Tag Archives: celiac disease

Eating Gluten Free Q&A with Sarah Wu of Fed Up With Lunch

A few years back, public school speech pathologist Sarah Wu forgot to pack her lunch and decided to grab a meal in her school’s cafeteria along with the students.  After seeing the “nutritious” meal that was being served to children every day, Wu was inspired to challenge herself to get involved and get the word out to others, especially parents that may not realize the lack of healthy foods their sons or daughters were being fed each day.  In order to do this Wu ate school lunch every day in 2010 while anonymously blogging, tweeting and sharing photos of the meals under the pseudonym Mrs. Q.

Mrs. Q’s Fed up with Lunch blog caused quite a stir and while Wu did continually fear that at any time she could be ousted and possibly lose her job, she continued to share her thoughts on the state of school food.  This persistence has paid off with national recognition of her efforts on outlets like Good Morning America and National Public Radio.  This public acknowledgment went a step further on Wednesday, October 05, 2011 when Wu relinquished her anonymity as Mrs. Q in order to release a book about her experience called “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”.
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And while Wu is now busier than ever, she will continue to blog, as she has since the challenge ended, about school lunch reform and to share the eating habits of her own family and her decision to eliminate   gluten from her own diet.  Because of this dedication to a healthier, more balanced diet, as well as her first hand knowledge of food allergies, we asked Wu to share with us her experience with dietary issues and how similar eating habits could play a part in school meals.

Central Restaurant Products:  What was your diet like before the lunch project and looking back how did it affect your health?

Sarah Wu: I always thought of my diet as healthy. I made sure we ate balanced meals and planned dinner with a meat, a grain, and a veggie. But I wasn’t focused on ingredients or organics like I do now. We never ate fast food on a regular basis, but we did eat out quite a bit. My health was ok, but I have been suffering with IBS for almost ten years.

CRP: Without the school lunch project, do you think you would have looked into going gluten free?  Why or why not?

SW: As I discuss very briefly in the book, I went gluten free for a couple of weeks about four years ago. In the book, I said that my brief voyage into gluten free living was because of my IBS. It was also because I was having difficulty getting pregnant and I was reading fertility books obsessively. One book mentioned going gluten free and drinking whole milk. I was desperate to get pregnant so I tried their recommendations. I felt really good (and I ended up getting pregnant that month) and did a little research online and found “Celiac disease.” Because my IBS was better, I thought I must have Celiac disease so I went to a GI doctor (gastroenterologist) for a test. The blood test was negative and the doctor told me, “You do not have a problem with wheat so go ahead and resume a normal diet.” Although I was relieved that I didn’t have an autoimmune disorder like Celiac, I was stumped because I felt oddly better without wheat. Since I trusted the doctor, I started eating wheat again.

I never would have questioned the doctor’s recommendations again because the test results were clear. Additionally my father is a doctor and we believe in medical science and technology.

It just so happened that when I was appearing anonymously on a food blogging conference in San Francisco in October 2010, I started talking to Alison St. Sure, who is a food blogger who has Celiac disease. We just started chatting and she mentioned her diagnosis. I told her something like, “That’s funny, a few years ago I thought I had Celiac disease, but my test was negative.” She said something then that changed my life, “You know just because you don’t have Celiac disease doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with wheat. What the doctor should have said was that you could be gluten sensitive.” I was stunned. I decided that night that when the project was over I would try gluten free living again.
CRP: What sources did you use to go gluten free?

SW: I relied on the internet for my information especially The University of Chicago – Celiac Disease Center for basic information and then I delved into blog’s like Alison St. Sure and other gluten free bloggers like Gluten Free Girl. One thing I really like are Facebook pages like Gluten Free Easily and The Center for Celiac Research.

CRP: What advice would you give to someone thinking about going gluten free?

SW: It’s important that someone who thinks that they have Celiac disease gets tested prior to going gluten free. If you are gluten free prior to the test, your body will stop producing the antibodies to wheat and those are what reveal a problem. Get tested and then try the diet. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease whose rates are doubling every 15 years. It is very troubling. Research the symptoms. Even if you don’t have Celiac disease, you may find a benefit to gluten free living like I had. I feel amazing and I’ll never go back.

