Friday, August 31, 2007

Gluten-Free Labor Day


I'm looking forward to a beautiful gluten-free Labor Day weekend here in Cleveland, as the weather forecast is absolutely perfect! We're having nighttime lows in the 50's and daytime highs in the mid-upper 70's with low humidity -- my idea of spectacular weather.

The Cleveland National Air Show has its usual Labor Day schedule, and perhaps I'll drive downtown to check out some of the events. Usually we'll see a few of the jets flying overhead at our house 15 miles out of downtown as they go in and out of the region during the various events.

We're also thinking about making a trek to the Amish region for fresh vegetables, fruits, and locally produced cheese (like smoked hot-pepper cheese, Bermuda Onion cheese, Swiss cheese, and a few other favorites). This is something we tend to do a few times during late-summer and early fall as all the produce comes into season. I love fresh vegetables and fruit, not only because they are Celiac safe and gluten-free, and not just because they are healthy and good for you, but because the simply taste so wonderful and make for some awesome meal creations. It's really tough to beat straight from the field produce when you can get it.

I must admit, I also like fruits and vegetables that are non-native too, as you'll see in my weekend fruit and veggie selection above. I have everything ready for homemade salsa tomatoes from the garden, plus some tomatillos, onions, peppers, and avocado. And, there's a nice mix of fruits for snacking on this Labor Day weekend too (that's my gluten-free dessert for the weekend - a healthy one this time, and a break from the gluten-free cakes we tend to bake during holidays). Chances are, as we see family this weekend too, the bounty pictured above won't last long. All the more reason to take that trip and get some additional produce for the next week or two - like fresh Sweet Corn, Cucumbers, Cantaloupe, Squash, Honeydew, and perhaps Watermelon (we've had some really good ones this year).

I hope everyone has a great gluten-free Labor Day. I doubt I'll post any more to the Gluten-Free Blog until Tuesday - I personally plan to relax and enjoy the wonderful weather and days off! :)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Experience with Unconsciousness

I realize I have not been posting to the Gluten-Free Blog as often as I'd like to lately. I've had all sorts of things going on recently, many of which were just not the most fun. I've had to suffer through a few medical tests the past couple weeks, as prescribed by my doctors, presumably to help me achieve the best health possible over the coming years. I say "suffer through" only because of the most recent test which rendered me unconscious for a while.

I'm generally OK with medical tests, so long as they are not too invasive. I don't mind having blood drawn to check things like my RBC (Red Blood Count), Hemoglobin, Thyroid hormones (like TSH and T4), kidney and liver functions, and blood glucose. They can take those tests once a month if they want - such tests just don't bother me. But, when you start putting thing IN me in order to get a particular measurement, that's when things start to become less tolerable.

I did an oral glucose-tolerance-test the week before last, and that wasn't even too bad. You basically drink a super-sweet fluid that has 75 grams of pure glucose (sugar) in it, and, the medical people draw blood at various intervals to see how your body reacts. In my particular case, they drew it every half hour for two hours. It was a fair amount of needle-pokes, but with a talented blood-sucker (the guy I had is gifted, and he can take blood with hardly a "pinch" of pain) it certainly beat having a scope put down my throat a couple years ago to diagnose Celiac Disease. The only thing being put into me this time was oral sugar water essentially. Simple enough, and it is all in the best interest of seeing how well my body is handling sugar - I don't want to develop diabetes, and I'll do what is necessary to keep a good check on my system.

But, the next test I had this week brought with it a bit more excitement. This time I was to take a test that was only to be an hour in length. It was to start with me getting a shot of some hormone-stimulating solution, followed by blood draws at 30 and 60 minutes later to test my body's reaction. It all sounded harmless enough to me, so I proceeded to take the test.

Unconsciousness and Back
No sooner was I asking the nurse administering the shot about whether I'd be able to walk around while I wait for 30 minutes to elapse than I started feeling light-headed. I quickly told her to get my feet up, and that was the last thing I remember as I nearly instantly went unconscious.

