Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hospitals need to do better with gluten-free options

My mom passed away this week, which is not the point of this story.

The point is over the last month, I spent time with her in five different Jacksonville hospitals. I could tell you stories about the state of health care, but again that's not the point.

The real point is wondering why hospitals, of all places, don't provide better gluten-free options for patients and visitors.

You really don't see gluten-free options on patient room menus. The Mayo Clinic, of all places, lists about eight different diet options but not a gluten-free option. I mean, the Mayo Clinic is one of the leading celiac research institutions in the country. Do they not understand the need for a gluten-free diet for some patients?

And it would be nice if the hospital cafeterias had some gluten-free options for visitors. I settled for way too many salads with dressings that I hoped were gluten free. At least I didn't get sick.

The rest of the food service world seems to be catching up with understanding why some diners absolutely need safe, gluten-free meals. I think it's time for the hospital industry to get on board.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

GIG study sees danger in gluten-removed beers

Here's some news I didn't want to hear. A study conducted by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) at the University of Chicago's Celiac Research Center found that so-called gluten-removed beers, such as Omission, may be unsafe for people with celiac disease.

This has been an ongoing issue since these beers were introduced. There are several gluten-free beers brewed from grains such as sorghum. Omission (the most well-known gluten-removed beer) and several other brands claim they can brew beer from barley but remove the gluten, so that the gluten content falls below the 20 parts per million standard which is considered safe for celiacs.

However, there has not been a reliable test for gluten content in beers, so many celiac advocates have questioned the actual safety of beer made from barley.

GIG is a trusted organization. In fact, GIG runs the gluten-free certification program, the one that certifies that food products are made according to accepted standards to ensure they are gluten free.

GIG said its study tested blood samples of celiacs and found that none of them reacted to gluten-free beer, but some did react to gluten-removed beers.

“The medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that these low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products,” says GIG Chief Executive Cynthia Kupper, CEO of GIG.

“That is why we conducted this first-of-its-kind study, because even if one person with celiac reacts to gluten-removed beers, it shows it would not be appropriate to certify this product category according to our standards."

Kupper says she hopes a bigger study will be conducted to assess the risks of gluten-removed beers.

I will often drink a gluten-removed beer in a bar or restaurant that has no other gluten-free options but since questions about those beers first emerged a couple of years ago, I stopped buying them in stores to keep at home.

Now I guess I'm going to have to reconsider my options when I'm out. I'm going to be very reluctant to drink another Omission.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Number of gluten-free options at Noodles & Co.

Noodles & Co. opened its first Jacksonville area location last year at the St. Johns Town Center but unfortunately, I was unaware of it.

I say unfortunately because Noodles & Co. has a good variety of gluten-free items on its menu. Fortunately, franchise owner Leigh Lommen invited me to come by and try it out, and I'm glad he did.

First of all, Noodles & Co. has a small pocket "gluten guide" with general information about gluten and what menu items can be made gluten free, and also cautions that the kitchen is not a completely gluten-free environment. Of course, most restaurant kitchens can't guarantee a gluten-free environment but I've always felt a restaurant that acknowledges it at least understands what our problems are.

The restaurant also has an allergen guide you can check to see if a menu item or an ingredient contains gluten or other allergens.

The Noodles & Co. menu has items such as Pad Thai with rice noodles that are already gluten free but also has pasta dishes that can be made gluten-free by substituting regular pasta with gluten-free fusilli.

Desperate to try something different, I ordered Pesto Cavatappi, a pasta dish I don't think I've ever heard of before and definitely hadn't seen gluten-free in any other restaurant. It was quite good and was a good portion size (I took the photo after I was already halfway through it).

You should be able to find something you like on the menu, including salads and other pasta dishes or rice noodle dishes that are gluten free.

If you're looking for it, it's at the end of a strip center beyond the Chick-fil-A (which may be why I hadn't noticed it. It's not visible from the main road). You can visit the website (noodles.com) to find out more about it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Anniversary to me again

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my celiac diagnosis.

That was a day of panic, of course. I had no idea what a gluten-free diet would look like, and it was compounded by the fact that I received this diagnosis as Christmas weekend was beginning.

