We’ve Got Issues: June/July 2018

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Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas.

Getting Fried

Dear Issues,

I miss fried chicken so much…and hush puppies and mozzarella sticks and anything you can find at the State Fair. But my frustration in missing these fried foods pales compared to missing my absolute favorite—French fries. When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I was happy because French fries don’t have any gluten ingredients. But it wasn’t long before I discovered that French fries aren’t safe since they’re fried in the same basket as onion rings, shrimp and other gluten-y fried items. My only requirement for restaurants is that there be gluten-free fries on the menu. As you may have guessed, this isn’t common. So I have to ask, how bad is sharing a fryer, really?

Signed,

French Fry Fanatic

Dear Fanatic,

In three words: Kind of bad. I’m sorry.

I love French fries, too. Lucky for us, there are places where you can eat them safely, so I strongly suggest you stick to those places. And continue to ask those restaurants about their frying practices in case their menu or procedures change. Take it from the girl (me) who believed the fries were safe at her favorite burger joint until she found a fried onion ring halfway down the bag. Yes, I got sick. I’d eaten there safely for almost two years up until then—and I haven’t been back since. It’s a bummer.

But let me answer your question about shared fryers. Gluten is sticky and if it touches some food that’s gluten-free, it’s likely going to stay there. If you’ve ever used a deep fat fryer, you know you can see leftover crumbs hanging out on the wires, on the bottom of the fryer, basically everywhere. In restaurant fryers where the oil isn’t changed and the fryers aren’t cleaned after each use, anything cooked in that fryer is contaminated with those gluten-y crumbs. If ingested, they can cause damage to our fragile ecosystems. Even if you don’t get sick, your body will take a hit. Boo!

You can still have fries, however. Pick up the phone and start calling your favorite fry joints and ask whether they offer gluten-free options. Ask about their preparation processes, including whether they use flour to dust their potatoes and whether they prepare and keep their gluten-free fries totally separate from their conventional fries. Locate these dining spots so you know where to head when you’re having a fry meltdown. You can do this.

Short of that, buy some russets, slice them up, soak them in salted water for half an hour and deep fry them in your skillet or deep-fat fryer. It is worth it, I swear on my Fry Daddy.

Elimination Blues

Dear Issues,

After years of being told I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), I now have a doctor who says I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Since I was still having some issues, he then said I should avoid dairy. This is all so overwhelming for me. And now he is suggesting I do a month-long elimination diet so we can determine my ongoing food issues. I’m looking at his instructions of all the things I can’t eat (tomatoes, really?) and I want to cry. Is this going to be helpful or can I just skip gluten and call it a day? Why do I have to do an elimination diet? Why?

Signed,

Hungry

Dear Hungry,

I was relieved when I found out I had celiac disease because it meant I had only one thing to look out for. Sure, that one thing was everywhere, delicious and so hard to avoid that it made me cry—but I was lucky because my GI doc sorted it out quickly. I didn’t have to endure an elimination diet. You, my belly-aching friend, have a bit more complicated journey.

The accurate diagnosis of multiple food intolerances continues to be a challenge. People with the catch-all diagnosis of IBS know this very well. The elimination diet is, as far as I can tell, a way to begin to figure things out. Yes, eliminating almost everything and slowly adding one food group back at a time is not fun. You have to have a load of patience and self-discipline to restrict yourself to things like no gluten, dairy, sugar, legumes, soy, corn, nuts, nightshades, pork, beef and—brace yourself—coffee and chocolate. (What the heck?!) But remember that this is a temporary restriction. Keep your eye on the goal: feeling better. It will help get you through.

I’m sure advancements are on their way to help people better navigate their IBS experience. But for now, if you want to truly nail down what foods are making you feel like crap, you’ve got to do this. During this stressful time, book yourself multiple massages and buy yourself a new special (non-food) treat. You deserve it.

Not A Restaurant!

Dear Issues,

Two people in my family are on a gluten-free diet and two others can eat anything. I am starting to feel like a short-order cook trying to make a meal that will be tasty and safe for everyone in the family. Any suggestions for making healthy, gluten-free lunches or dinners without spending all day in the kitchen?

Signed,

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I hear you. Many of us are in “blended” families. Resolve to ditch your apron and serve one meal to the entire family. Unprocessed single-ingredient meat, fish, dairy and veggies are inherently gluten-free, so start there. Then think gluten-free wraps and flavorful fillings. Wraps are fun and easy to use in so many recipes—Asian, Tex-Mex, even breakfast (wrap up some scrambled eggs or tofu with cheese, tomato and avocado slices).

Try cooking chicken with barbecue sauce, adding some sliced pepper jack cheese (if tolerated) and coleslaw; fold these into your favorite wrap for a quick meal. If Asian is your choice, sauté strips of chicken or pork, sliced onion and peppers and one of the many gluten-free Asian sauces available. (San-J offers delicious gluten-free sauces.) Roll everything up in softened rice wrappers or a gluten-free flour wrap. For taco night, corn or gluten-free flour tortillas are my go-to. I’ve even wrapped pulled chicken or pork in gluten-free wraps.

You can also make quick sandwiches with gluten-free sliced bread. Pile on the gluten-free cold cuts, cheese and fresh arugula, add a light drizzle of dressing and you’ve got a meal.