I started to regain consciousness after about 30 seconds (according to observers). It was a freaky feeling to say the least. If you have never experienced it, it's hard to imagine. Your sense of place and time is obliterated. It's like there is a temporal gap in your memories that your brain has a difficult time bridging. When you are out cold, there's nothing. Plain and simple: nothing. No dreams, no memories, just time that didn't exist for you. Call it time travel - travel that you don't remember embarking upon when you arrive at your next destination: foggy consciousness.

At the reemergence of consciousness and mental thought, my brain was having a rough time piecing together what was going on. At first, it was like a dream, though an odd one to say the least. Then, as I moved further from the edge of nothingness towards reality, it became a very vivid dream, with actors and props totally unfamiliar to me. I had absolutely no idea where I was or anything, and they already had the automatic jump-start machine (i.e., defibrillator) wired to my chest, with the machine repeating (in a computerized voice) "clear the airway... give CPR... check vitals". That was the first thing that made any sense to me, albeit just barely. It was still as though I was watching some choreographed show in action, though it was quickly becoming apparent I was playing some role.

Finally the people hanging over me and standing around me were making sense when they were asking "are you with us?" and similar questions about how I felt and such. My brain finally assembled enough of the puzzle, and I thought to myself, "ah, now I remember... that damn test I was taking!". I'm now covered in sweat - a side-effect of going unconscious seems to always be dumping a quart of sweat in seconds, usually a "cold sweat" of sorts. But, otherwise, I'm calm and feeling rational.

Although it seemed like forever, this all probably took only a minute or so in total. But, it was one of the weirdest minutes in my life. I have experienced syncope before, and regardless of how many times you go through it, it is just a god-awful feeling to live through.

Off to the E-R
So, what started as an hour long and rather risk-free test became a bit more complex - passing our was not supposed to be part of the equation. Within a couple minutes of starting the test I'm being taking to an Emergency Room for an EKG and blood tests, etc., to make sure I didn't experience a heart attack (luckily, those tests all came back fine).

As they are wheeling me down to Emergency, I at least had the presence of mind to instruct them to finish the test they started, since, like I told them, I'm NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN! They had already injected me with what they needed to, so at this point, it was simply taking a couple blood draws in order to complete the test. After insisting repeatedly that they do so, the blood was drawn on time (I sure hope it helps some Doctor understand my body in a way that was worth all this). And, I soon received a saline-drip plugged into my arm to rehydrate me and get my vitals back to "normal", as my blood pressure had dropped considerably during this ordeal.

I started to feel, for the most part, back to normal within a couple hours of the saline infusion. And, not being one to want to hang around in hospitals any longer than necessary, I was definitely getting the itch to leave the place. Needless to say, the ER doctors didn't want me to leave so soon, and wanted me around "a couple more hours" for observation. I agreed, and remained.

By now it was certainly lunch time, and, you guessed it, forget Gluten-Free Foods in the hospital. The nurse that stopped by to discuss food options had no idea what gluten-free was, but luckily by this time my wife had arrived on the scene and was nice enough to go home and acquire me something that I knew was gluten-free (the last thing I needed was non-GF food!)

I stayed around yet another couple hours, and when I thought they'd be telling me to go home, the doctor on duty told me how he wanted me to stay overnight while on various monitors. Given they couldn't "explain" my reaction, and my being "out" lasted so long (I guess 30 seconds is a long time, especially if you stop breathing during that), they wanted me to remain overnight. I chose not to after careful consideration for over an hour.

Conclusion
To me, it seemed rather obvious what happened. Either I had a bad reaction to the substance shot into me for diagnostic purposes, or I had some exaggerated vasovagal syncope response from nerves that just hit at the same time. I will never know for certain. What I do know is I don't want to go through that again! And, I also knew that if I stayed overnight in the hospital, I wasn't going to sleep much at all with wires and tubes sticking out of me.

The only residual effect that remained by the end of the day was being a bit tired, and having a slightly sore spot on my arm from the IV of saline. It's now been a couple days, and so far nothing else has come from this experience, and I sure hope that is how it remains. The half-life of what was pumped into my veins was low enough that most all should have been flushed from my system by the time I left the hospital anyhow.

