Gluten-free and me

May 8, 2019 | Food and Culture

As a person who has to eat gluten-free it can be hard going places to eat, even other people’s houses. It is sometimes difficult for people to understand cross contamination, what products do and do not contain gluten, and what actually happens if I eat gluten. So, today for myself and everyone else who can’t eat gluten I thought I would talk about this.

It’s not a choice

Working in restaurants for as long as I did I’ve came across a lot of people who’ve claimed they couldn’t eat gluten but would then order the chocolate cake or pasta. It was frustrating then, but now that I know I really can’t eat gluten it pisses me off even more.

It isn’t a choice for me. I haven’t decided to stop eating gluten to drop weight or because of some health fad. If I eat gluten I get really sick. I get really bad stomach cramps. Have to run to the washroom every few minutes. I have no energy. And overall I just feel terrible. I’m sure you can imagine how disruptive this can be to my life.

To make matters worse, recently I’ve noticed the longer I go without gluten (it’s been almost two years) the more sensitive I become to it. Now, even a few bread crumbs in the butter and I’m destroyed for a few days. This brings me to my next point…

Cross Contamination

Cross contamination is when one item is unintentionally contaminated by another. Crumbs in the butter is a good example of this but a fairly obvious one. A not so obvious example might be if someone was baking and the butter was sitting beside their mixer. The mixer got turned on and flour flew up in then air. That butter has flour on it whether it can be seen or not. And yes, if I were then to have a bit of that butter on some gluten-free bread I would get sick.

Cross contamination is something we try to be very careful of in restaurants. But, it is the reason why when someone says they have an allergy we always say that “we will try our best but that we can’t guarantee anything.” It is impossible to know exactly what one product has come into contact with. This makes it very difficult for me and people like me to eat out.

Beyond cross contamination it is sometimes hard to tell whether a product has gluten in it or not, especially if you are unfamiliar with eating gluten-free.

Products that are not gluten-free

Trying to figure out if something has gluten in it or not can be really hard sometimes. This is especially true if you don’t really know what gluten is. I think at this point we all know that bread has gluten in it because flour has gluten in it. Any kind of wheat has gluten in it but barley has gluten in it too. So, anything with barley, barley sugar, barley malt, malt, or malt vinegar, has gluten in it. At first glance you may think, well that can’t be many things, think again.

Let’s imagine that a really common ingredient like Worcestershire sauce had gluten in it. Think of all the things you might put Worcestershire sauce in, or that might have it in them. Now, if Worcestershire sauce had gluten in it, all those things, would have gluten in them. Well,Worcestershire sauce has barley malt in it. So, it does have gluten in it.

There are even some items that I don’t understand having gluten in them that do. Like potato chips. A lot of potato chips, even though it’s not listed have gluten in them. It is hidden in the that little part of the ingredients that say “spices”. Why is there gluten in there? What form of gluten is being used? I have no idea. But it’s there. So, even though nothing with gluten is listed, unless the bag expressly says “GF” I generally have to stay away.

Other items that often contain gluten that you may not expect include sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, soy sauce, seasonings and spice mixes, salad dressings, oats (if not processed in a gluten-free factory), licorice and lots of other candies, chocolates, imitation crab meat, relish, and of course lots of other things.

Conclusion

So, you have a friend who can’t eat gluten, should you completely change your life? No, of course not. Just be aware of the difficulty they have going out to eat, or even coming to your place for dinner. If they are coming over for dinner, keep cross contamination in mind and maybe don’t make bread or a cake.

The fact is that living with any food allergy, or sensitivity can be annoying at best. It isn’t fun always wondering if what you’re eating is going to make you sick or not. It isn’t fun always feeling like the pain in the ass guest or customer. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I hate having to ask whether something is gluten-free or not. I hate it.

If you have friends who can’t eat gluten, or have food allergies, keep that in mind. It may be slightly annoying to you, but it is way worse for us.

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