Many of you have asked if we could provide some of the information about Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free foods and cooking that had previously been a part of our WGN Radio site. We’re more than happy to give it a shot.
For the uninitiated, Celiac Disease is in the headlines more and more and the latest statistics indicate that about 1 out of every 100 persons in the US has Celiac Disease.
As a little bit of a background, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January of 2001. Over the years, Johnnie and I would occasionally integrate Celiac related news stories and features into our show as a way of increasing awareness of Celiac Disease. In fact, we were proud to proclaim that, while at WGN, we created the world’s first Gluten-Free radio show!:-)
I’ve put together some tips and links to some sites to help you learn about Celiac Disease. Now, because more information is constantly coming out, web sites change, products and restaurants are becoming more Gluten-Free and Celiac friendly, keep in mind that this is far from a complete source of information. Johnnie and I will do our best to update as often as possible.
The most important thing I can tell you is … RELAX!!!! Knowing what the problem is, is half the battle. Yes, it can be a bit difficult to find some of the things you’ll need, but it’s getting a lot easier and the good news is that there are a lot of groups and web sites with good information.
By the way, if you haven’t been medically diagnosed with Celiac Disease (Celiac Sprue), going on a Gluten-Free diet before you’re tested will only cause the tests to show false results. As painful as it may be, please don’t go on the diet before you see your doctor and have the tests.
Availability of Gluten-Free products and stores can vary widely depending on what part of the planet you live on. Since you’re online as you’re reading this, we’ll assume you know a little about searching Google or whatever your favorite search engine happens to be for Gluten-Free stores in your area.
Since Chicagoland is our home base, we’ll list a couple of stores around the Midwest that carry Gluten-Free products as examples of what you should look for.
One is the Gluten-Free Trading Company, in Milwaukee, WI. Johnnie and I have been there and it’s run by people who either have Celiac Disease themselves or have family members with Celiac Disease, so they are VERY aware of the problem and are very particular about the products they carry.
If you’re in Chicago’s southern suburbs there’s New Vitality Health Foods, in Orland Park, IL.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, check out the family-owned Illinois Nut & Candy, in Skokie, IL. Yes, that includes licorice and jelly beans!
In Frankfort, OMG…It’s Gluten Free specializes in products for the celiac community.
You’ll find more and more Gluten-Free products available in a lot of “mainstream” stores. For example, Frito Lay’s Stax Chips is just one of the Frito Lay products labeled right on the back as being “naturally free of Gluten.” They come in handy when you’re traveling because they’re available at gas stations as well as grocery stores. They’re the ones in the blue plastic tube. However, one thing to consider is that they are produced on the same line as Lay’s products that DO contain Gluten. Although the lines are washed between batches, a slight residue may remain on the lines. Individuals who are extremely sensitive may be affected. Frito Lay provides an updated list products that are either Gluten-Free or do not contain Gluten ingredients.
Also available at just about any grocery store are Gluten-Free cereals such as Chex.
Another addition to mainstream grocery offerings is the Hormel line of Gluten-Free products.
Whole Foods Market not only has a wide selection of Gluten-Free products but, in addition, has it’s own Gluten-Free Bakehouse.
Walmart carries Gluten-Free products in their larger stores with grocery products. Many of them are Wal-Mart’s “Great Value” house brand. Check with your local Wal-Mart to make sure and ALWAYS read the ingredients on the label.
Speaking of the “big-box” stores, Target is now carrying Gluten-Free products.
Trader Joe’s is another location for Gluten-Free products.
Aldi’s liveGfree brand features a wide selection of Gluten-Free choices.
In southern sates, we’ve had very good luck finding clearly marked Gluten-Free items at Publix grocery stores.
Now then, how’s about some links to sites with helpful information?
Here you go:
The Celiac List is a wonderful, free, on-line resource you can join and get daily message updates from. You can post questions to the list and get answers from people living with Celiac Disease.
Gluten-Free Betsy is a Chicago based website that is regularly updated with blogs and a lot of great information.
The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center is another great resource. Many of their experts were regular guests on our show.
The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research site features educational videos on Celiac Disease.
Since its inception in 1990, the Celiac Disease Foundation has been at the forefront of Celiac disease education, awareness, advocacy, and support services.
Living Without’s Gluten Free & More is a magazine dedicated to living with food allergies. Peggy Wagener, Living Without’s founder, was another of our frequent guests.
The Celiac Sprue Association is the largest non-profit Celiac support group in America, with over 100 chapters and 60 resource units across the country, and over 10,000 members worldwide.
Celiac.com is a great Celiac Disease and Gluten-free resource.
The Gluten-Free Pantry is a good on-line source for Gluten-Free products and information.
The Mayo Clinic Celiac Disease site gives you an overview of the disease.
OK, that ought to get you started.
Now then, right at the top of my tip list is DON’T CHEAT! I know that sounds hard to do, but the quicker someone with Celiac Disease gets on a completely Gluten-Free diet, the better they’ll feel and the healthier they’ll be. Don’t worry about friends not understanding or feeling that it’s OK to have “just a little” of the dessert or whatever they’ve made. If they are really friends, they’ll understand and be more than willing to help.
Next on my list is learn the mantra “When in doubt, do without.” Seriously! Learn it! Remember it! Do it! Trust me, you’ll feel a whole lot better.
