I’m a Picky Eater! And Proud of It!

There I was at a pizza party grazing off the veggie platter when a friend–for the sake of my future social life let’s call her Deborah–leaned across the table and announced loudly that her daughter who has celiac disease doesn’t need to be nearly as careful as I do.

“Well she kind of does,” I explained good-naturedly while the other guests rolled out homemade pizza dough.

“But her symptoms aren’t nearly as bad as yours,” Deborah said. (Oh, and did I mention Deborah is a nurse?) “At our house, we use the same toaster, the same utensils, the same cutting board, and my daughter is just fine.”

Maybe I was just being overly sensitive that night, but it felt like Deborah was announcing to all the other guests, as well as the lovely hosts, that I was just being a picky eater.

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Guess what?  I am a picky eater! I have to be. Otherwise, I’ll end up spending the evening in the restroom and the following day in the fetal position on the sofa.

Yes Deborah, I really can’t eat the gluten-free pizza dough that’s been rolled out with a rolling pin covered in flour. Nor can I cook the gluten-free pizza in the really cool pizza oven because it’s also been contaminated with flour.

My husband doesn't have CD enjoyed the pizza!

My husband doesn’t have CD enjoyed the pizza!

There was no convincing this woman that her daughter with mild symptoms should follow strict contamination guidelines. She didn’t want to change her cooking habits or reorganize her kitchen. I went to bed that evening worrying about her young daughter who could possibly develop serious complications from uncontrolled celiac disease later in life.

According to Peter Green, MD, author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, “Many patients who do not have diarrhea think that there is no need for treatment. But the longer individuals have celiac disease, the more like they are to get other autoimmune diseases. Even without symptoms, patients need to be treated to prevent further damage.”

As those of us with CD know, “treatment” involves removing all gluten out of our diet and avoiding cross contamination. For those newly diagnosed or who are cooking for a loved one with CD or gluten sensitivity, learning to avoid cross contamination takes patience and practice. Following are some basic guidelines; even if you are an experienced gluten-free eater, it’s a good idea to review these.

  • Always wash cooking utensils with dish soap and water before using—you never know where that fork has been!
  • Maintain designated non-wheat cutting boards, strainers, and toasters. Color code if possible; at my house, gluten-free cookware is apple green. I also label items with a Sharpie and keep a gluten-free cupboard for my supplies. In our vacation home, I label everything I cook with, and when I think guests won’t follow the rules, I lock my cookware in an owner’s closet.
  • Never double dip. If a contaminated spoon has been dipped into the peanut butter, don’t eat the PB. If the flour tortilla has been sunk into the salsa, don’t eat the salsa. If it looks like the crouton spoon at the salad bar has been swapped with the cucumber spoon, pass on the cucumbers.
  • Clearly label the jars that you eat out of (for example, “Amy’s Jam”). I especially find this helpful since I have lots of food allergies and my food is expensive. My husband can eat the cheaper brands. 🙂
  • When eating food that’s typically cooked in oil, such a French Fries, ask if breaded items are cooked in the same oil. Some restaurants, such as Red Robin, are now cooking gluten-free fries in separate oil.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the server or chef lots of questions—whether eating at a restaurant, at a wedding, or at a friend’s house. Be specific about your needs. Can you cook my salmon on foil to avoid contamination? Can you leave the pasta out of my minestrone?
  • If you are still getting sick even after taking cross-contamination steps, keep a food diary and consult a nutritionist/dietician. Gluten hides in so many products and can easily contaminate foods–don’t be afraid to ask for help!

As for Deborah’s daughter, I hope she learns to be a picky eater. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.