Finding Cheaper Gluten Free Foods

Buying gluten free foods usually means that you are paying more per ounce than a similar gluten filled product. Whether the package is the same price and a smaller box, the same size and a higher price, or, my favorite, a smaller package and a higher price, the results are the same: eating gluten free is more expensive than if you were following a regular diet. As a celiac or gluten intolerant patient, this distinction is important because in order to remain healthy we have to stay gluten free and that has an impact on our monthly budget. There is no getting around the fact that we have to pay more, but there are ways to narrow that gap and make eating gluten free only a little less expensive.

Before I get started, I’d like to say that I’m not going to tell you to cook at home more and not use packaged or processed foods because not all people who eat gluten free can do that, and there is the issue that staples, like pasta, are 3-4 times as expensive as those made with wheat. There are also times when you get caught out and need to grab something to eat and don’t know what the choices are.

First, when you are in your regular grocery store check and see if there is a discount rack. Date coded products that expire soon, damaged packages, day old bread, items that aren’t selling, and post-holiday closeouts (think Easter or Halloween candy) wind up here. Discount racks are one of my best places to find large quantities of gluten free foods like pasta, soup, cereal, cookies, snacks, and cake mixes, often at 33-50% off. Stock changes often. If you find something you like go back and buy more A.S.A.P! I’ve bought something, tried it in the parking lot, and gone right back into the store to buy more. Don’t pass up a good deal if you can. Your bank account will thank you.

Next, if your grocery store has a separate gluten free section, browse the shelves whenever you go shopping. Before the last remnants of an item are moved to the discount rack, they are often marked down on the shelves first.

Buying in bulk is the other strategy for saving money when purchasing gluten free foods. I do this in two ways: through a local health food store and on-line.

The local health food store offers a discount of 15-25% when ordering full case lots of a product. Though the retail price in this store is a bit higher than my grocery store, for something that we use a lot like pasta, the savings are still significant overall. If you have any independent grocers in your area call them and ask if they will offer you a discount. You have nothing to lose and dollars to save.

Amazon and other on-line retailers offer a huge variety of gluten-free products at very competitive prices. With little more than a few mouse clicks you can shop, compare, and buy. With services like Amazon’s subscribe and save, you can save even more money on products you use regularly. If I can’t find it local, or need it often, the Internet is where I got for gluten free needs.

Buying gluten free foods will most likely always remain more expensive. Being a consumer in a niche market this is unlikely to change. I hope that these ideas help you save a little time while staying gluten free.

Homemade Bubble Solution

Homemade Bubbles

After going through quite a few containers of bubbles last year we knew that there had to be another way to make them that would be easier and create bigger bubbles from supplies we could keep around the house.

Enter the homemade bubble solution using Dawn dish soap.

This solution is easy to make and lasts a long time.  In fact, the longer it sits before being used the bigger and stronger the bubbles are.  Mix some up in the Winter as a reminder of the coming Spring.  When it is time to go out and enjoy the sun the bubbles will be ready to float jubilantly in the warm air.

Ingredients:
1c. Water
1/3c Dawn dish soap.
2T Glycerin

Mix all of the ingredients in a container with a neck wide enough for your bubble wand and then go out and blow some bubbles!

Do Oats Contain Gluten?

In a word, no.  However, oats do contain a chemical known as avenin which is a compound found in wheat that can cause problems for avenin sensitive celiac patients.

What seems to be a more common issue, however, is cross contamination of oats with wheat, barley, or rye when harvesting, storing, and processing oats because of the similarity of these grains.  This was made apparent to me when speaking with the staff of Arrowhead Mills, who take great precautions to insure their gluten free line is not contaminated, and was told that they cannot guarantee their oat products are gluten free because of shared fields and equipment.

If you are a celiac patient or other who would like to continue to have oats in your diet, try Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats.  I have been eating these since my diagnosis without any issue.  Bob’s Red Mill sources these oats from farmers who grow only oats, and then test the final product using the R5 Elisa test to insure the oats do not contain gluten.

If you would like to read more about gluten, see this post: What is Gluten?

