I'm in Day 25 of my no sugar etc. challenge. I'm still feeling great, but my self-imposed paleo-vegan diet did present me with a delimma: Do I go to my first Philadelphia Gluten-Free Potlucks MeetUp where I know the menu will be very tempting with loads of GF pastas and yummy baked goods and either a) stand out even in a GF crowd by what I CAN'T eat, b) cave in and eat everything? I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the group because of the description of their December cookie swap potluck that I didn't attend -- they sound pretty darn serious about their gf baked goods! I decided to just put myself out there and go anyway, and do what I do for every mainstream potluck -- take something that I know I like and can eat and stick to that. I made a bean dip with carrot and celery sticks, which was pretty good, but which needed a little more pizzazz. (Next time I'll volunteer to bring my Spicy Red Lentil and Spinach Stew -- so good!) I also planned to drink lots of water and tea and concentrate on the company and the conversation instead of the dessert table.
And I'm very glad I went! It's funny how having one little (okay, major) common denominator like having an auto-immune disorder can really break the ice! The conversation was about food, and celiac, and life, and the intersections of all of the above. It's a great group of people. We laughed a lot. Everyone was welcoming and engaging and though I was a little self-conscious about not really being able to eat much that other people brought, I felt supported anyway. And I felt encouraged by organizer Jessie, who noted that it was nice to see some vegetables on the table, since they tend to gravitate toward making items that are typically not naturally gluten-free. I'll take that as an invitation to come and participate in the way that meets my health goals and be happy to share something that everyone else can enjoy as well, even if they quickly move on to the cupcakes.
I have to note that I'm proud of myself for not caving. I was tempted. If I knew the group better I'd have smelled everything like I do when gluteny desserts cross my path at work. I really enjoy the smell of tasty treats even if I can't eat them. Maybe next time.
I borrowed this photo from Cathy who was in attendance and who organizes Greater Berks Gluten Free Social and Support Group in Reading, PA. Check it out!
I am well into week 2 of my 1-week detox. Before I review the details, I have to say that I have never felt this good in my life. I have an amazing amount of energy, my mood is generally relaxed and happy without the swings (big and little) that I have within a week or even within a given day, and I'm not feeling deprived. I just wanted to put that out there right away so that when you look at what I've been doing, you keep reading rather than deciding I am just a total whack job and leave my blog never to return.
To review, my detox plan was to cut out all artificial sweeteners, added sugars, refined carbs and typical allergens: soy, eggs, dairy, peanuts. Of course I am already gluten-free, and I've been a vegetarian of some sort since 1991, which might prompt you to ask (oh so appropriately, given the title of my website and blog) "So what can you eat?" And the answer is: veggies, fruit, legumes, and non-peanut nuts and nut butters, plus some other stuff, like nutritional yeast, plain almond milk and coconut milk and protein powders. I use the protein powders as part of my breakfast, which was typically devoid of any protein. I've found that with the breakfast of a protein shake with a cup or more of spinach, a cup or more of frozen berries, a half a cup of plain almond milk, a lot of water and a total of 4 tablespoons of two kinds of protein powder with loads of fiber keep me filled up pretty well until lunchtime. No, it doesn't look very appetizing. It is, in fact, sort of grey-green and slushy. But who cracked open the first egg and thought THAT looked tasty? I figure we can get used to anything. As for taste, since one of the protein powders I am using is not sweet at all, the shake is mostly sweetened by the berries, so it is not nearly as sweet as most "shakes" or smoothies. This IS a detox about eliminating added sugars and artificial sweeteners, so it's okay with me that the flavor is on the neutral side. And the detox isn't a forever thing, so I'm not getting too hung up on the sustainability of the breakfast shake for the long haul.
My typical lunch didn't change -- I have a big green salad with beans and a few almonds with salsa for dressing. Check it out in detail here on You Tube: My delicious lunch salad. With it, I usually have a couple of pieces of fruit -- apples, oranges, or whatever looks good. And my typical dinner didn't really change. I frequently make a big pot of food on the weekend to enjoy as leftovers all week, or I make a fast dinner of beans and greens. I had been working hard on avoiding snacking between meals, which meant I was ravenous when I got home from dinner, so dinner would end up being a multi-hour eatfest without a finite ending. I could call it after dinner snacking, but there was really not much of a break between dinner and the start of the consumption of things like Rice Chex and raisins (part way through the detox I added dried fruit to the list of things that essentially count as added sugar).
