Tuesday, May 31, 2016

'Gluten Exposed' is a comprehensive look at gluten and celiac

Dr. Peter Green, director of Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center, and medical writer Rory Jones have written a book caled "Gluten Exposed" that takes a serious and comprehensive look at gluten and associated effects of eating gluten such as celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Which means the people who need to read it probably won't.

This isn't an exciting book. It's not going to be a best-seller like "Wheat Belly" and the like that erroneously convinced thousands, if not millions, of people that everybody needs to drop gluten from their diet.

It's a completely trustworthy and thorough description of medical issues by a recognized expert on celiac. It's full of information, not hype.

Among the important points in the book are:

1) if you think you may have issues with digesting gluten, get yourself tested by a medical professional before going on a gluten-free diet. You might just try out a gluten-free diet and think you feel better, so it must be gluten, but your diet could be masking some other serious conditions that need to be addressed.

2) If you don't have celiac or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there's nothing healthy about a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diets can be low in certain vitamins and minerals while high in sugar and fat.

3) Be careful about what you read on the Internet. Unless you can verify that the information is coming from an informed source, don't accept it as gospel. Green debunks a lot of Internet myths about gluten in his book.

In my case, of course, Green is preaching to the choir, and I'm sure most of you feel the same way. As I've been saying for years, if you don't have a medical need for a gluten-free diet, don't do it and you're making things difficult for the rest of us by treating gluten-free as a fad diet.

One interesting point in the book is that while there are a number of non-dietary treatments under development for celiac disease, there are currently no drugs that would allow you to eat gluten and any claims about certain drugs that can minimize the impact of eating gluten are not proven. You may actually be doing harm to your body by taking them.

Food for thought.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gluten-free bakery at FreshJax

Looking for some gluten-free baked treats for your holiday weekend? Check out FreshJax.

I was kind of surprised to find this. FreshJax is located in a new strip center at the end of Baymeadows Road near Gate Parkway. The signs for the shop say "food" and "yoga." There's nothing there that would have made me check it out.

However, I met the CEO of the business and he told me that the place is run by a celiac and has a gluten-free bakery.

So, I stopped in this week. It's a small shop with a glass case full of baked goods. I asked the people working which of the goods are gluten free and they said, "all of them."

What a nice surprise. I got coffee cake muffins, which made for a really good breakfast.

For some reason, the shop's website (freshjax.com) doesn't even mention the gluten-free bakery. I don't know why. But I do know I'm going to visit again for more gluten-free goodies.

Monday, May 23, 2016

North Beach Fish Camp is gluten-free friendly

My visit to this place was long overdue, but I finally went to North Beach Fish Camp in Neptune Beach yesterday and I can confirm that it's a gluten-free friendly restaurant.

North Beach Fish Camp is located at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and First Street, a high-traffic area with difficult-to-find parking. That tends to keep me away but I'm glad I made the trip.

I had actually stopped in a couple of days before my visit to ask about the menu. North Beach Fish Camp doesn't have a gluten-free menu but it does have a dedicated gluten-free fryer, so you can get fried dishes on the menu gluten free. They also told me that just about anything on the menu can be made gluten free.

I actually had a broiled fish platter, which was excellent. I also had an Omission Beer which is on the menu.

So if you're near the beach in Neptune or Atlantic Beach and looking for a good spot to eat, check out North Beach Fish Camp.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pieology the latest gluten-free pizza option

I visited the new Pieology restaurant in Nocatee yesterday. This is the first restaurant in that chain to open in Northeast Florida and I noticed it does have gluten-free pizza on the menu, so of course I had to check it out.

Pieology is one of those places where you walk up to the counter and you watch them make your pizza. I was immediately impressed because when I said I wanted a gluten-free pizza, the guy asked me if I wanted him to change gloves. Pieology doesn't have a dedicated gluten-free prep area and its website has warnings about cross-contamination, but this told me that they are at least aware of the issues.

I also noticed that he went to a different area to get a gluten-free crust than the other pizza crusts. There is a $2 surcharge for the gluten-free crust.

According to the nutrition information on its website, the only topping we need to worry about for gluten is the meatballs.

I got a barbecue chicken pizza, which I liked. The crust was nothing special but it tasted pretty good.

So yes, I would go again to Pieology. It's a little out of the way for a lot of people in Nocatee but hopefully, they'll be adding new Jacksonville area locations soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A lot of gluten-free products made in Jacksonville

I went to an interesting event today, a showcase for the North Florida Food Alliance.

The alliance is a group of 10 small, local food companies who have banded together to help their businesses grow. What I found fascinating is how many of these businesses are producing products that are gluten free, and how much awareness there was about keeping gluten-free products safe for those of us how need it.

For example, one company called Olive my Pickle makes "lacto fermented pickle products." One of the owners, Charlotte Tzabari, explained why that process makes healthier products, which I didn't quite follow. But she did get my attention when she told me they have tested their pickles for gluten to confirm that they are gluten free. That was nice to hear.

Another interesting product was a line of natural dog treats by a company called Pawfection Bakery. Owner Amy Gorman told me that her products are wheat free. Since I know some dog owners want to keep gluten away from their dogs before dogs start licking their faces, that could be helpful.

