Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Exciting News

A couple of years ago, one of my regulars came into the restaurant and ordered a burger, without bread. I assumed that it was because she was doing the Atkins diet, where you cut out almost all carbohydrates. The Atikins Diet was all the rage then. I told her that I assumed that she then didn't want french fries, and started rattling off her low-carb options. She told me that it was fries were okay, depending on how they were prepared. She told me that she had a disease called "sprue celiac," a genetic allergy to wheat.

She told me briefly about how she discovered she had it-- she's suddenly lost weight. She told me her symptoms, and I realized that I had a lot of them. I did a little research on the internet, and decided to try cutting wheat out of my diet.

It wasn't easy. Not only is wheat proscribed, but related grains, like barley. In otherwords, no more beer!

The change in my health was dramatic. I'd long taken ephedrine all year round to relieve congestion and itching, which I assumed was from some airborne allergy. All of those allergy symptoms suddenly disappeared. I checked into getting an actual test for celiac and found that they can only test you if you are still consuming wheat gluten!. The changes were dramatic enough that I didn't go back just so I could get tested.

Celiac, sometimes spelled coeliac, is concentrated among, but not limited to, people of Northern European ancestry, particularly the Irish. It is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gliadin, a protein found in gluten. According to Wikipedia, "Upon exposure to gliadin, the body's immune system cross-reacts with the enzyme tissue transglutaminase, causing an inflammatory reaction that leads to flattening of the lining of the small intestine, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients." Symptoms can include include diahrrea, fatigue and weight loss. The only treatment is complete elimination of gluten from one's diet. If you do not follow the diet, the celiac can eventually damage your health and even kill you. About 1 in 130 people have celiac disease.

This has not been easy. Did you know that soy sauce has more wheat than it has soy? Did you know that Doritos corn chips have wheat in the coating? I have to read every label closely.

And what my customer was talking about-- how it was prepared-- if oil is used to fry something with wheat--for instance breaded and fried calamari-- it is "contaminated," and gets wheat gluten on everything else cooked in it afterward, including french fries.

It takes only a few molecules of wheat gluten to set off the allergy. So if a cook sets a piece of bread on a griddle to warm it up, and then cooks a burger on the same griddle, the burger is "contaminated."

It's obviously restricted my diet. If I have to eat another rice cake, I'm going to scream. There are still plenty of foods I enjoy. I'm able to substitute-- for instance, there are wheat-free subsitutes for most noodles. But I have to read labels, and be a pain in the ass in restaurants, asking a million questions. And foregoing a lot of foods I love. It's all been tough, but very, very worth it.

A week or two ago, blogger Natalie was posting about going to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant here in Chicago, the Ethiopian Diamond, and mentioned the flat, pancake-like bread of Ethiopian cuisine, injera. Injera is delicious-- it's got a sour taste that comes from allowing the batter to ferment. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that injera is made not out of wheat, but a grain called teff or tef. I did a little more research and found that we "celiacs" are okay with tef, but that a lot of restaurants mix it with wheat flour. I called the Ethiopian Diamond, and found that yes, they usually mix the tef with wheat flour, but can make the bread out of pure tef if you call in ahead. I'm very excited at the prospect of having a food I've missed.

One other piece of good news-- Anheuser-Busch is adding to the list of a few other smaller brewers offering a gluten-free beer made of sorghum for celiac sufferers.


Palette said...

People's Market in Evanston is now selling spelt beer.

Tef is nasty nasty. This coming from someone who loves bitter a lot. Try it yourself but do not say I did not warn you.

Natalie said...

It is so nice they would make bread just for you with only tef. I do wonder how bitter it would be? I would think that with the food cutting the bitternes it would be ok. Crummy allergy to have.

deadspot said...

Three brewery reps got together for lunch on afternoon. The guy from Anheuser-Busch ordered a Budweiser. The guy from Miller ordered a Miller Lite. The rep from Goose Island ordered a lemonade. When they asked why, he said "Well, if you aren't going to drink beer, then neither will I."

kim said...

I love my husband, and my best girl friend, Planetberry, but I am so bored by talks of wheat-free products.

Long live Wonder Bread.

It's not really bread, it's candy.

vikkitikkitavi said...

So, when will they have a light wheat-free beer?

Erik Donald France said...

That's wild -- and makes me wonder. I assumed allergies etc. for the past several years were from living in the Detroit lowlands, but now you've got me thinking. . . . .

Anon. Blogger said...

I'm actually a little puzzled by the number of chronic alergies we hear about. Peanuts, gluten, lactose... it scares me a bit. JY, where were the 'peanut people' when we were growing up? People with alergies were the minority, I think.

No critique intended, I promise. I just wonder what the heck we humans have done to ourselves. Auto-immune is rising and rising.

I've heard theories about polution affecting our hormones, obsessive cleanliness, fewer and fewer rural environments; therefore less animal and plant contact, a generation of mothers that did not breastfeed - resulting in poor early immune system development...

It seems there are more and more human bodies fighting their environment.

