Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Wheat

A couple of years ago, one of my regulars at the restaurant was ordering a burger. She stated that she wanted it without a bun. I assumed that, like many other customers at the time, that she was doing the Atkins low-carb diet, and asked if she needed to hear low-carb options on sides.

To my surprise, she stated that carbs were not the issue-- wheat, or contact with wheat was. And that was the first I heard of Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease. It is triggered by wheat (and barley and rye) gluten. As my customer pointed out, even contact with wheat gluten can "contaminate" food. So, if, for instance, french fries are cooked in oil that breaded calamari was cooked in, the fries are contaminated. If a chicken breast is cooked on a griddle in which breaded pork tenderloin was cooked, the chicken breast is contaminated.

My customer offered information on the disease, which is genetic and affects a little under 1% of the population (even greater in people of Irish ancestry). She mentioned a couple of the symptoms (I won't go into the gory details here-- you can look them up on the Wikipedia article if you want), but I realized that I had a lot of them. I looked it up on the internet the next day.

Celiac goes largely undiagnosed. Coincidentally, Dead Spot emailed me a link, while I was working on this post, to a BBC article on the underdiagnosis of celiac (or coeliac, as it's sometimes spelled).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6623237.stm

There is a test for it, but it's not conclusive. The only really true test is eliminating wheat gluten from your diet and seeing if it makes a difference. I did so.

The difference was startling. I'd long had digestive and breathing problems-- these cleared up entirely. Over the years, I'd taken to using Psuedoephedrine allergy medicine year-round-- I'd always assumed I had some kind of airborne allergy or allergies.

It's a struggle to eliminate gluten from your diet. The obvious culprits, like bread and noodles are easy. Wheat is in products you wouldn't expect. Soy sauce, for instance, has more wheat than soy (fortunately Tamari, a wheat-free soy sauce is available). I've gotten the Celiac reactions to unexpected things-- like Dorito corn chips (there is wheat in the seasoning coating) .

In restaurants, you have to ask about soups and gravies-- wheat is a popular thickener. And of course beer, made of barley, and sometimes even barley and wheat, is a no-no.

Sensitivity to gluten varies in people with celiac. Some people, like my wife's best friend Palette can introduce some low-gluten grains like spelt back into their diets.

Today, there was an article in the New York Times about gluten that mentioned Celiac Disease, which prompted this post.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/08/health/08glut.html

At the end of the article, they quoted a person with celiac saying it's easy to go gluten-free, and that she doesn't miss it. She is lying her ass off. The noodles and pizza crusts don't have the consistency of the wheat ones. The bread is expensive and hard. While I've made due with rice cakes, corn tortillas, corn noodles and other substitutes, I miss wheat-- particularly in sandwiches. I spent years of my life subsisting largely on sandwiches-- I've spent most of my adult life as a bachelor, and they were a handy way to make a healthy meal for one.

Every few nights I dream that I'm eating a sandwich, a big submarine sandwich, with lots of different turkey cold cuts, lettuce, tomato and yellow mustard. The bread is fresh, warm, soft and delicious. In the dream, I realize, after a few bites, that I shouldn't be eating the sandwich, but since I'm already going to get the celiac reaction, I might as well just enjoy the rest of it. I wake up relieved that I haven't actually eaten the bread, but I think of people I've read about who lose a limb-- that they dream that the limb is there again and that they are able to use it.

17 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have some coworkers with gluten issues and they do have a difficult time of things. We have a weekly group meeting that is generally catered and while there is always a vegetarian option in the sandwiches or pizza we generally get, there is very rarely a gluten-free option. So they sit there, hungry, whilst everyone else eats.

Those sandwich dreams must make you crazy. I accidentally ate some calamari the other night and was worried that I would get the cramps and dry heaves that accompany that sort of adventure, but no! Maybe it's time I tried a bigger helping again.

Kathy said...

wwI had a friend who insisted I try spelt pasta, and eventually I did. But as a person of Sicilian descent, all I can say about that is, "No."

Skylers Dad said...

My best friend Pam has a 4 year old son who has Downs Syndrome. He was always sick, lot's of stomach problems and ear infections.

They found out he has Celiac Disease, and went gluton free. He is a changed kid! No more problems other than the usual sniffles all the other kids get.