Sources:

Diversity in Oat Potential Immunogenicity: Basis for the Selection of Oat Varieties with No Toxicity in Coeliac Disease
Peroral Small Bowel Mucosal Biopsy
Can Oats Be Taken in a Gluten Free Diet?  A Systematic Review
Gluten Contamination of Commercial Oat Products in the United States

Lego Sunblock

My wife and I enjoy playing board games together and are always looking for something new to try. One day, while out shopping, the Lego line of board games caught our eye when my wife saw Sunblock on sale for $10 at a local toy store. Not familiar with the Lego games she read some reviews and thought it was interesting enough to give a try, especially at this low price.

In Sunblock players take turns rolling the dice and taking the action indication which includes: placing umbrellas of different colors on the beach or moving one of several trashcans, the large striped umbrella, or their own beach chair. Whenever a player knocks over any of the umbrellas or is unable to place a new one, they are out of the game, and play continues until only one person is left on the beach.

Game play is deceptively simple and we have found you are competing not only against the actions of other players, who are constantly trying to make the next move more difficult, but also against your own patience and dexterity. Rushing to place or move a piece can result in an umbrella being pushed over and that player being out. Of the dozens of times we have played, only one game has ended because an umbrella could not be placed. The rest of the time we knocked over an umbrella. To win: be careful and take your time.

Simple, fast, and fun are the three words I’d use to describe this game. Sunblock has become one of our first choices when we sit down to play a board game.

Pick up a copy of Sunblock and join the Lego beach party.

Sunblock
Players: 2-4
Ages: 7+
Playtime: 5-15 minutes.

Kids and Gardening

Gardening with children has been one of the great pleasures of the unexpectedly early spring of 2012 that came to Pennsylvania.  This is the first year where both of my youngest children are finally old enough to spend time together in the garden where they can be handled sufficiently by one parent.   As either of my wife or I help the children play and learn about the garden, the other can work on bigger tasks like weeding or moving compost.  After spending much time whispering the gardener’s lament, “There is always next year.”, the garden is finally in a place where we will have what we want while also increasing the amount of quality time we have with our children.

The fun part about having the children out and gardening is how naturally they take to it.  Whether they are digging for dinosaur bones, our very own pair of Dr. Scott the Paleontologist, or helping to transplant strawberries, they don’t need encouragement.

Having spent time volunteering with a local community organization helping to build garden space in Harrisburg, children’s desire to be out, garden, do hard work, all while learning amazed me.  Not only with my own children, but also with those children from the city, there was little need for support on my part.  They only required instructions to start the project and they jumped right in including planting apple trees, hauling mulch, or shoveling manure,

If you want to teach children to garden, the job is made easy for you.  Lead them to a space where they can dig, plant, and grow.  With a little guidance along the way they will take care of the rest.

What is Gluten?

If you are trying to live a gluten free lifestyle or have been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, it is important to understand what gluten is and what you need to avoid.  Gluten is a protein composed of gliadin and glutelin found in wheat and the related grains barley and rye, and is found in all varieties of wheat including durum, emmer, einkorn, and spelt.  These other names are important to remember when reading a label because they may not be listed plainly as wheat.

Gluten gives dough it’s elasticity, traps the carbon dioxide created by yeast to make bread rise, and gives the final baked product that nice chewy texture.

What Foods Contain Gluten?

Gluten is found in wide variety of foods including some that you might expect, like bread or beer, but it is also used in imitation meat including seitan or textured vegetable protein, and as a stabilizer in other products like ketchup or ice cream.

These secondary uses for gluten, especially as stabilizers, are some of the hidden sources of gluten in food.  Read all food labels every time. If you eat something and your symptoms return, look at what you ate over the last several days that was different so you can locate what may have made you sick.

What about Corn and Rice “gluten”?

Corn (maize) and rice both include proteins that are sometimes called gluten, but this is not the same as the gluten found in wheat, barley, or rye.  For people with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, corn (maize) and rice are perfectly safe to eat in all forms, though reading the label is still important to look for potential sources of gluten.

If you would like to learn more about celiac disease and gluten free foods, please read this introduction: What is Celiac Disease?

What is Celiac Disease?