Any thoughts about the regional theory? (i.e., Irish background / gluten alergy)


GETkristiLOVE said...

My best friend's husband has that disease - we always cook gluten free pasta on ski trips with them.

Bubs said...

Food and environmental allergies scare the hell out of me. I don't remember knowing anyone when I was little, or even in my teens/20's, who had them. Now I know several adults who got diagnosed or began displaying symptoms in their late 30's and 40's. I think it's creepy as hell, and like anon it makes me question what the hell we've done to ourselves and our environment to bring this on.

deadspot said...

There is a regional component. My friend Justin had allergies for as long as I knew him. His body was constantly recognizing central Illinois as a threat (which, come to think of it, seems perfectly reasonable...). After he moved to San Diego, he was fine. None of the pollens there triggered his defenses.

I never had allergies when I was growing up. Now I have all kinds of weird chemical sensitivities. When they painted in the office a couple of years ago, I had a splitting headache within an hour and ended up with a rash over all of my exposed skin that took a week-long dose of steroids to get rid of. Now whenever we paint at home, we have to use low-VOC paint to avoid problems.

Danny Tagalog said...

Hey man! I'M THE SAME. If I eat bread I go in a rash and feel distincrtly tired. Milk too. A few years ago, numbness and tiredness appeared and words like MS - eeeeeek - were whispered in my ear.

Over five years on and the energy is pounding out of every pore of my once prematurely weary young bones. Answer: no bread, no beer, no milk, no cheese, (well, sometimes I cheat ) and LOTS of good wine, sake, fruit, olive oil cooked foos, bueberries, veg, honey etc. Yes, and the health benefits have been astounding.....

Good to hear it worked for you too Mr. Yen:)

Danny Tagalog said...

It's made me think more about 'diseases' like ME, MS etc that DRs thrown at people with mysterious tired symptoms. They never think of the obvious - or very rarely , with their Official Drug Pushers to appease and be bribed by:)

Poor diet/allergies are truly the key to far more 'severe illnesses' than most people acknowledge.

Dale said...

That's pretty funny Kim.

Coaster Punchman said...

No beer? Quite inconvenient for an Irishman. Leave it to Anheuser-Bush to solve that problem in short order, though.

Johnny Yen said...

Thanks! I'll have to try it.

I'm still willing to try tef-- I'm like you-- I like bitter-- but if I can have injera again, I'm willing to try it.

It is a crummy allergy-- it makes something very simple and enjoyable-- having a meal-- into a chore frequently.

I've heard that one before-- thanks for reminding me of it.

It made me remember your old website-- your reference to Zima aka "Urine Specimen." Inexplicably, they still sell Zima. Apparently there are enough dumb yuppies with bad taste around to keep it a market.

I also noticed at Aldi's recently that they still sell Bartles and James Wine Coolers. They still haven't used my great advertising slogan-- "Getting frat boys laid since 1978."

I know that it bothers you that Palette and I have conversations that don't include you. Don't worry-- we have those behind your back.

I'm willing to take the calories in order to have some taste in my drinks. That's just the kind of guy I am-- willing to make a sacrifice for a greater principal.

Yeah, I assumed it was a bunch of other things forever.

Of course, I also have allergies to pork, eggs-- and chalk dust. I obviously was wise to go into the teaching profession.

Anon. Blogger--
I've wondered the same thing. Where were all these allergies when we were kids? I never, ever saw an inhaler until I was an adult. There is a lot of speculation-- lack of breast-feeding and overly clean environments, like you said, are prime suspects.

Thank god there are more and more products out there now. Whole Foods has a whole aisle now devoted to them, and even Jewel, the big grocery chain in the Chicago area has a small section. They're pricey, but it's great to put spaghetti sauce on noodles again, instead of rice.

I wonder if, like Anon. Blogger said, the generation or two that bottle-fed. I've had problems all my life with bronchitis and ear infections. There's also a lot of fingerpointing at the mercury in our environment from various sources, including the burning of coal for electricity.

My allergies went wild when I went down to Eastern. One of the health service doctors noticed I was getting bronchitis 5 or 6 times a year, and recommended allergy meds. He referred to that region as something like "Allergy Alley."

I'm good with dairy, fortunately, but I did have to cut back drastically on carbs-- diabetes runs rampant through both sides of my family. One of the signs of celiac is weight loss. Ironically, my going on a gluten-free diet resulted in losing about 35 pounds.

I usually cheat on the beer thing when I visit friends on the west coast-- there are so many great microbrews there.

Oh, so siding with my wife now, are you? Well, I can hardly blame you-- she's a lot better looking than me.

Yeah, it's quite the pain in the arse.

What's funny about sorghum beer is that it's actually traditionally been the beer of the poor in a lot of Africa. I'm sure Anheuser-Busch will jack the price up.

deadspot said...

Heh. Urine Zample. I'd forgotten about that.

I started getting seasonal allergies when I moved away from Charleston. I guess the pollen here is just enough different than the pollen I grew up with to start causing problems.