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.

Reusable Swiffer Cloths

If you have one of the Swiffer handles, and it seems like everyone does even if it is in the back of a closet because of having to buy the clothes, break it out again because you can still use it to keep your house clean.  Without ever buying another swiffer cloth again, saving you tons of money in the process.  If you like doing something good for the earth, this will also keep some trash out of the landfill. The big secret is:

Use a Dish Towel

Voila! The convenience of a Swiffer in a reusable form with something you probably already have in your kitchen.  Seriously.  The hooks that hold on a Swiffer cloth are perfect for holding a towel.  Dry, the towel picks up dust, dirt, and pet hair just fine. In combination with your favorite spray cleaner the towel will mop floors quickly and easily.

Using this method has kept the floors in our kitchen and bathroom clean for years, without having to break out a mop.  Cleaning the floors has turned from a project that needed to be planned:  in order to move the furniture, corral the children and animals, bring the mop and bucket out of storage, fill it up, wet mop, let it all dry, move everything back, release the children and animals, into a routine cleaning task that only takes a few minutes a week.

Give it a try and let me know how it works or if you have other suggestions for how to make other disposable products reusable.

Tinkyada Rice Pasta

Tinkyada, the brand of wheat free / gluten-free rice noodles with the cartoon rabbits on the packaging, has become the staple noodle choice in our family, largely because of availability and price. Some other brands of pasta that are better in certain shapes, such as De Boles Corn Spaghetti, but are not always on the store shelves. With Tinkyada, that is not a problem and it is consistently between $3 and $4 per pound.

Any place a wheat based pasta would be used, these rice noodles can go. Macaroni and cheese, whether baked or creamy, stuffed shells, beef and macaroni, or spaghetti. Our favorite dish is lasagna and 9 sheets of lasagna noodles are enough to fill a 9”x13” pan 3 layers deep, 3 noodles wide.

For our extended family members who are not used to a gluten-free foods, the lasagna is a gateway meal to realize that GF isn’t that strange. Though they may eat lasagna with us several times, eventually they will look at their fork and quizzically ask:

“Scott, I thought you couldn’t eat pasta?”
“I can’t.”
“Then how are you eating this?”
“It’s gluten-free lasagna.”
“Really? It’s so good! I never would have known.”

And on we go through the rest of the meal contented that we will eat together many times, happily, even though the food is gluten-free.

One recommendation I will make when using these, or any other rice based noodles, is to follow the Easy and Energy-Saving Cooking directions rather than boiling the pasta for the whole cooking time. Though Tinkyada states their pasta is not mushy, it can become super sticky if under cooked, and slimy if over-cooked. Perfectly cooked is a very fine line and the energy-saving method provides a more consistent meal every time.

If you are new to the gluten-free lifestyle, you can’t go wrong stocking up on Tinkyada you eat pasta regularly. Save those more expensive GF pasta for special occasions knowing you can eat well, at a fair price, any time you want with Tinkyada.

Simple Homemade Cleaning Solution

Keeping a house clean with two small children, two cats, a teenager, and two adults, isn’t easy.  Cups get spilled across a table where they ultimately run into a crack and drip onto a chair, a child, and the floor.  Potty training leads to new, interesting, leaks and deposits.  An unwanted meal is strewn across the kitchen floor.  Inquisitive faces get pressed onto every glass surface in the house.  Dirt and mud are tracked into the tile entryway, up the carpeted stairs, and across the wood laminate in the kitchen.

One of the weapons in my arsenal against keeping our house closer to  than pigsty, is having an effective all purpose spray cleaner.  Something that can cut through dust and fingerprints, and finger paint, on glass and be turned to laminate, linoleum, or tile with the next pull of the trigger, and all wiped down or mopped up by whatever is on hand, be it a cotton dishcloth or the cotton/poly blend t-shirt recently removed from a happy yet filthy toddler.

That cleaner of choice is made with vinegar, alcohol, and a little bit of soap.

In a spray bottle, mix together:

1c distilled white vinegar
1c rubbing alcohol (recommend 70% or higher)
1t dish soap

If you want to make this cleaner with something that you don’t have to worry as much about should a young child get to it, I have made this cleaner with vodka (specifically Tito’s, smooth to sip and gluten-free)  before as a test and it worked well.

I should warn you, the alcohol and vinegar combination can leave a strong odor in the air you might find disagreeable, but it goes away in a few minutes.  Because of the alcohol, which will evaporate, this is for spot cleaning or mopping up small areas.  Don’t go spraying down every surface in your house with it, I don’t want you to get light headed.  It may also be flammable, I haven’t checked, so beware of open flames.  I know, it’s a long list to watch out for, but have you read the warning labels of other things you bring into your house?  This isn’t nearly as bad.