As someone who has lived with the diagnosis of Celiac Disease for nearly three years, and having suffered from it for a decade before finding the root cause of my health problems, there is a great deal of confusion over what this disorder is when first diagnosed or trying to explain it to friends and family members.  I am not a doctor, but wanted to share this information in a personal way so that if you are diagnosed, or know someone who is, it will make understanding the issue easier.  This and other posts on celiac disease and living gluten free come from my own experience, reading lots of books and web articles, and conversations with my general practitioner (GP), as well as my gastroenterologist.

What is Celiac Disease?

You will find this disorder called be several different, though related, name:  Celiac Disease, Celiac Sprue, or Coeliac.  All of these are the same issue: a disorder that causes the immune system to attack gluten in the small intestine, leading to intestinal damage, and which results in nutritional absorption problems.  Though easily described as an allergy, it is not, it is an autoimmune disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

The symptoms of celiac disease can include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and unexplained weight loss. Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can lead to nutritional absorption problems which may lead to secondary symptoms such as hair loss, depression, anxiety, fatigue, itchy skin, muscle cramps, joint pain, and even seizures.  Because celiac disease can effect the whole body the symptoms may seem unrelated to the immune system or digestion.

My primary symptom was diarrhea, which would happen within an hour or so of eating a gluten heavy meal, like pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or subs.  Initially, my diagnosis was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which lead to a phenomenon my GP at the time referred to as “bathroom counting” and said that once I knew where every public bathroom was in the area that my problem had probably advanced from mild or moderate to rather severe.  Once my youngest daughter was born, and we were trying to do more activities as a family, I realized how bad the symptoms had finally gotten pretty bad and needed to talk to my doctor about what was going on.  Before it was easy to stop in some place, visit a bathroom, and then continue on my journey.

What Are the Tests for Celiac Disease?

I underwent 4 different tests to check for celiac disease.  One was a simple blood test to look for two specific antibodies: antitissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) and anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA).  One came back positive and the other inconclusive.  That was enough for my gastroenterologist to schedule me for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. Other than the preparation for the procedures, both were simple procedures that went well, and confirmed the initial blood tests and diagnosis: I had celiac disease.

Is there a Cure for Celiac Disease?

At this time there is no cure for Celiac Disease, but it can easily be controlled by going on a gluten free diet.   Once my doctor confirmed the diagnosis he ordered a gluten free diet and included some pamphlets on how and what to eat, as well as literature on a local and national support group, the Gluten Intolerance Group.

What is a Gluten Free Diet?

A gluten free diet is one that does not contain any ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye, or contaminated oats.  Finding these on a nutritional label is fairly straight forward.  However, it is products derived from wheat, barley, and rye that can get someone with celiac disease in trouble.  These following items may include gluten:

Food Starch (unless the starch is declared, such as “Corn Starch”)
Modified Food Starch (unless the starch is declared, such as “Modified Corn Starch” or “Corn Starch, modified”)
Vinegar (unless it says that it is distilled or apple cider)
Yeast,  Yeast Extract, Nutritional Yeast, Brewers Yeast (Torula Yeast is OK)
Malt Flavoring
Caramel Color (if made outside the United States.  Caramel Color from the U.S. is made from corn)

How Long Before the Healing Begins?

The amount of time it takes to recover from the damage caused by celiac disease will vary by each individual.  If someone has gone a long time without a diagnosis it may take longer for their body to heal, but I have not heard of any cases where the body cannot or will not recover.  Within 4 days of beginning a strict gluten free diet it my symptoms went away.   From conversations with my gastroenterologist he said that it would take 6-8 weeks for my small intestine to recover from the damage and my body would begin absorbing nutrients properly again.

What Happen if I Eat Gluten After Being Diagnosed?

Your symptoms may return.  But once you go back on the gluten free diet, they will go away again and your body will heal.

With so many foods to choose from, it is easy to grab something you think is gluten free only to realize it isn’t.  Recently I was eating having some potato chips at a friend’s house, chips that I had read the label on before and said were gluten free,  when I looked at the label on the current bag and there was the allergen warning: CONTAINS WHEAT. The manufacturer changed the recipe, and I hadn’t thought to check to see if it was safe.  Too late.  I had eaten gluten.  The next morning I had some issues, but they cleared up quickly.  Be careful, read labels, and do your best.