I also enjoyed some really good gourmet toffee products from Topsy Toffee that are gluten free.

The originator of the food alliance is Mark Patterson, who started a frozen dessert company called Naturally Smart Foods. Its frozen concoctions are gluten free.

Many of these products are available in local grocery stores, particularly Native Sun. It's just nice to see so many gluten-aware small businesses offering gluten-free products.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Celiac Awareness

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but my Celiac Awareness Month column appears in today's Times-Union:


Unfortunately, it's my final Times-Union column. The newspaper has decided to cancel it. There are a lot of things I could say about the Times-Union, but I'll leave that to others.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

More great gluten-free stuff at The Players

I complain a lot about how difficult it is to find gluten-free stuff at sporting events.

But once a year, we arrive at The Players Championship and a fantastic array of gluten-free choices. Probably better than you'll find in a lot of restaurants.

Just take a look at the menu board at the regular refreshment stands sprinkled throughout the course. The "gf" in a circle indicates you can get a burger, chicken sandwich or hot dog on a gluten-free bun (for $1.50 extra).

However, the real fun is the specialty booths set up by local restaurants, where you can get some really interesting gluten-free fare.

Of course, The Players has featured the Tacos on 12 tent run by TacoLu for the past few years. But I got to take a tour of some of the new food booths yesterday and found some appealing stuff.

Without a doubt, my favorite stop was the Wine & Dine on 9 area along the 9th fairway, which this year features food by Vernon's, a restaurant in the Sawgrass Marriott.

Vernon's offered a dish that I was vaguely familiar with, arepas, which featured pulled pork in a wrap made of corn. It was absolutely delicious, and the sous chef preparing it told me she herself is gluten free so she completely understood our concerns. If I make it to actual golf this weekend, I'm going back for another one.

Actually, as I talked to the people running the booths, I was very pleased to see that they were very familiar with gluten-free concerns, not only at the golf course booths but also in their restaurants.

Mojo's has a booth this year offering barbecue sandwiches. Of course, we can't get a sandwich but we can get a small plate of meat with barbecue sauces that are gluten free.

Likewise, the Candy Apple Cafe offered me a hot dog without a bun covered in candy bacon, which they said was gluten free.

So yes, this is the one sporting event where you can go hungry and not worry about eating before you leave. Have fun!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cookie Momsters closes

I learned some very disappointing news over the weekend: Cookie Momsters has closed down.

If you weren't familiar with it, Cookie Momsters was a gluten-free bakery on San Jose Boulevard that offered an array of bakery products. I found out it closed when I went to Larry's Giant Subs, which had been getting its gluten-free sub rolls from Cookie Momsters.

I then checked and found a note on the Cookie Momsters Facebook page that they had closed on April 15. It's sad to see any local business close, but in this case it's especially disappointing for us because this was a dedicated gluten-free bakery. And it was run by a couple of very likable Moms who worked hard.

Larry's is still offering gluten-free subs with an alternate roll from its vendor. I also checked with European Street Cafe, which had been serving its gluten-free sandwiches with Cookie Momsters rolls, and they are also getting a different gluten-free roll from its vendor.

The Facebook note didn't say why Cookie Momsters had to close, but I'm sorry to see it go.

Friday, May 6, 2016

More good stuff at Aldi

I wish Aldi would open a store closer to my home, because it's becoming my favorite store for gluten-free products.

Aldi has its own line of gluten-free products under the brand liveGfree, and they're generally good and also relatively cheap, as far as gluten-free products go.

I was already impressed with the liveGfree brand but Aldi seems to have added a bunch of new gluten-free products, at least products I hadn't seen before. And it's a very impressive lineup.

First of all, when I walked into the Southside Boulevard store, the first thing I saw was a display of new gluten-free chip products. Of course, I picked up a couple of bags of those.

But the really interesting stuff is in the freezer case, which includes liveGfree General Tso's Chicken and a cheesecake sampler.

I was very interested in the General Tso's Chicken because it is so hard to find gluten-free Chinese food. I had it for dinner last night. Unfortunately, the sauce was too sweet for me -- I prefer a spicier sauce. So I would say it was just okay.

On the bright side, I was very happy to see it came with two packets of sauce for a 22-ounce package, which it says has 4.5 servings. Usually these frozen meals come with only one sauce packet, meaning you basically have to cook it all at once. But in this case, I was able to cook half the package and save the rest.

The cheesecake sampler is probably the most appealing package, offering two slices each of four different varieties. After having a triple chocolate slice for dessert last night, I'm going to enjoy sampling the other varieties in the coming days.

Now between the cheesecake and the chicken dish, I consumed way too much sugar last night and I won't be doing this all that often. But I really like the choices we can find at Aldi. There were some other new liveGFree products that I didn't buy but will probably go back and get sometime in the near future. I just hope they build an Aldi closer to me.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Happy Celiac Awareness Month

It's May, and you know what that means....

It's Celiac Awareness Month, that time of the year when we try to convince the public that has somehow not gotten the message that the gluten-free diet is not a fad and is a serious issue for many of us.

So, you can start by pointing people to this 60-second video from Beyond Celiac: