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What I think about the gluten-free fad

Falafel balls with salad, photo by Ilya Shapovalov.

I really, really, really wish someone would ask a few celiacs what we think of the gluten-free foods fad. Instead, we get pieces with inflammatory headlines like this steaming poo and this pile o crap, and I just want to make all of you suffer my culinary life for the rest of yours. With extreme prejudice. (Sorry for the lower digestive metaphors, but if you were celiac, you’d understand where I’m coming from. So to speak.)

Look, I’m a child of scientists, and I do absolutely believe in basing your culinary decisions, at least in part, on science. And I would not wish a gluten-free diet on anyone, not even my worst enemy.

For me, not eating gluten free means feeling like I have food poisoning. In fact, I thought I did recently when I accidentally grabbed the gluten-filled waffles at the store and managed to eat two before I noticed.

Having to eat gluten-free foods all the time has brought me to tears more often than I’d like to admit to. Occasionally, like my first day at Apple, they’re tears of joy because there are four gluten-free soups and you’ve never seen a gluten-free soup in the wild before.

Here is what I’d most like to say to people who eat gluten free and have pressured various restaurants to have gluten-free foods available:

Thank you.

That’s it. Thank you.

Because of all of you, I can walk into pretty much any first-tier hotel pretty much anywhere in the world and not starve. I usually can have gluten-free food I like. Better restaurants and hotels have gluten-free bread, even though sometimes it’s so awful I’d rather not actually eat it (glares at the Hilton Frankfurt Airport).

Sometimes, there’s a gluten-free menu. I live for those days.

Sometimes, those menus have cool things on them.

I had, for the first time in the almost 20 years I’ve lived gluten free, gluten-free fish and chips for the first time in a restaurant. It was magical.

Also, I’d like to extend a warm shout-out to those who aren’t celiac but who do have genuine problems with gluten and/or wheat, rye, or barley. There are the people who are flat-out allergic, and there’s at least an arguable case for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

But: Gluten-Free Foods!

If you don’t absolutely have to eat gluten-free foods….

Look, as much as I appreciate your support, I wish you’d consider your life choices, and also how you’re harming those of us who have no other choice.

  • Because you are willing to accept gluten substitutes, you make us look flaky.
  • Some people will passively aggressively serve us gluten because they don’t believe anyone needs a gluten-free diet.
  • 20 ppm really apparently does harm some celiacs, and a lot of kitchens aren’t celiac safe. Like: pizza places that cut their (formerly) gluten-free pizzas in the same workspaces, with the same tools, that they cut their wheat pizzas. That may be fine for you, but it’s not fine for us. Consequently, we still have to ask All the Annoying Questions.

Doing gluten free right is hard. I get why you sometimes just say fuck it and eat what you’d rather have. (I wish I had that choice.)

While You’re Lobbying for Foods for Us…

Would you please all collectively ask for regular old meat lasagne for me? Something akin to what Marie Callender’s used to serve, but in gluten-free form?

I’ve never seen a gluten-free meat lasagne in a restaurant, and I’d very much like to.

Much obliged.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Wheat field, photo by Viktor Hanacek.

Wheat field, photo by Viktor Hanacek.

Over the last two months, half a dozen people that I’d spoken with for about fifteen minutes total decided to recommend a book to me: Wheat Belly. They recommended it for two reasons, I’m sure: one, they each knew I was celiac or on a gluten-free diet. Two, they knew I was fat.

The first time someone mentioned it, I downloaded and skimmed the sample of the book. To me, it looked like the typical diet book, full of pseudoscientific claims in addition to some genuine ones.

On Recommending This Book to a Celicac

Here’s what I’ve wanted to say to everyone who’s recommended this book to a celiac:

Dude.

Do you think a celiac, of all people, has no clue how dangerous wheat can be?

Did you know that my intestines bleed when I accidentally eat a sandwich made with regular bread? That a smaller dose can land me in bed with three days of diarrhea and misery? Or that about half a crouton’s worth can cause me to run a fever for a couple of days? That my thyroid’s mostly shut down (a common co-morbidity) and is now sixteen times normal size? That my supposed “wheat belly” is actually a medication and thyroid side effect?

Did you know that I know people who’ve needed 16 to 26 units of blood (over a course of one to two years) after their diagnosis? That I know people who’ve wound up in the ICU because of celiac-induced anemia?

That I know people who were losing so much weight they could have died?

That I know someone who was being evaluated for a heart transplant before they figured out she had a wheat allergy? (Not celiac, a true allergy.)

Did you know that I have met people who get seizures from small amounts of wheat?

It dissolves our intestines. How much worse could it be, really? I don’t really know of any other analogous food issue.

On Recommending it as a Diet Book

Look, there are some things I agree with: less sugar, more traditional foods, there are good fats. Except, of course, this diet cuts out swaths of foods that aren’t bad for you. Buckwheat, to take an example, isn’t a grain, and is one of the best vegetarian complete proteins. Why limit it?