I don't want to let this experience scare me out of future medical tests, especially tests that may be critical and valuable. What I am quite sure of from now on is that I will advise anyone that plans to shoot me full of an unfamiliar diagnostic substance that I have a history of syncope under such conditions, and that they best begin by doing anything possible to minimize the chance of a repeat performance - whether that means elevating my feet ahead of time or hypnotizing me first. One way or the other, I certainly don't want any surprises like this again.

With luck I'll be back to writing more regularly on the Gluten-Free blog, and I have some Gluten-Free Desserts I want to be baking. I've just been taking it easy and de-stressing for a few days, as I try to mentally recover from my latest life experience. Hopefully the rest of you never have to experience this type of thing first hand.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Food Allergies on Today on ABC

This morning's Today Show was just discussing the rising incidence of food allergies in America. Everything from peanut allergies to shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy make up the top few food allergies these days. The episode didn't particularly mention gluten allergies, but with wheat being in the top few dietary things people are allergic too, I have to wonder if they just covered gluten by calling it "wheat" (especially since the iVillage Health Journal food allergy article referenced from the Today Show web page clearly discussed gluten, vs. just "wheat").

According to the show, the incidence of food allergies in the USA has doubled in last 10 years and it is becoming a major public health problem. There are now a full 12 millions Americans with food allergies, 4.3 million of which are children. As for what is causing this fast rise in allergies... that seems open to debate. One doctor from Mt. Sinai New York Hospital mentioned the hygiene hypothesis, which essentially posits that we are not getting enough or appropriate bacteria exposure these days with the advent of so many antibiotic soaps, etc. There was also a quick mention of potential genetic predispositions and perhaps Global food supply being to blame.

Regarding the permanence of an allergy, currently 80% of those with egg and milk allergies eventually outgrow the condition, but only 20% of persons with a peanut allergy outgrow it. Kids on the interview were already accepting the fact they may have to deal with these allergies for life. I feel bad for anyone that has to avoid foods for life, like all of us gluten-free and Celiac Disease sufferers, but I feel even more so for those that have to carry EpiPens (epinephrine injection pens) in case they experience anaphylaxis from acccidental exposure to their allergic triggers. That must be just awful worrying about being unable to breath if you come into contact with an allergen!

Overall the Today Show piece was rather weak with regards to content or detail. It was definitely just a super-high-level discussion of food allergy prevalence in America. But, I still found it interesting to hear the numbers nonetheless. I figured I'd mention in here on the Gluten-Free Blog just in case anyone wanted to go check it out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Marmite - Gluten-Free Treat from the UK



Marmite is a recent discovery for me - an interesting British / United Kingdom Celiac-safe food product I encountered while on vacation in England a week ago. A friend and UK resident turned me on to the product, which I tried after verifying that it was gluten-free, and I am definitely a fan now.

Marmite is one of those gluten-free foods you'll either love or hate. I just don't think there is much middle ground on this one. In fact, the manufacturer knows this to the point that the Marmite web-site home-page has this rather entertaining "love it or hate it" choice for entering their site!

Let me start by describing what Marmite is and what it is made from. Marmite is a completely vegetarian and gluten-free spread that is essentially a yeast-extract spread that is loaded with flavor and has tons of B-Vitamins! The full ingredient list is: Yeast Extract, Salt, Vegetable Extract, Niacin, Thiamin, Spice Extracts, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Celery Extract, and Vitamin B12. The B-Vitamins and yeast and spices make for one seriously intense flavor! It's a bilt salty, and otherwise nearly indescribable as I have little to compare it to.

I first tried Marmite plain, as I didn't have any good gluten-free bread or crackers handy. But, today I tried it on some fresh made gluten-free biscuits my wife baked up (she's experimenting with recipes again). The biscuits were great on their own, and with a bit of Marmite (used sparingly - a "serving" is consider to be 4 grams) they were quite delicious also.