How Long Must I Stay Gluten Free with Celiac Disease?

If you are a big fan of breads, cakes, and pastas, it can be disheartening to hear this, but you must remain on a gluten free diet for life. There is no cure and even though the symptoms go away, they will return if you start eating gluten again.

Where Can I Buy Gluten Free Foods?

Many grocery stores now have gluten free foods in their health food section or scattered among the regular items.  My local grocery stores, Giant and  Weis, do a mix of these methods, with specialty items like gluten free granola and gluten free baked goods in the health food section, and gluten-free versions of regular products, like Bisquick, in the aisle with the normal product and a gluten free tag on the shelf.

I have found, however, that one of the best retailers to buy gluten free foods from is Amazon.com.  They have one of the largest selections, often with bulk offerings, and with the subscribe and save option on many items, you can set up regular deliveries of your gluten free staples and save an extra 15%.  Follow any of the links below to look through the gluten free options on some staple products.

Gluten Free Bread
Gluten Free Cereal
Gluten Free Cookies
Gluten Free Pasta
Gluten Free Snacks
Gluten Free Soup
My Favorite Book on Celiace Disease:

Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic
The cover on this book is unfortunate because it looks like an unreadable text book or medical reference, however, it is one of the most easy to read, straightforward books on celiac disease that I have encountered to date.  Tons and tons of useful information rest withing the covers especially on what foods and food additives are safe and which to avoid.

References and Additional Reading:

PubMed Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001280/
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319

Gardening With Children

When teaching children to garden, there are three items essential items: a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent.  To make it more fun for children, and so they can emulate adults who are working along side them, a pair of gloves and set of work tools can also be added for little cost.

Bucket Hat

A good hat helps to protect our children from the sun, absorb sweat, provide shelter from a light rain, and overall keep them cooler so they can enjoy their time digging in the dirt. My favorite style of hat, for children or adults, is a bucket hat. These hats, if you haven’t see one, have a vertical crown, flat top, and a uniform brim around all the way around. Usually made of cotton or a cotton/poly blend, they are inexpensive if you buy one new, or can be purchased for a dollar or two at a thrift store or yard sale. My son has at least 5 of these hats right now because of grandparents and other family members picking them up for him when they see one they think will make him look cute. I thank them for getting a hat that will shield him from the elements, and is sized loosely enough that a spare one can be kept in the van for him or his sister.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a point of much debate among myself and my friends with children.  Which sunscreen is the best?  Which sunscreen offers the best protection? What chemicals are used to block the UV rays?

I use a children’s continuous spray sunscreen, broad spectrum SPF 50, but am considering moving to a cream based product after having problems applying the fine spray in moderate winds even when shielding the can and spraying into my hand to be rubbed on. If you are concerned about the contents of your sunscreen, look for a product that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredient. Badger and Burt’s Bees both make well reviewed products and a friend of mine recommends California Baby, Jason, or Alba Botanical.

Insect Repellent

When it comes to insect sprays, I’m not a fan of DEET bug repellent, due to the damage it can do to synthetic fabrics and plastics which seem to be in abundance, or permethrin clothing treatments because of the list of potential warnings. That lead to a search for something that would offer protection and not be based on one of these ingredient. After trying a long list of natural bug sprays, a trip to Oregon introduced me to Liquid Net by the Liquid Fence company, which is based in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Now, I am what you might call a bug magnet. For example, on a camping trip I received over 100 mosquito bites, that I could count, while the victim with the next highest number in the group was in the low teens. Finding something that works is important or I am left to spend another summer either itching or wrapped up from wrist to toe. Surprisingly, after using Liquid Net I went bite free during a particularly bad mosquito season. Since then, I apply this whenever heading out of doors and have not had any serious bites to report since.

Liquid Net is a great product because it is effective, first and foremost, but it also goes on light, meaning it doesn’t leave any feeling of film or residue on the skin, has a pleasant smell, and a 12oz bottle lasts a long time. Oh, yeah, and did I mention it works? Really well. Compared to the cost of other DEET free products it is competitive, especially when you realize how long a bottle lasts. Liquid Net is a good value and will remain my insect spray of choice until it is no longer available.