Now whenever there is any cleaning that requires something tougher than a rag and a bit of water, give it a spray with this cleaner and wipe it up.  For something that is really ground in or stuck to the floor, formerly chewed then spit out day-old raisins or that sticker you didn’t notice for example, give the offender a good heavy spray and let sit for a minute or two.  I haven’t found any foodstuff or residue that this hasn’t been able to loosen and remove.

Schar Gluten Free Foods

Schar, a German company dedicated to making gluten free foods, has become my go to brand for high quality gluten-free baked goods. As I write this article I am eating some of their short bread cookies. The cookies have a crisp first bite followed by the thick chewy crumbs of a good short bread and begin with a buttery taste on the tip of the tongue and finishing with a smooth vanilla. They are simply a good cookie.

Before I wax too much about this new find, Schar is such a loved company in my household because the quality of the products is very high, they taste good, and all with a texture close to a non-GF product. Thankfully, Schar products are also easy to find in my local grocery stores.

Prices, as with most GF products, are higher than something made with wheat. When, however, compared to boutique or specialty companies rather than a larger manufacturer the prices are similar.

So far, in my years of eating gluten-free I have tried the Vanilla Wafers, Chocolate Hazelnut Bars, Crispbread, Ladyfingers, and Shortbread Cookies. All of these left me satisfied; I did not want to reach for something made with wheat, barley, or rye.

Schar offers products that go beyond good-enough and are absolutely great.

If you cannot find these, or other, Schar products at your grocery store, Amazon has them for sale.

 

Best Lightweight Upright Canister Vacuum: The Hoover Windtunnel Air

Cleaning a house that contains small children and pets needs to happen quick and effortlessly.  Part of my strategy for that is a good vacuum cleaner.

After years of using an inexpensive Dirt Devil, in badly need of repairs, the search for a new vacuum cleaner began.  As an obsessive researcher, I looked around, read reviews, checked prices, and talked to friends.  Finding a vacuum with consistently good reviews, even when spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars, was difficult.  After weeks of searching, and with a budget of $200 or less, a friend recommended that we consider a Hoover, as Hoover was the only brand that they considered worthwhile, and this is from someone who has a family member that works for Electrolux.

The only question was: Why Hoover?

The response: Hoover had the least returns when my husband sold vacuum cleaners.  I wasn’t sold, but after reading general reviews for Hoover, they were no better or worse than the other brands.
I happened upon the Hoover Windtunnel Air in a local store, double checked it had decent reviews, and bought it without a second thought.  On getting it home and using it, I’m very pleased with the purchase.

The Good:

Great Suction:  This vacuum picks up more than I expected.  Compared to our old vacuum, this one easily picks up twice as much dirt and dust, including pet hair.  Pet hair isn’t a problem at all including the cats’ seasonal shedding.  I want to put the fabric attachment on and vacuum the cats directly, but don’t think either one would like it.

Long Reach:  Combining the tool handle, crevice tool, hose extension, and hose, this vacuum gives close to 12 feet of reach to use the accessories.  You have more than enough reach to clean a set of stairs or get at cobwebs in the corner of your basement.

Long Cord:  27 feet.  Plugged into a centrally located outlet, I can clean the entirety of the upstairs, or basement, and a set of stairs.

Washable HEPA Filter:  Replace the filter only when it will no longer come clean when washing.  And it will trap 99.9% of dirt and dust.  What’s better than that?

Lightweight:  Weighing in at 12lbs exactly according to my scale this vacuum is easy to lift, carry, and take where you need, making cleaning easy.

Easy Empty Canister: Unlock the canister, hold it in a trash can, and push a button on the side, and the bottom swings free to empty out the canister.   Clean hands, less mess, less dust back in your now clean rooms.

Brush on/off switch: Transfer quickly between carpet and hardwood floors with the press of a button.

The Bad:

On-board Tool Storage:  Stuck right beneath the cord storage a small clip extends to hold the crevice and combined carpet/upholstery tools.  This little clip does a poor job of holding the tools, and after having the tools pop off every time while vacuuming we now store them in a drawer.  A more secure clip or enclosure would be better to keep these items in place.  Not a deal breaker, but annoying to reach for the tools and find them on they have fallen off in another room.

Items Stuck in the Canister:  Paper and other crinkly items get stuck between the air-outlet cone and the side of the canister, and don’t always empty out, so I have to reach in to untangle them, or wait until they become unstuck with a future vacuuming.  Another minor annoyance.

I won’t claim to be a vacuum expert, and use ours mostly to clean up the carpet, but the Hoover Windtunnel Air offers great features and power for the price.  Refurbished, I paid $120 and get a noticeably cleaner house for that money.  You can also buy them used or new at Amazon.