Not All Celiacs Are Skinny

When the doctor confirmed I had celiac disease AND allergies to dairy, corn, eggs, soy, and a bunch of other foods, the first thing I thought was What would I eat?  The second thing that popped into my mind was At least I’ll lose weight! Trying to shed pounds for decades, I figured all those food restrictions would surely make that horrid digital scale go down.

That was eight years ago and I’m still overweight. This embarrasses me. I’m the person who orders grilled salmon or chicken and a salad with olive oil and lemon, yet I’m the fattest one at the table.

IMG_4321My weight also makes me angry and a little depressed. I mean if I can’t eat cheesecake and lasagna for the rest of my life, let me at least look good in a pair of skinny jeans.

Before diagnosis and for a long time afterwards–while I was learning how to eat sans gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn–food didn’t last long in my body, if you know what I mean. So one would naturally assume, I’d lose weight. Nope. Didn’t happen.

So I went to see a nutritionist. After much testing, she said I was malnourished. This seemed funny considering my pant size was creeping up. She put me on a nutrient-rich diet with much more protein than I’d been consuming and I felt great for the first time in years.

But I didn’t lose weight.

Okay, time to come clean. During these early years of food-restricted eating, I did test the gluten-free products. I mean I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I’d never eat pizza or a croissant or an omelet ever again. So when I came across a processed gluten-free product that was also dairy-free and soy-free, I had to give it a try. Prime example: Amy’s Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze  Plus companies kept sending me free food in hopes of a blog review. I had to eat them–it was part of my job.

IMG_3129 2Turns out a lot of those allergy-friendly treats are high in calories, fat, carbs, and sugar. That Amy’s Mac & Cheeze? 400 calories, 16 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 47 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar. Sure my metabolism was out of whack,  but those gluten-free/soy-free/diary-free chocolate chips I popped into my mouth weren’t helping either.

Also turns out I’m not the only fat celiac. A 2008 study from Northern Ireland found weight gain is common in patients following a strict gluten-free diet. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center summarized three possible explanations for weight gain based on this study as well as some other European studies (Impact, Spring 2008, Vol. 8, Issue 2).

First, when the small intestine heals after eliminating gluten, nutrients are absorbed more normally. Dietary  carbohydrates, proteins and fats then contribute calories to the body. For many celiacs who lose too much weight, this is a desirable outcome. For those of us struggling with too many pounds, not so much.

Another possibility for packing on the pounds is gluten-free substitutes often contain higher amounts of fats and sugars than the wheat/gluten versions. So many of us food-restricted folks are so busy reading the labels for gluten and allergens that we forget to check for calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. I have also noticed potion sizes for gluten-free foods are often smaller than foods with gluten, and I eat two servings instead of one. Oops.

Finally, adults with malabsorption from undiagnosed and active celiac disease may consume more food and not gain weight. Once on the gluten-free diet, they may find they must eat less to maintain a healthy diet. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I was often hungry–food never stayed in me long–and I even craved the very foods that I later learned were making me ill. After diagnosis of celiac and food allergies, I felt so restricted I didn’t really look at how much I was eating. Sometimes, especially when I travelled, I overate because I never knew when my next meal might come. Sure, I often ordered the salad or the plain burger without a bun, but I also grabbed that bag of gluten-free potato chips in case I got hungry later.

IMG_4307I’ve come to realize I can’t keep blaming my tight pants on a broken metabolism. Starting WeightWatchers last summer–Is this my third time?–was a game changer. I began to start paying attention to the portions of the allergy-free food I put on my plate. Rather than just examining labels for caramel coloring and maltodextrin, I paid attention to the nutritional labels as well. With WeightWatchers allotting me 30 points to eat each day, whole foods are much better choices than processed foods such as Amy’s Rice Mac and Non-Dairy Cheeze (16 points!). I now know the dairy-free yogurt, the agave nectar I added to my morning coffee, even the Ruby Red Grapefruit in juice I ate as a “healthy snack” are all loaded with sugar.

I’m losing around two pounds a week and feeling better than I have in years. The WeightWatchers program encourages me to track everything I put in my mouth and it’s been easier pinpointing what foods contain an ingredient I react to. For example, I thought I could eat a little corn but every time I eat citric acid derived from corn I feel sick. No more citric acid for me.

I’m not endorsing WeightWatchers here, but I am suggesting if you’re food-restricted yet struggling with unwanted pounds, you may want to take a closer look at those allergy-friendly food labels and the amount of food you’re consuming.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Not All Celiacs Are Skinny” first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know

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.

“Vegetable.”