Fed Up with Lunch

Image from FedUpWithLunch.com

CRP: What benefits are there to going gluten free?  What are the drawbacks?

SW: For someone like me, the benefits are incredible. My IBS is totally gone. I also have more energy. Many people who say they go gluten free mention having more energy. For me I think that having chronic digestive troubles drained my energy. Now my body can focus on other things, which makes me feel physically stronger.

The drawback is eating out. It can be hard to find a restaurant that understands what gluten can do to people like me. But I have found lots of restaurants, including major chains, have gluten free menus. All you have to do is ask.

CRP: How have you had to change your shopping routine since going gluten free?

SW: Now I read all labels. I’m aware of ingredients more than ever. Also we are eating more whole foods (fruits, veggies, meats) and those are naturally gluten free.

CRP: Are there any food item substitutes that just don’t measure up to the original?  Any items you or your family miss having?

SW: I think it’s hard to find a perfect match for pasta that doesn’t contain gluten. I have been able to find equivalents to most things. It just takes time. When I feel bad it’s usually when we go out to dinner and we get a bread basket on the table. My son is able to wait for his food, but I just feel bad he has to miss out at certain restaurants.

CRP: What products have been easiest to switch from?

SW: Finding gluten free cereal and oatmeal is not hard. I think breakfast is pretty easy to make gluten free because eggs, bacon and OJ are gluten free (check individual brands).

CRP: What foods do you find yourself eating more often due to your change in diet?

SW: I think that my overall awareness of food has made me eat more fruits and veggies than before. I still eat too many cookies — some things never change!

CRP: How difficult do you think it would be for a school (yours or your son’s daycare for example) to go gluten free?  What specific roadblocks do you see them running into?  If money and administrative restraints were no issue, would you recommend schools going this route?

SW: I think it would be hard to meet the USDA requirements (each school lunch averages about two servings of grain) and not incorporate wheat. But if you look at school lunch, they are serving a ton of wheat –what happened to other grains? Rice? Corn? Quinoa? Spelt? Barley? Rye? I believe everything in moderation and people are consuming more wheat than ever before. Oddly, rates of Celiac disease have been doubling every 15 years. That might be a sign that people should each a more diverse diet.

If money and administrative costs were not a concern, I would advise schools to back off the overabundance of wheat. A varied diet is more wholesome.

CRP: How do you believe students would benefit from going gluten free?

SW: Well, 97% of people with Celiac disease have not been diagnosed. One in 133 people are living with Celiac disease and most of them don’t know it.  This can lead to living with another chronic disease as people with undiagnosed Celiac disease are at risk of developing other ailments including cancer. I consider this to be an epidemic. So I think that if more students ate a varied diet, they might be able to notice a correlation between how they feel after they eat a gluten free meal versus a wheat-heavy meal.

In discussing Celiac disease, I make no mention of people like me who have some kind of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. Who knows how many people there are who could benefit from eating less gluten.

For more information on gluten-free eating, be sure to check out our post: Living with Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-Free.

To learn more about Sarah Wu and her book “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”, visit her site Fed Up With Lunch.

Image from MorgueFile

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-Free

Image from MorgueFileHave you had a sandwich this week for lunch?  If so, it was probably some type of meat and/or veggies inside a nice thick bun or maybe some delicious doughy bread.  Imagine that same sandwich, only take away the bun or bread and you’d be more accurately describing a meal fit for someone who is gluten-free.  Whether you’re gluten-free by choice or necessity, it can put a crimp in your daily diet, but it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean having to do without. Celiac.com says that “at least 1 in 133 Americans” are affected by Celiac Disease.  Wheat allergies are in the top 8 most common food allergies alongside items like peanuts and shellfish.  There are many more suffering with gluten sensitivities.  With this in mind, much of the food industry has begun to turn over a new leaf and started to offer a much broader range of foods and knowledge to ensure safety and variety for those on a gluten-free diet.