I’ve been very lucky, in that, Johnnie is a terrific cook and has gone out of her way to find recipes that are not only Gluten-Free, but also taste good. If we’re going to a friend’s house, we just take a couple pieces of Gluten-Free bread in a foil wrap to have with dinner.
If we go out to a restaurant, I immediately show the waiter the Gluten-Free dining card (Living Without’s Gluten Free & More magazine is one of a number of sources for these cards). Then, ask the waiter to show the card to the chef. If there is any hesitation or confusion on the chef’s part, we politely leave. So far, I’ve only run into one restaurant we had to leave.
One of the first restaurant chains to feature a Gluten-Free menu was the Outback Steakhouse. We’ve been to several Outbacks in several states and have had good luck. You can download the Outback Steakhouse Gluten-Free menu from their site and take it with you.
P.F.Chang’s, Bonefish Grill, Wildfire and most of the Lettuce Entertain You chain restaurants also have Gluten-Free menus. Even Steak & Shake’s on-line website allows you to see what allergens, including gluten, are in their dishes and shakes. We’ve regularly stopped while traveling and had some chili (no chips) and a shake. Texas Road House has a Gluten-Free menu but ALWAYS bring it to the management’s attention. We’ve even had a chef come out of the kitchen and go over the menu with us.
Pasta can be a particular problem for anyone on a Gluten-Free diet, so here are a couple of suggestions and one warning…
A terrific source for GREAT Gluten-Free Italian food is Da Luciano, in River Grove. Along with a regular Italian food menu, they have a complete absolutely Gluten-Free menu. They also have a, newly built, Gluten-Free kitchen with a separate ventilation system to avoid any contamination. Luciano and Rosalia, the owners, have seven children and four of them have Celiac Disease so, they are more than familiar with Gluten-Free cooking. Tell them we said “hi” when you stop in.
A recently opened restaurant that we’ve been VERY impressed with is Father & Son Italian Kitchen, in Skokie, IL. Abbe’s Gluten-Free menu is absolutely worth checking out. Ask for Abbott and tell him we sent you.
So, what about the warning? Regardless of being labeled as “made with a gluten-free crust,” Domino’s pizza is NOT for someone who has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and HAS to be on a Gluten-Free diet. If you want to know why, check out this link.
Fortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to put together a complete list of all the Chicago area restaurants with Gluten-Free options. I say fortunately because an increasing awareness of Celiac Disease means more restaurants come “on board” all the time. You’ll find some additional Chicago area restaurant suggestions on this list put together by Gluten-Free Betsy.
Another restaurant related tip is, if you’re having a baked potato have them serve it uncut and ask for butter or whatever topping you’re having as a side dish. If you cut the potato yourself you minimize the possibility of contamination from a knife that might have been used in the restaurant’s kitchen to cut something that could have contained Gluten. Also, if possible, the first time you go to a new restaurant try to go during a slower period. If you want them to accommodate you, it’s a good idea to accommodate them. Calling ahead is a good idea, too. You’ll be surprised at the restaurants, like the Signature Room at Chicago’s John Hancock Center, that are more than willing to try to see that you have a good dining experience, if they have a little advance notice.
Unfortunately, you will find that some gluten-free store bread is, frankly, awful! One exception we’ve found is Udi’s. Their products are REALLY good and they are becoming more widely available. Another great tasting bread is Rudi’s. Yet another exception to the “bad bread” rule is Kinnikinnick Gluten-Free White Sandwich Bread. They also make English muffins and hamburger and hot dog buns. You might also want to try the Gluten-Free bread made by the Whole Foods Bakehouse. This bread tastes great, but it’s a good idea to find out what day it’s delivered to your local Whole Foods store because it goes quickly.
It takes a little time to master, but the absolute best bread is homemade. If I’ve been particularly good or, if it’s a special holiday meal, Johnnie makes it as a treat. Usually, several pieces wind up going home with some of our guests. That’s assuming there are any left. You can buy special bread makers at a number of locations. Some of the sites we’ve listed offer a few suggestions. Johnnie recommends that most people starting out try one of Beth Hillson’s recipes. Once you’re familiar with it, you’ll find that Bette Hagman (The Gluten-Free Gourmet) has cookbooks that are a real help. In fact, you can find many of Bette’s cookbooks at most book stores.
Another VERY important tip is to get in the habit of reading ingredient labels on everything! I’ve had to change my shaving cream and shampoo because both contained wheat. Obviously, check with your own doctor to see if this applies to you but, depending on your sensitivity, it really can make a difference.
I know all of this sounds overwhelming, but it really isn’t. The important thing is, start NOW and let friends know what’s going on. As I’ve already said, that’s the first step to being healthier.
Although some of the resources and stores listed above are available to anyone, some are specific to the Chicago area. If you’re not in the Chicago area, hopefully, you’ll be able to use the Chicago listings as a guide for resources and stores to check on in your area.
Don’t forget to check back in our blog’s Gluten-Free Diet category now and then for some of Johnnie’s Gluten-Free cooking tips and updates as we edge closer to the publication of our next book, which will be Johnnie’s Gluten-Free cookbook.
And don’t be surprised if we occasionally land in the kitchen with knives, forks, spoons and a video camera to share the secrets of making some Gluten-Free goodies.
OK, I really didn’t mean to overwhelm you, but rather to give you some suggestions and links that will be of some help. Hopefully they will.
Let me know if you have any questions. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know some people who just might.