“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.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil

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)
  • Coconut
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive
  • Palm
  • Peanut (a legume, not a nut)
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

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.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

An Allergic Foodie’s Favorites: Rebecca’s Gluten Free

I’ve really come to appreciate the small family-owned businesses that make food my sons and I can eat. For a long time I hated grocery shopping because all the “allergy-free” packaged foods contained at least one ingredient one of us couldn’t have. Son #1 is allergic to dairy and eggs, son #2 has celiac disease, and I’m the Queen of Allergies including oddball ones like vanilla, nutmeg and guar flour.

Thankfully, there are other allergic folk (mostly women) and parents of little allergic folk (mostly moms) who don’t mind stepping up to the kitchen counter and taking on the painstaking task of developing recipes sans “normal” ingredients and yet taste great. I so appreciate these women because I do not have the patience or the passion to create a batter over and over again until I get it right. These people deserve our applause.

At the recent Food Allergy and Celiac Convention in Orlando, I was incredibly touched by the selfless stories I heard over and over again of people changing careers or starting a home business to help families like mine. These people make it their life’s work to make our lives better.

I’d like to introduce you to  some of  these special people and their companies. Starting with this post, I’ll tell you about my favorite gluten-free and allergy-friendly businesses–everything from computer apps to cookbooks to cookies. I hope you’ll learn about new products as well as enjoy getting to know the incredible people behind them.

Let’s begin with cookies.

An Allergic Foodie's Favorites: Rebecca's Gluten Free

Rebecca’s Gluten Free  (Cookie Mixes)

Some back story . . .

Rebecca Clampitt sent me two of her cookie mixes to try–Coconut and Brownie. I was reluctant at first because they are made with some corn and I sometimes react to corn, depending on the amount. The directions also said to add butter and eggs, which are a no-no for one son and me. I decided to make the coconut ones with egg replacer and Earth Balance Soy-Free Buttery Spread.

Rebecca's Gluten Free Cookie Mixes

They turned out perfect and so tasty–like a macaroon but better. I had no reaction to the corn–this is not to say those of you with corn allergies should try!

Coconut Cookie Mix from Rebecca's Gluten Free

Now on to the interview .  . .

Rebecca, please share the story behind Rebecca’s Gluten Free.

Three years ago, when my daughter was  ten, she was very ill with severe gastrointestinal issues and ear infections. I was also having GI symptoms. I wanted her to be tested for celiac disease, but she is afraid of needles and wouldn’t let a doctor get near her. I finally decided to take us both off gluten and we felt so much better. While we’ve never ben officially diagnosed with celiac disease, we are gluten intolerant.

I wanted my daughter to have gluten-free treats for school functions, but most packaged gluten-free cookies didn’t taste that great. As far as mixes go, there were only two choices–chocolate chip and sugar. So I started researching different flours. The cookies would always end up flat and I’d end up in tears. It was not an overnight process!

Rebecca with her beautiful daughter

Rebecca with her beautiful daughter

When I finally got it right and decided to sell my mixes, it was important to me that they be easy and require no more than three additional ingredients. They require eggs and butter, and the Pumpkin Spice requires molasses.  I also wanted to come up with unique flavors. We offer Brownie, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Crinkle, Coconut, Pumpkin Spice and Snicker Doodle.

Where are your cookie mixes manufactured?

I rent space in a commercial kitchen. The kitchen is not gluten-free certified, but I have my own space–no one uses it to cook any other foods–and I make my mixes when no one else is cooking. I also use my own cooking utensils..

Your labels say “tested and approved at 2.5 ppm of gluten.” How do you test for gluten?

According to the FDA, everything in the mixes must be tested, including the separate packets of sugar and coconut included in the package. I send everything to EMSL Analytical Incorporated.  Every new mix flavor I create gets tested. I am working to become Certified Gluten Free through the Celiac Sprue Association.

I noticed the ingredients weren’t listed on the packaging. Why?

Honestly, I couldn’t fit them on the label! In January I will have new packaging that will include ingredients and nutrition labeling. Until then, you can find all ingredients on the website.

The Brownie Cookie Mix was a hit with the College Celiac.

The Brownie Cookie Mix was a hit with the College Celiac.

Are there any other common allergens in your mixes?

All of the mixes have corn and one has coconut. There are no nuts.

How much do your mixes cost, and where can people find your cookie mixes?

They cost $5.99.  Tight now I am only selling through the website. I am waiting to be certified gluten free before pursuing Trader Joe’s and other stores.

For more information about Rebecca’s Gluten Free, visit her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

An Allergic Foodie received Rebecca’s Gluten Free Mixes for free, but An Allergic Foodie’s review is entirely her own.

An Allergic Foodie’s Favorites: Rebecca’s Gluten Free first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.