What’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies?

“People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients,” is the way Celiac Disease is described by the Mayo Clinic.  While this disease is manageable, if not carefully monitored and properly diagnosed, it could eventually lead to permanent damage to the intestines.  Since this disease is genetic, the American Celiac Disease Alliance encourages, “If someone in your family is diagnosed, it is recommended that first degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) are screened as well. “

Gluten sensitivity, while still painful, poses no long-term physical damage.  Basically, it is an intolerance of the body to digest gluten and while it can cause discomfort in the form of abdominal pain and similar issues, it will not cause any permanent damage and will go away once the gluten is out of the system.

Wheat allergies are more directly associated with a protein found in wheat products, which means it could be possible for sufferers to eat other types of grains.  Like many other allergies the symptoms can range anywhere from mild (an upset stomach) to severe (throat swelling, lowered blood pressure, etc.)

What products should be avoided?

For all three issues you should avoid products containing wheat, rye and barley which includes many types of bread, crackers, pastas, pizza and cookies.   It’s also extremely important to always read food labels to make sure other products don’t contain these ingredients.  According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), “Wheat has been found in some brands of ice cream, marinara sauce, play dough, potato chips, rice cakes, and turkey patties, and at least one brand of hot dogs.”

What are some alternatives?

Recently, more and more items have become gluten-free.  There are now breads, cereals, pizzas and other products certified by the FDA as gluten free.  Two such brands that you may find in your local grocery store are Udi’s which specializes in baked goods and Amy’s which offers everything from frozen pastas to soups (with an extra bonus that all products are either organic or made with organic ingredients).  FAAN also gives the suggestion of using items like rice, corn or potato starch flour when baking as a substitute for wheat flour.                       

Eating Gluten-free on the Go

Although it does take some extra planning, eating gluten-free at your favorite restaurant is a possibility.  As mentioned in our post on dairy-free dining, there are many databases like Allergy Eats and Allerdine which allow you to search for restaurants in your area that take special food safety measures for patrons with food allergies.  There’s also a database specifically for gluten-free eating, Gluten-free-onthego.com, that allows you to search for everything from coffee shops to sit-down restaurants all over the world (recently France, Italy, Spain and Mallorca were added to the search areas).  And in case you’re at the grocery and want to know what’s safe to grab, there are also several apps to get your phone thinking gluten-free such as Gluten Free (for Blackberry) and Gluten Free Ingredients (for Android).

Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination when eating gluten-free.  The easiest way to do this is simply by keeping an open dialogue between yourself and the wait staff and/or management.  Doing this will give you the ability to ask questions and make an informed decision on whether or not an establishment truly does meet the standards for being gluten-free.  In addition to your own guidelines, an advocacy group for the gluten-free community called Celiebo, has presented a certification program to make sure restaurants are as safe as possible for diners.  In an article from Food Service Central, it says that “The Celiebo certification includes training programs, presentations and educational materials to be posted in kitchens detailing the specifics of gluten-free food preparation and ingredients to avoid. Certified establishments will also receive a window decal that states they are a Celiebo Certified Gluten-Free Restaurant™.”  And while this certification is currently only being used in New York City, it plans to eventually expand.

In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are many options.  Chains like Cheeseburger in Paradise, Bonefish Grill, and Outback Steakhouse (also Dairy-free friendly) all have a variety of options to keep you safe while letting you enjoy a wide selection.  However, restaurants are not your only gluten-free on-the-go dining option.  If you like sports, you’ll be happy to know that many baseball and football concession stands are also joining in on this dining revolution.  Triumph Dining has some great coverage on dining safe while watching your favorite team including what’s offered at some individual stadiums like Tropicana Field and Busch Stadium.


Delicious Gluten-free recipes to try at home

“Lighter than Air” Chocolate Cake

Zucchini Muffins 

How do you or your family members deal with being gluten free?  Please share your story.