I'm not sure if there is anywhere nearby where I can purchase more Marmite here in the USA. I will keep my eyes open in the international-cuisine aisles and such, and worst case is I'll have a friend ship me a couple more bottles. The friend that introduced me to it has a bit of an addiction to Marmite it seems (he demonstrated eating it plain as he used a squeeze-bottle to dispense enough to fully cover his tongue as his wife watched in disgust), so I'm sure he would be nice enough to mail some to me.

My wife has been considering using Marmite to create some more flavorful gluten-free gravies and other recipes. I'm personally wondering if it'd add a nice yeasty flavor to some gluten-free breads as well. Regardless, I'm already a fan!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gluten-Free Great Britain - my experience



OK, I admit it, I've been slacking off the past couple weeks and enjoying a family vacation in the United Kingdom (England in particular). This was the first family vacation in many years, and the first ever that was more than a week long. We all decided to finally give in and take a nice long break, especially before our daughter heads off to grad-school to begin her English PhD in a couple weeks.

A key consideration for me whenever considering travel is how I can safely eat gluten-free while away from home. I didn't know what British gluten-free food availability would be compared to here in the USA, and I was a bit hesitant about making the trip because of this. Luckily, any fears of gluten-free food option shortages was without merit.

I did receive some helpful pre-trip advice from Dianne (who authors the UK Celiac and Gluten-Free blog called "Gluten Free Journey"). In addition to her wonderful blogs about eating gluten-free in the United Kingdom, she also provided some great advice regarding what to see and do in the country. She has some great restaurant reviews posted on her site too, which were quite nice when planning where to eat during a couple days of our adventure.

I also packed a couple boxes of Jigsaw Bars to make sure I had some good, safe, gluten-free snack food along to fill in any gaps between "safe" food finds, and they worked out wonderfully. Luckily, Jigsaw Health had a buy-one-get-one-free sale going (and still do actually), so I was able to really load up on these handy and healthy gluten-free bars. I went through 24 bars in 16 days, and that was just about right for filler-foods when out and about (especially when walking 5-10 miles/day in London).

The Trip
I had never been to Britain before, and quite honestly, it was nothing like I had imagined it or like others had described it to me.

One thing was exactly I as I expected: the flight. Oh my god is that a long flight. Sure, it's shorter than flying to the complete far side of the world, but at 7 hours to get there, and 8 hours back, it was a bit rough. The jet-lag going there was horrendous, as our flight departed Cleveland at around 8:30PM local time and arrived in London around 8:30AM their local time. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well (nearly zero in fact) on the flight.

So, right off the plane we picked up our rental car, and I got my first fast-track hands-on learning experience with driving on the "wrong" (i.e., Left) side of the road. That wasn't too difficult to become accustomed to actually. But, then came the infamous "roundabouts". Forget stop-signs: they don't exist in the UK from my experience (though, there are occasional "give way" signs that provide for rolling-stops of sorts). But, the roundabout replaces stop-lights and the old familiar USA "X" intersections nearly everywhere. Luckily, even with sleep-deprivation, I managed to make my way from London Gatwick airport to Winchester (our first sight-seeing stop), and on to our hotel in Portsmouth the first day...

Meeting Dianne from Gluten-Free Journey
...and, thank god, Dianne and her husband (yep, the same Dianne from that famous United Kingdom gluten-free blog) offered to meet my wife, daughter and I in Portsmouth, UK and drive us from the hotel out to dinner at Bombay Bay (Indian food - a place which she has reviewed on her web site). I can not express in words our gratitude for the attention Dianne and her husband bestowed upon up, and for saving me from an otherwise certain fate of getting lost in Portsmouth while trying to find the restaurant we were to meet at!

Dianne's husband made those (never-ending) roundabouts seem like child's play as he whisked us through the English traffic (which I was still finding daunting given my inexperience) on our way to dinner. They also took time to take the scenic-route, and showed us quite a few of the more notable landmarks and attractions in the Portsmouth, UK region en route to the restaurant.