So the big changes for me were eliminated Sweet-n-low and sweetened vanilla almond milk from my morning chai and my evening decaf chai (now I'm either drinking black regular or decaf coffee or unsweetened chai with plain almond milk), I started the protein shakes, I added more fruit in the afternoon when I feel hungry, and I have fruit or tea after a healthy and substantial dinner. At work I shifted to green tea without sweetener, and I'm trying to drink more water both at home and at work, which is surprisingly hard. I continued my usual exercise schedule of either running, circuit training, workout videos or Wii Fit or EA Sports Active for 45 minutes 5-6 days a week. Things I was tempted by in the last 12 days were the big container of gf pistachio caramel popcorn and gf pistachio brittle that were New Years gifts from my beloved aunt and uncle, and a gf blueberry muffin baked by a friend and co-worker who wanted to repay some kindness. Fortunately these arrived on Day One, so I had some serious resolve going for me. I had a bite of each so that I could genuinely appreciate the thoughtfulness of the gifts, then I froze the rest of the muffin, and the popcorn and brittle are still available (and I'm still strong in my resolve!). Since I'm not a big gf pasta or bread person, it wasn't too hard to leave them out. I've had a little bit of rice a couple of days, but no other grains. I am on the quest for the best GF pizza, so I had to put that project on hold for the duration.
Bottom line, this detox has totally been worth it. Below is a pic of the protein powders I tried. I settled on the RAW, which was on sale ($25 for a 22 oz can) at Whole Foods, and which was the least sweet of the three sample packs and which has 25 grams of protein per serving. The TJ's Hemp Powder is way less expensive ($10 for a 16 oz can), loaded with fiber, and a little sweet, but only has 9 grams of protein per serving, so I've been doing a mix of the two in my morning shake. Right now I plan on continuing the detox until I use up my protein powders. Maybe a couple more weeks?
Yes, I would recommend this detox to others. It's not forever, and everyone should know how good they can truly feel when not under the influence of sugar. Next I suppose I should do a detox and leave out the coffee. Maybe next time!
In December I created the Gluten-free in Delaware County MeetUp group and after seeking input from those signing up, I picked Uno Chicago Grill in Newtown Square PA for the site of our first gathering in January. I hadn't eaten at Uno's in years, mostly because there are plenty of chain and non-chain comparable places closer by, at least in my pre-diagnosis days. Post-celiac diagnosis, I've had to come up a new fondness for chain restaurants, since they are in general more likely to have a gluten-free menu. Uno's gets a lot of play on the web for their GF-friendly status, and since I am on the quest for the best restaurant GF pizza experience, I thought that this was a good choice and centrally located for those who would likely attend the gathering.
But it turns out that I had a chance to visit Uno's before then. Our family took a road trip to the Inner Harbor in Annapolis for a visit to the National Aquarium during the week between Christmas and New Year's. We had originally planned to visit Seasons Pizza in Elkton on our way home, but timing was such that lunch fell at a weird time (3:45 pm) and we didn't want to wait to eat. Enter Uno's, right on the harbor. Because it wasn't prime dining time, we got a table with a great view and got to watch the sun go down over the harbor as we ate. Our server James helped talk me through the GF menu, and also provide advice on the fancypants mac & cheese and whether he thought the 10 and 8 year-old pallets among us would enjoy it. I was disappointed that the only GF soup that appealed to me -- the black bean -- wasn't available that day (and I learned on my MeetUp trip that it's made with chicken stock, so out of the running anyway). In the end we all ordered pizza and salad and a side of steamed broccoli. Jenn and the boys each got an individual-sized pan pizza, and I ordered the vegetarian GF pizza.
As you can see from the picture, my pizza was of generous proportion and served on its own ceramic plate, I presume to provide some measure against cross-contamination. The crust had a really good flavor -- adequately salty and very much like a regular thin crust pizza in taste (Jenn verified this assessment.) It was suitably bendy, and though it was much better fresh and hot, when I reheated my leftovers in the microwave the next day, the crust still performed well.
