Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating Gluten-free in Restaurants

I received this question from a reader: How can I enjoy eating in restaurants when the employees do not know what is in the food they serve?

This is a very good question and one we address frequently with our patients.  In order to enjoy a meal in a restaurant you have to get over any shyness you may feel regarding “being different” or “special”.  If you try to guess whether gluten is contained in something you order, you’re playing a bit of Russian roulette with your health.

Not only do you need to let your wait person know your dietary restrictions, you need to ensure that they understand that it is a serious matter and that they relate your needs to the chef. Some patients have found it easier to make up small laminated cards that state that they are gluten intolerant (or have celiac disease) and they are unable to eat wheat, rye, barley or oats (include oats since getting them uncontaminated is only possible when you buy them yourselves typically) without getting very ill.  The card further states that it is critical that their food be uncontaminated by gluten via pans, frying oils, utensils, etc.

Happily, I have seen a tremendous change in restaurants over the past few years.  We were in the Portland airport last summer and my daughter wanted Mexican food from the food court.  As she described her gluten intolerance I was amazed that the employee knew exactly what gluten was plus what she could safely eat.

While I can’t state this definitively I can tell you that in the restaurant experiences my patients have that are less than favorable, we can usually trace it back to their “assuming” that something was safe rather than being diligent about checking.

There is nothing wrong with ensuring your good health.  Discussing gluten often brings interest from either the wait person or one of your fellow diners.  Many times I’ve gotten into discussions about gluten with someone who later found they were gluten intolerant.

And don’t be surprised if the chef comes out to ensure that you are well taken care of.  I find that happening quite frequently.

I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Is it an Error to Be Relatively Gluten Free?

A listener from the recent virtual book tour asks: Are there degrees of gluten sensitivity, or is it an all or nothing thing?

I really liked this question because all too often I hear people say: "I don't have celiac disease, I'm JUST gluten sensitive." This statement usually is part of a conversation justifying why they don’t feel the need to be perfect on their diet.

At this time, based on all the research to hand, gluten sensitivity seems to be an “all or nothing” proposition. The reason, I believe, that some people think they can have some gluten with impunity goes to how their body reacts to it. We are often wedded to the concept that if a food bothers us we’ll undoubtedly suffer from digestive problems. But this is only true about 25% of the time. So the with the other 75%, people develop symptoms that are non-digestive and often take many hours and up to a few days to develop. If you “cheat” on Monday and Wednesday you develop brain fog or achy joints, are you immediately going to attribute those symptoms to the gluten you ate two days prior? Unlikely. But such things occur regularly AND are more common than the digestive complaints that people expect from eating a problematic food.

Even more insidious are the nervous system complaints such as irritability, depression or anxiety. When these occur we readily feel that they are “due” to some environmental issue. Bills in the mail, an upset spouse or boss, etc are more likely going to be the suspected cause. But what we see over and over again is that a patient’s ability to deal with life’s stresses improves dramatically when their nervous system isn’t being irritated by gluten.

There are a multitude of examples of this. Sometimes I think it’s better when a patient suffers immediate and debilitating symptoms as a result of gluten, only because they are certain of the culprit.

The bottom line is this. If you know that you are intolerant to gluten either from a lab test or personal observation, it is my opinion that you avoid it at all costs. If you “cheat” and you can’t tell, don’t think that means that your body isn’t being harmed. Some irritations occur on a deeper level that you can’t feel until you develop something severe like an autoimmune disease.

I have seen such things occur in patients because they wanted to believe that they could cheat with impunity. It seems to always catch up with them and I don’t want that to happen to you.

I hope this helps and please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”