But a lot has changed in six years. We still have a lot of work to do on education, and it's mind-boggling to me that so many people don't understand the gluten-free diet and still think it's a fad diet.

But we have so many more food choices than we did six years ago, both in grocery stores and restaurants. Just this week, another significant burger chain announced it was offering gluten-free buns when Shake Shack said it now has them.

We don't have any Shake Shacks yet in Jacksonville but it's a growing, popular brand that does have restaurants in Orlando. I'm going to have to try it on my next visit there.

A couple of years ago, I was begging burger joints to start offering gluten-free buns, instead of forcing me to bring my own bun. It's becoming more common.

Unfortunately, we still need to work on getting these places to ensure their french fries are gluten free. I noticed Shake Shack says its fries have gluten free ingredients but it can't assure they are free from contamination. That's also, unfortunately, a common trend.

So that will be my cause for 2017: gluten-free fries. And burritos. I still don't know of any taco place that can offer a gluten-free burrito. I realize it's hard, because gluten-free tortillas almost always crumble in your hands. But I think it's time that somebody comes up with the formula.

I hope this is the year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A lot of GF stuff at Lucky's, but nothing special

When a new grocery chain arrives in the Jacksonville market, I'm of course curious to see what kind of gluten-free offerings it brings.

So I visited the new Lucky's Market in Neptune Beach today.

My quick take: they do have a lot of gluten-free stuff but if you don't live in the Neptune Beach area, it's not worth a special trip.

Most of the gluten-free stuff is familiar brands that you'll find in other local stores. However, I did notice a couple of things: there seemed to be a lot of gluten-free bake mixes available and there was also a nice choice of Katz gluten-free goodies, including several varieties of pie which I have never seen. Katz products are generally pretty good but I didn't buy any because I'm trying to avoid sweets.

There also was nothing special about the prices. There were some items on sale but this is definitely not a discount store.

So, if you're in the Neptune Beach neighborhood, you may want to check out Lucky's. But don't go out of your way.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Some encouraging gluten-free developments

Just a few notes of things I discovered last week.

First, and at least to me most important, I talked to Jaguars President Mark Lamping on a completely unrelated matter but of course took advantage of the opportunity to talk about gluten-free concessions at EverBank Field.

I told him I was disappointed that the new vendor wasn't offering gluten-free beer this year and he seemed receptive to the idea of offering it in the future. Between that and my previous contact with the vendor, I hope the gluten-free offerings will be better next year. Because of the limited gluten-free options and the Jaguars' performance on the field, I haven't found any reason to go to a game this year, but I'm more optimistic about next year.

Secondly, on a visit to Ruby Tuesday's, I discovered they've now added a gluten-free pasta option to their menu. I didn't try it, but I am pleased to see this chain continuing to expand its gluten-free options.

You may recall several months ago I posted that Ruby Tuesday's offers a gluten-free bun option for burgers, and has some other gluten-free entrees. No, they don't have a dedicated gluten-free cooking space but I still consider this good news.

Finally, Uno Pizzeria & Grill announced it is offering a new gluten-free pizza crust at its restaurants. We don't have Uno's restaurants in Jacksonville but I have written about how disappointed I was when I tried the gluten-free pizza at its restaurant in Kissimmee.

This change tells me that Uno must have realized how bad the previous gluten-free crust was and decided to do something about it. I'm sure I'll get around to revisiting Uno at some point.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Allergy labeling for holiday meals

As we approach the holidays, here's an interesting idea from ConsumerSafety.org to make sure everyone can eat safely at a holiday meal:

Put an allergy label alongside every dish so everyone knows what's in it, and whether they need to avoid it.

ConsumerSafety.org, which provides food safety and other consumer product safety information, has a link to a printable allergen label in this column on the issue:

https://www.consumersafety.org/news/food/whats-really-in-that-fruitcake-food-allergy-safety-during-the-holidays/

The column also has a link to a consumer survey about food safety and recall issues.

The food label is a great idea if you're hosting a holiday meal. Hopefully, if you're visiting someone else, you can convince the host that it's also a good idea. I think it should be easy when the host gets sick of us pestering them for ingredient information before we eat anything.