By now, it was around 7PM and we three American tourists were running on fumes as sleep deprivation was causing some serious brain-fog, but our hosts did a wonderful job of keeping us going through thoughtful discussion and superb cuisine. Did I mention how absolutely awesome Dianne and her husband are? They are two of the nicest people you could imagine, and both are quite intelligent and great conversationalists. What a great way to get an introduction to British culture and meet a fellow gluten-free blogger from a new country!

We exchanged some "local" gluten-free specialties and gifts. Dianne introduced me to Thornton's Chocolates - in particular, clotted-cream chocolate-covered vanilla fudge, and oh my god are they good! And, they have clearly labeled gluten-free products. She also gave us some books on traditional British cuisine and the local geography and sites. What a fantastic and thoughtful thing to do! We took her some Tinkyada pasta that she had otherwise been unable to find in the UK, and some other gluten-free treats like Cinnamon-Raisin Peanut Butter from Peanut Butter & Co., which I have since heard Dianne really loves. It sure seems to me there is an opportunity for some cross export-import of some of these wonderful items between the USA and England, but that's another story altogether.

Well, needless to say, the evening went by in a flash, and though we had time to discuss our various gluten-free experiences and living with Celiac (Coeliac per UK spelling), there is never really enough time in one evening to cover everything you'd like. We certainly learned things about the other we otherwise didn't know, including how Dianne's husband has the same camera I used to photograph the GF Desserts book, and how Dianne is quite the expert in understanding blood tests (this will be handy in my coming blogs, as I hope to collaborate a bit with her on my more science-oriented health topic discussions).

So, the evening ended and finally we enjoyed a night of much needed sleep. And, the next day began with us moving on to see all sorts of varied English landscapes, sites, attractions, buildings, and towns.

Gluten-Free in England / Great Britain
I will go into much more detail about some of the wonderful gluten-free foods, treats, restaurants, desserts, candies, drinks, and more that I found while in the UK at a later time, and for now start with a summary of the experience (in particular, how things compare to the United States).

First of all, they (the UK) have much better product labeling than we do in most cases. I spent quite a bit of time checking out products in grocery stores and specialty shops while in England, and I was utterly impressed by how clear their gluten-free labeling is (and, allergen-labeling in general). There are exceptions of course, but primarily I found it much easier to quickly determine if a product was safe for me to consume or not. I'll be posting a list of some of my favorite UK Gluten-Free products soon - I saved the labels from things so I could remember them and comment on them!

And, restaurants tend to be ahead of the United States in their awareness of Coeliac Disease and consumer limitations. In fact, we ate at a few small, single-site restaurants that presented menus clearly indicating which items were gluten-free, vegetarian, and so forth. One little street-corner French restaurant called Bistro Deja-vu in the Cumbria (Lake District) city of Kendal could set a standard for simplicity and clarity. Just check out their online menu and you'll see that nice little "gf" symbol beside everything safe. Fantastic! Sure, there were places that didn't have a clue about gluten-free living and eating, but in general, most knew what it was and didn't have a problem determining what menu items were safe and which were not.

The bottom-line regarding gluten-free eating in England: generally simple and many excellent products and restaurants are available. Stay tuned for specifics.

The British Heritage Pass
The picture at the beginning of this blog shows our Great British Heritage Passes. I highly recommend this if you plan to see some of the popular attractions. The pass gets you into 580 different and magnificent properties around the country, and can be a real money-saver compared to purchasing individual entry into different sites. And, it is definitely a time-saver as well, as you don't have to worry about having additional cash available as you stop by each site on your trip.

We created our own travel plan to make a big loop around most of the United Kingdom during our two weeks, starting near London, working Westward towards Weymouth, North through Bath to Preston and Cumbria (the Lake District National Park), Southeast through the Peak District and South into London. We stopped for most any historic building, castle, ruin, park, garden, and other attraction along the way that was on our pass, and the sights were spectacular! I'll go into more detail in future posts, including some pictures of the various regions, when I get time to organize all of the digital photos we took (over 1100 of them).

Sorry about not being very active with the Gluten-Free Blog recently because of our adventure, but I plan to redeem myself with all sorts of upcoming blogs over the coming months :)