But, she said she about tripled her grocery bill now.

deadspot said...

You're suffering from Phantom Sandwich Syndrome.

cheer34 said...

I feel for you. I can't imagine not eating wheat products.

busterp said...

Funny you mentioned it. I just read that same Times article earlier today.

I would have a hard time quitting wheat products. Sandwiches are a big part of my diet. Love them.

Grant Miller said...

A friend of mine has that disease. We visited them - they live in another state - and went grocery shopping. They had to read the labels for everything. It seemed even the sight of wheat-based products made him ill. That lady in the NYT is lying. Badly.

kim said...

This disease doesn't just affect Brian, it affects his entire house. I'm kind of tongue-in-cheek here, but it is really hard to have a pizza and being the only one that can eat it; or make a sandwich for one...it's a very sad existence.

I eat Dagwood's alone in the closet.

The Elk said...

Hey,
How bout a BIG Weiss Bier.....
Heh Heh Heh....It's taken years and millions of dollars but now I know your weakness you evil swine. Remember the Toilet on the foyer?
You've been warned....

sv said...

One of my best friend is married to a strict vegetarian that also has celiac disease. We meet for lunch every now and again, and he invariably goes for the burger.

For their honeymoon they took a long motorcycle trip to Alaska. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her to eat on that trip.

Bubs said...

I'll remember to have plenty of red wine and other non-grain based drinks when you come over. I checked out some stuff on celiac disease. Ow. And the irony is that you've worked in the restaurant biz for so long, surrounded by and serving the stuff you can't have.

Johnny Yen said...

Barbara-
I had that exact situation last Friday. We had an academic competition, and they were kind enough to get food for the kids and teachers. Unfortunately, it was Subway sandwiches. I had to just sit and sip my coffee.

Are you allergic to seafood? My mother has to be careful because she's allergic to iodine. She found out the hard way-- she was getting an angiogram some years ago, and almost went into cardiac arrest because of the iodine they used.

Kathy-
Palette brought over delicious spelt stuffing when she and her family came over for Thanksgiving at our house last year. I seemed okay with it, but I'm erring on the side of caution.

Skyler's Dad-
I know what you're talking about. A package of corn pasta costs about 3 bucks vs. usually a buck or under for regular. I also spend a lot of time prepping food.

Deadspot-
A recovering addict told me he still dreams of doing drugs, which I actually thought was probably a closer analogy, but since my kids and my father-in-law read my blog, I left it out.

Cheer34-
It's a challenge for sure.

Busterp-
Me too. Apparently Whole Foods has some new gluten-free bread-- I'm going to try it soon.

Grant-
It really wears you down sometimes-- you have to ask twenty questions in restaurants, read every label of everything you eat and at parties, etc. sometimes settle for salad. Not surprisingly, I've lost nearly 40 pounds since discovering I had celiac-- though that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Kim-
Aha-- I wondered about the breadcrumbs in the closet.

Elk-
"Oops-- forgot to flush" How could I forget it.

They say revenged is a dish best served cold.

SV-
Holy restrictions, Batman!

I used to be pretty good about subsituting vegetarian foods in trying to cut back on meat intake, but most of them use wheat gluten.

That trip they took must have been an adventure all around. Alaska's on my list of places to see someday-- one of the few states I've never been to.

Bubs-
You da man!

The hardest blow was that bourbon is usually made from grain.

At the restaurant, we bring baskets of bread, and oil, cheese and butter to the tables. I handle bread all night. I probably wash my hands 25-30 times a night.

Mob said...

Wow, I can't imagine going cold turkey off half the items you cite, much less all the varying things that can also be an issue.

You're a better man than I.

(And you probably breathe better too)

GETkristiLOVE said...

My best friend's hubby has this. He misses good beer the most.

Johnny Yen said...

Mob-
As much as I miss those things, it really is a joy to breath freely, not have the trots every day and not have constantly itchy skin.

Kristi-
Me too. I usually cheat a bit when I'm out on the west coast-- great hoppy beers out there. I'm eager to try the new gluten-free beers.

vikkitikkitavi said...

At least you won't have melamine running through your veins.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Iodine? I never thought of that. I'm not allergic to any other seafood and used to eat a fair bit of squid until I started having an abdominal reaction to it. But I will keep the iodine possibility in mind, thanks.