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Deciphering labels and hunting down manufacturers

If you eat gluten free, or have ever cooked or shopped for someone who has to be gluten free, you know how much of a hassle it is and how confusing it is. I’ve been dairy free for 6-7 years now, and I learned over time how to read labels for dairy products, and in the process learned how to pronounce a lot of strange names and words. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent in a grocery store reading labels of foods. There are the foods I know and trust that are safe… there are the foods that I know for a fact are not safe, and then there are the foods that I really don’t know if they’re “safe”.

Recently, I finally decided to find out if our vanilla extract was gluten free. I read the label, and it seemed safe, but I had this feeling, the feeling that it wasn’t. So, I googled it. And, as I read stuff, I found out that that particular version of it from that company is indeed NOT gluten free.

Oh, yeah, and a few days ago I was standing in Whole Foods and reading labels as I waited for my mom. I picked up a package of chocolate chips, and to my great astonishment read that it contained barley. Huh? Why’d someone put barley in chocolate chips?!?

And there are the confusing labels… the ones that say they are processed on equipment also shared with wheat, or in the same factory as wheat, even though there are no wheat ingredients in the product in question. I have absolutely no way of knowing how much gluten is in them, if even any. So, I follow the motto: “when in doubt, leave it out.” I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been disappointed to find out a product was contaminated and so I couldn’t eat it. And countless times when I’ve ended up annoyed that I can’t find any info about if a product is gluten free or not.

My biggest pet peeve though, is not in the grocery store… but at the pharmacy. Classic example: I have chronic persistent reflux. So, I’m on Protonix, a PPI. I was sooo glad when my main doc happened to find out this one has a lactose free tablet, since most medications I have to have in liquid form because lactose in pills makes the medication backfire on me and make me worse, not better. And so even though that’s in my chart, it’s not something that gets automatically screened. So every single time I get a new med I have to have them look it up and make sure it’s lactose and gluten free.

So, I needed a refill of the Protonix this week, and I put it in the computer and picked it up yesterday, just in time. I noticed it was in a different container, but thought it was the same med, just they used the generic yellow/orange tinted rx bottle. I started to wonder this afternoon when it dawned on me that they were a slightly different shape and had a different marking. It turns out they gave me the generic of the Protonix (Pantoprazole), instead of the brand name. Oh great, I thought. I sure hope it’s actually safe.

I spent at least an hour or two this afternoon searching on the internet for the ingredient list of the generic, and finally found it. To my great relief it was lactose free. I wasn’t sure about it being gluten free though. What do they mean by “pregelatinized starch”?? After some more looking around, I concluded it probably was gluten free, especially that the brand-name is, and I’d already taken 3 doses of it and not gotten a nasty glutening reaction. But still.

I shouldn’t have to spend 2 hours trying to find out if a medication is safe for me, when I should be using that time to do homework. And I shouldn’t have to stand in the grocery store reading labels for a 1/2 hour and googling stuff on my phone to verify if they’re gluten free. That’s why I’m supporting 1in133′s campaign to get the FDA to finally set standards for what “gluten free” means and putting any form of gluten in clear terms, not just a mysterious, “modified food starch”. So, PLEASE, take a few minutes to go over to there site here and sign the petition, send a letter to the FDA, donate money for the event and research, or all of the above.

At least 1 in 133 people in the US have celiac disease and even more are gluten sensitive, so it IS a BIG deal. So, please help spread the word and sign the petition. Maybe even join in with the giant gluten free (and dairy free) 12′ cake with 700 lbs of frosting in DC on May 4, 2011.

How I cook… (one of my favorite childhood recipes)

…Is not really helpful to sharing recipes with you guys here. I just don’t like measuring unless I’m baking. But when I cook, I do it how my mom taught me since I was little. A little of this, a bit of that, some more of that and a bunch of this and a sprinkle of this and a handful of this and then taste it, adjust as necessary, pour some more of this till it looks about right, and a bit of that till it feels just right.

Yup. That’s how I like to cook. So, with that in mind, I’ll share a “recipe”… one that I’ve loved since I was little, and several months ago converted to be gluten free. This really doesn’t have a name that I know of, and I have no idea where my mom learned of it (or if she made the dish up). But it has been one of my childhood favorites.

Makes as many servings as you happen to cook. :P (on average it tends to make at least 6 servings, though you can make it less or more).
What you’ll need:
GF Spaghetti
Mushrooms
Some gluten free flour that you like to use to thicken stuff (sorghum works, so do starches like potato and tapioca… take your pick)
Soy milk (or other liquid)
Gluten free corn flakes
Tuna or Salmon (it’s easiest to work from a can or something like, but freshly cooked works too)
Soy butter (or some other butter substitute)
Daiya cheese or other cheese substitute. (Daiya works well and melts well)

Making the dish:
Cook the spaghetti. I usually use about 1/2 a package, but it’s up to you how much you want to make.
In a separate pot, cook the mushrooms (cut them up into cubes or slices first)
Then, take the mushrooms out and set them in a bowl for the time being.
In the pot you cooked the mushrooms, melt some soy butter over medium heat, once it’s melted, add a few spoonfuls of gluten free flour. Mix. Add soy milk a little bit at a time. Whisk it together, cooking it over the heat so the flour thickens. Keep adding milk till you’ve got a consistency you like and have enough sauce.
Add the mushrooms back in.
Add the tuna/salmon.
Add Daiya cheese… probably roughly around 1/2 cup, but adjust to your personal likes.
Stir and let it all heat up.

Take the pasta and drain it once it’s cooked. Mix the mushroom and tuna/salmon sauce into the drained pasta.
Pour corn flakes into it and mix it all together well.
Serve.

This freezes well, so I usually portion it out into little containers for future meals when I don’t have the time to cook, I just pull one serving out of the freezer, nuke it in the microwave and I have a delicious meal. :)

One more thing I want to mention. See the badge on the right for 1 in 133? Please, if you haven’t done so yet, click on it and go sign the petition for the FDA to issue standards for food labeling which would require clear labeling of gluten on food labels. Celiac disease affects at least 1 in 133 people, and not to mention all the others who are gluten intolerant or gluten free for some other reason, so it IS a BIG deal. So, please go and make your voice be heard.

And if you’ve already signed the petition, then spread the word and get others to sign it and keep the word spreading. 1 in 133 people is truly a big deal!

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