So I was looking forward to my visit to Uno's for the MeetUp. The gathering was fun, and we all learned a bunch of stuff from John from GlutenFreeWorks.com. Pretty cool that we have a resident expert in our midst! Karen and I split the GF veggie pizza, and unfortunately it wasn't as good as my Annapolis pie. It was a tad on the soggy side, but still tasty and I had no trouble polishing off my half of it. If there had been more, I'd have eaten that too! I'm glad there wasn't (see my blog post about my inner mean girl invading my brain after an afternoon of pizza and diet coke.) I'm very happy to add Uno's to my list of restaurants I think my family would enjoy -- Seasons is more affordable I think, but I signed up for coupons from Uno's, so that will hopefully be an equalizer. Seasons also has more GF Italian food options, and I definitely want to check those out. So, while Uno's pizza is as good or better, all things being equal, I'd pick Seasons for my next family meal out to eat.
Burger King recently got some press for the roll-out of their new French fry, which is gluten-free. This is different than McDonald's, whose fries are neither gluten-free or vegetarian, which sort of boggles my mind. Even with GF fries, some folks are apprehensive about the fries because of issues of cross-contamination. Apparently there are some BK's that dedicate a fries-only fryer and who are very conscientious. That is great news! However, I feel like I need to share my story from the inside of the fast food world.
I worked as a manager of a Roy Rogers restaurant (remember them?) in the early 1990’s. It was the worst job I’ve ever had, but I did get some amazingly funny anecdotes that I still get to tell, and I got a huge insight into race and class issues, and techniques used for getting over on one’s employer (my employess enlightened me on the many ways they could steal food and money!). Now that I have to navigate a gluten-free existence, working at Roy’s was a gift in that I gathered loads of data on ways that food prep in the fast food world can lead to cross contamination. As a result, I will never eat at a burger-and-fry-centric fast food place again.
First, I have to note that I was in my 20’s and to my eye at the time, the food wasn’t that unhealthy (my 48-year-old eye has a different opinion, of course.) The chicken was just chicken and we had a dedicated staff person whose sole job was to bread and fry it all day and evening long. If the restaurant was slow some evening, we did let it sit in the warming window longer than company specifications allowed, but I wasn’t allowed to give it to the co-workers (lest they start over producing in order to get the food themselves), so we would have to throw it away and we had to count the waste at the end of the shift, which counted against me as the manager who made the call on how much chicken to make. The burgers were just ground meat (albeit already formed into patties and frozen for shipping). Sausage and bacon was the same as in the grocery store. The rolls came on big racks every other day and looked exactly the same as rolls I bought at the time for home consumption. The fries just looked like potatoes to me (the more I read about fast food fries now, I wonder what the heck was really in them). We cut up tomatoes and lettuce and onions every morning and afternoon for use on the fixin’s bar and for tossed salads. The biscuits were hand mixed and rolled (breakfast) or scooped (lunch and dinner) all day long. The oil in the fryers was vegetable oil that we cleaned daily and changed on a regular schedule.
Some items were pre-fab: The roast beef came pre-cooked, but we sliced it down wafer thin and heated it in pre-packaged au jus for the roast beef sandwiches. The chicken breasts for chicken sandwiches came frozen with char lines painted on. The instructions were to microwave them, but I would throw mine on the 2-sided grill and drop the platen on it for a few seconds to heat them through for a more tender offering. The chicken nuggets and fried chicken patties and hash browns all came frozen and were fried in the same fryers as the French fries. The eggs for scrambling came out of a carton. The pancakes came pre-made and were microwaved in their plastic clamshells.
I was 28, a middle class, college educated lesbian. The store was located at Broad and Snyder near a subway stop and a public high school and two hospitals in South Philadelphia. South Philly is a melting pot of races and cultures, but for the most part, though I lived just a few blocks away, I was not a typical denizen of the hood. I supervised a 65-year-old Cambodian lady for whom English was almost non-existent. She made great biscuits and introduced me to a funny kind of broom that was great for cleaning under tables that the company told me to get rid of but which we kept using anyway. I had two shift supervisors. One was a 55-year-old hard-living alcoholic who would blow her paycheck on booze every Friday night and show up first thing Saturday morning looking all askew in her clothes from the day before, and I was always so grateful to have her there (running short-handed on the weekend was the pits!) My other shift supervisor was a 16-year-old over-achiever who got straight A’s at Girls High. I supervised work-release inmates, budding mobsters, moms who had 5 kids, and a few men in their 20’s who had no real skills and no real promise for a better life.
