seriously, but we all know it happens.
Here’s how the dining experience–er, dining disaster–played out. The waitress is terrific–very aware of my needs because she herself is gluten sensitive. She asks myriad questions and goes over the menu in detail. To be safe, it’s decided I’ll order plain grouper and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The table will share crab legs for an appetizer, butter on the side. The only unanswered question is what kind sauce of the six offered I can have on my fish. She goes back to the kitchen to find out.
When she returns, her face is flushed She explains that the head chef is “old school” and believes the front of the house–the waiters and servers–shouldn’t converse with the back of the house–the chefs. I thought this only happened in the movies! How in the world is our waitress suppose to find out if food is allergen free without talking one-on-one with the person preparing the food?
“I told him you’re not going to have to use an epipen on my watch!” she says. Her pen flies up in the air like a sword.
This waitress went to battle for me. How awesome is that? But that’s also why it makes getting sick from this meal even worse–and why I suspect foul play.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just leave the restaurant then. In hindsight, I should have. But it was late, few other restaurants were opened, and we were so enjoying this view of the full moon.
So I ate my plain grouper that was nondescript, which was fine if it meant not getting sick.
Of course, you now know how that panned out.
While rolled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I rehashed that meal in my head. I pictured the chef ignoring that lovely waitress. I wondered what he missed–or added–to my order that made me so sick. I kept asking myself, If this chef had a wife or a child with food allergies, how would he feel about interacting with the front of the house then?
I’m often quick to blame a waiter for leaving croutons on my salad or butter on my vegetables, but maybe I don’t know what he is dealing with behind those swinging steel doors. When a hierarchy exists in restaurants–when good communication between all food staff members doesn’t exist–those of us with food restrictions pay the price.
The only time I’ll return to this restaurant is to see the sunset. I’m pretty sure this chef could care less about losing me as a customer, but the waitress may. She did her job exactly right. I’ll give her a high-five the next time I see her.
My oldest son just celebrated a birthday. Having graduated from college last May, he is now working his first real job in an office setting and living on his own. I laughed when he said, “Birthdays just aren’t as much fun when you’re a grownup.”
No matter how old you are, birthdays aren’t as much fun when you have to pass on the birthday cake, too. College Grad is allergic to dairy and eggs. Of course, there are plenty of treats he can eat, but the office is small and they are evidently unaware of the nearby allergy-friendly and vegan-friendly bakery with cupcakes like the one below.
A few years ago, for a short time, I worked in an office. I didn’t know back then that food was making me sick. I’d buy a sandwich on wheat bread or bring one from home and spend the rest of the day doubled over. Fortunately, the company allowed me to work at home often, but I became so focused on figuring out what was wrong with me, I resigned. My husband likes to say I quite my job to be a blogger.
That experience, and now having a son with allergies in the working world, has made me empathetic to those who must manage food restrictions among co-workers who don’t alway understand. Even my younger son in college experiences challenges managing his celiac disease while interning for companies. Both sons developed allergies and celiac disease as young adults, so they had to learn to speak up for themselves; a teacher or a parent wasn’t always there to ensure their food safety. Still, when you’re young and interning or starting your first job, it’s not easy to ask your manager to wipe the cookie crumbs off the counter or explain to the company CEO why you can’t eat the cheese pizza he just bought for the staff.
One of my friends, a project manager who developed anaphylactic reactions in her thirties, told me how she had to train her staff to use an epipen. Can you imagine? Who wants to stick a needle in their boss’s thigh? A man I recently met shared how uncomfortable it is to have a reaction among co-workers and be the center of attention. He worried that others would view him as weak.
Whether you’ve grown up with food restrictions or reactions are new, you must learn to speak up for yourself and be proactive in managing your dietary needs. Christina Griffin, who blogs at Bubble Girl Happily, and Alice Enevoldsen have written a terrific guide Managing Food Allergies in the Workplace. This manual is for both food-allergic folks and for their employers. FARE also has useful information.