Once these essentials are covered for you and your children’s foray out into the garden, now comes the accessories that make the time spend digging and planting more fun: Work Gloves and Tools.

Work Gloves

My children love wearing their own gloves because they get to look like Mommy and Daddy as they dig and gives them a sense that they are doing real work, not just playing. If they don’t have their gloves on, but the gardening tools are out, then they will dig in the dirt looking for dinosaur bones or so that they have a deep enough spot to put in rocks and make stone soup. Once they have their gloves on, it is time for business and they begin asking about what we are going to plant and start talking about where things should go and asking what they can do next to help get things ready. If only I was so collected as a 2 or 3 year old. From the stories my parents told it was always about what I could eat from the garden, not what I could help plant.

Finding good gardening gloves for children took quite some time. Once the search was over we bought each of our children a pair of gloves from Womans Work. The gloves come in two sizes, small, for 3-5 year old, and large for 6-9. The sizing is right on the mark. Both of our children’s hands fit in them nicely, even if it takes a bit of wrangling to get the littlest one’s hands in, and there is even a place for the child, or a parent, to write their name and have their very own set of gloves. Then they can get down to hard work while protecting their hands and I can relax knowing that getting their hands clean is one less task when we go inside.

Garden Tools

Now that their heads, skin, and hands are properly protected for in the garden, it is time to fill their hands with tools and set them loose in the garden under the watchful eye of their parents. Finding a good set of gardening tools for children was much easier, and less expensive, than I expected. The surprise came when the Lee Valley Tools and the Small Garden Tools Set. For under $10 you get a set of 6 tools: a wide trowel, four-prong cultivator, weeding fork, narrow trowel, two-prong cultivator, and weeder. Made of glass-fiber-reinforced polypropylene, they are light and easy for children to use, won’t rust, are brightly colored and easy to find if forgotten in the grass, and hold up to the elements if they are left behind. My children have used them heavily without an issue. Also, if you have never dealt with Lee Valley before, they stand behind their products and have one of the nicest customer service departments I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Teaching our children at a young age to garden and spend time outdoors can lead to a life time of learning. As their parents, relatives, teachers, or mentor it is important to get them into the world so that they can grow and explore. With a few precautions and some inexpensive investments we can take them into the garden where they can play, and at the same time learn skills that will last them a lifetime.

Quinoa Cookies

Gluten-Free-Orange-Essence

For being such a whole grain, low sugar (4g/serving), cookie Andean Dream Quinoa Cookies are delicate, flavorful, and have a good texture.  Where some gluten free cookies feel like a mouthful of sand when you start to chew them, these come apart into big crisp crumbs that are a little chewy.  The orange essence is clean and lingers on the tongue for a few minutes after eating.  Each cookie is individually wrapped which makes them easy to grab and take with you.  Having bought quite a few boxes, since they were onsale, I toss some in my pocket whenever we are going out so I have a safe snack.

http://www.andeandream.com

Redbridge Gluten Free Beer

Redbridge is a gluten-free beer made by Anheuser-Busch, who also makes Budweiser (the American version, not the awesome Czech beer, which is now being sold in the U.S. as Czechvar), Michelob, Becks, and others.  This beer is made, according to the label, with only water, fermented sorghum (sorghum, corn syrup), hops, and yeast.  A 12oz bottle is 127 calories and contains 0 fat, 12.3g carbohydrates (<1g sugar), and <1g of protein.

But really, you didn’t come here to read all the technical details of this beer, you want to know how it tastes.  Well, as an amateur zymurgist who brewed his own beer and felt Guinness stout was a little too light for polite company, it has been difficult to adjust to these lighter gluten-free beers.  However, as my palate slowly loses it’s memory of greater things, and by taste testing among friends who usually drink beer with a color closer to straw or amber than caramel or pitch, the overall impression is, “That’s not bad, it reminds me of an <insert one> Miller/Coors/Budweiser.”  If you are looking for a beer, it is a nice choice.  On a warm day, with a nice slice of (gluten-free) pizza, it is reminiscent of those times before a Celiac Diagnosis when a bottle of beer made for relaxing afternoon.

Thankfully, my wife likes Redbridge and at $30-35 for a24 pack of 12oz bottles, we can keep a case or two around should some friends stop by.