My motto for my shifts was “Make every item as if you were preparing it for your grandmother,” or “Clean the dining room/bathroom as if your favorite aunt were coming to visit.” This resonated with some, but frankly, not everyone has the gene for good service. And as the manager, especially in a shop where labor hours were carefully watched, I’d end up at a station, like the cash register, for long stretches, so it was hard to keep an eye on what was going on behind the line in the food prep area all the time.
I give all that background to note the huge disconnect between a company’s policies around food handling and the realities of food prep at the actual store. If I worked at Roy’s under the same conditions today and they told me to dedicate a fries-only fryer in order to not cross-contaminate the oil, I would not have any confidence that when the restaurant was busy that a co-worker wouldn’t drop a load of fries into the contaminated fryer to speed things up. Fries are way more popular than nuggets or chicken sandwiches, and the line is long, and who’s really going to know, right? And what about the fry baskets? If a co-worker accidentally pours a bag of frozen fries into the nuggets basket causing cross-contamination, they are not going to throw all of those out on the off-chance that someone with a gluten issue might wander in. And then, depending on where they end up frying them, they’ve just contaminated either that load of fries or the whole gf-dedicated fryer, the warming bin for cooked fries, and the fry scoop.
And as far as items from the grill, I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t be cross-contaminated. At the very minimum, an employee can get fresh gloves and a clean spatula and maybe even wipe down the grill, but midday cleaning of a hot grill in my experience was either just scraping grease into the grease trough with the same spatula or maybe pouring seltzer water over the grill and then scraping it down. Even if bread is not ever technically on the grill, spatula contact from burger to bun is how it’s done. And, as with my chicken breast sandwich prep for personal consumption, I’m living proof that employees don’t always follow company regulations.
In my restaurant, the veggie prep area was separate from all of the chicken breading and biscuit making and hot food cooking, so it would have been the zone least likely to experience cross-contamination. Not all restaurants have that luxury of space, so I wouldn’t count salads as a sure bet, but I suppose I might gamble and eat a tossed salad from a fast food place if I really had to, as long as it didn’t have croutons and the dressing came in a packet with a list of ingredients (or no dressing all together.)
So, in the end, I applaud any corporate efforts to accommodate the needs of gf patrons. Even if I don’t believe I can eat safely in these restaurants and cannot recommend that anyone with celiac disease eat there either, they are raising awareness both with their employees and the general public about gluten issues.
After an afternoon of GF pizza and diet coke, I felt lousy for a couple of days. And it wasn't that I felt that bad physically. It was like a crazy mean girl moved into my head and continually told me terrible things about myself for the better part of two days. I felt so low that I actually took a day off of work. To anyone not in my head, it might not have been noticable, other than I couldn't seem to rally much energy. But to me, it was like a really bad dream that I was having a hard time waking up from.
As a regular participant at PEERtrainer, I read a lot about healthy eating and living. Right now there is a big push on the site for a detox/cleanse program with JJ Virgin. I'm not keen to pay money for that program, but I read up on it and it seems more sound than doing a juice fast or a Master Cleanse sort of thing. And John from Gluten Free Works who came to our GF in Delco MeetUp (I'll talk about that in a future post) shared with us the negative effect cane sugar has on his physical and emotional health. I decided the universe might be trying to tell me something, so I'm going to follow these breadcrumbs. I have crafted for myself a test to see how I will feel after I rid myself of added sugars, refined carbs and artificial sweeteners. I'm starting with a week, but my real intention is to go longer. I'm so fully counting on feeling really great by this time next week that I won't want to go back.
In addition to eliminating that stuff, I am adding more protein (a suggestion from JJ Virgin. Apparently amino acids are necessary to transport toxins out of the body, so since I'll be freeing them up with all this clean living, I want to get them out of me.) So, I'm sampling gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free protein powders this week, and I'll share my findings in an upcoming post.