But I’m not open to villifying wheat for the 95% of you for whom it does no apparent damage. I do sincerely thank all of you gluten free people for making more food options available to me, but I’ve always stated: if it doesn’t make you feel better or doesn’t improve your medical numbers, I’m not convinced it’s worth the bother.

I’m not convinced that the increase in celiac disease expression is related to eating newer forms of wheat, as claimed in the book. If that increase is related to a single food, it may also be corn or soy. Or, you know, the shift from butter to margarine around WWII. It could be canola oil. It could be that we’re no longer eating much liver. Or lamb. It could be a different answer for different populations.

Other people have done takedowns of the book.

The Only Diet Advice I’ve Ever Heard That’s Worth Following

The first is from Michael Pollan:

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.

The second is one I heard from a friend who’s Japanese, though I’ve never heard it from another Japanese person:

Thirty different foods a day.
One hundred different foods a week.

No, I don’t mean ingredients. I mean foods. Spices count.

It’s an interesting goal.

But avoiding buckwheat, which isn’t a grain, because industrial wheat may be bad for you? That’s crazy talk.

Also, because I apparently have to say this: recommending a diet book to a fat person you have just met and barely know is a dick move.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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…specifically some of the economic realities of running a restaurant, why it’s hard to get good service, and why US laws about tipping make it very difficult to ensure good service.

Read starting here.

Possibly the most fascinating single post is the fifth in the series, about tipping and sexism.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Broke a tooth last week, had a root canal on Friday.

Later that day, I made my favorite chocolate pudding. I’ve modified the recipe so it’s super dark, so here goes.

2 tbsp (slightly rounded) cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1-1/2 cups (slightly scant) whole milk (I used Straus cream top)
1/3 cup Guittard Cocoa Rouge Bittersweet Baking Powder (what happened to be lying around the house from a previous chocolate night)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Remainder of recipe here.

Oh, and I managed to get it past the folks in blue at the airport and was able to take it on my flight (due to the root canal making the pudding “medical liquids”).

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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I’m writing this from the United Club at Cleveland Airport.

Those of you who know me might ask, “Cleveland? You? Srsly?”

Well, gentle readers, here is my tale.

Over on Flyertalk, Shannon Kelly (aka UAInsider) announced that the last Continental flight ever would be Friday night, March 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm, flight CO 1267 from Phoenix to Cleveland. I’m one of those good sports who says things like, “I’ve never been there,” so I thought, why not.

Himself was less amused by the prospect. I said I thought I’d go to the rock-and-roll museum, and he said, “that’s two strikes.”

My loyalty to CO goes back quite a few years; I flew them a lot in the 80s when they had routes between Orange County and San Jose. Then, suddenly, they changed so the only route out of SNA was to Denver, and I stopped flying them for a while.

Before that happened, though, I booked an award trip to Honolulu, my first trip to Hawaii, for a long weekend. The South Pacific region (which included Hawaii) Continental flight attendants went on strike while I was there, and I “had” to spend another day in Hawaii. Back then, if you had a paid ticket on an ARC-based carrier, your carrier would schedule you on the next flight out from any carrier — except, of course, for award flights. So I was stuck. Darn!

Over time, I moved and Continental didn’t really fit my itineraries again, so I stopped flying them in the early 90s in favor of US Airways. Then I moved to the bay area and flipped between US Airways (for my flights to Pittsburgh) and American. When I went to work for Classic Vacations, we sold a ton of United airfare due to great contract rates. That’s what slowly migrated me over to the United side of the force. When AA started flying less interesting itineraries from San Francisco, I found myself flying more United, even during the Ted years. (Ted, btw, was an incredibly cute name. I miss it for short haul.)

At the end of last year, I decided that United really, truly was my preferred carrier and wound up with 2P (now Premier Silver) status. Half of that was flying to Barcelona on US Airways earlier in the year.

So when I heard about this flight, I felt sad for the Continental I’d loved all those years ago, and thought it would be nice to go on the final flight. So I did.

My flight out of San Francisco departed from the International terminal. Rick and I are the same this way: we love seeing all the foreign-flagged carriers going to places I’ve not yet been. My first plane sighting was the Air New Zealand flight leaving out of Gate 93 to Auckland (where I have been), the 747 so huge that it had its nose almost pressed to the glass (so it could fit in the allotted parking space), looking like an over-eager child.

Gate 91, which shares the same seating area, was where my rather smaller Airbus was waiting patiently. The flight was uneventful, except that my seatmate was apparently upgraded when his wife was not, so she snuck forward to have part of his drink.

When I arrived in Phoenix, I didn’t see the rest of the Flyertalkers/Milepointers right away. There were four of us traveling: Steve64, a local; Seth aka sbm12 aka Wandering Aramean; violist, and myself; plus a non-traveling local, fenx. WA had chocolate bags to hand out, and I handed some out as well (without the cool labels), and WA got one of the Continental signs they took down. He also got his picture taken with the captain, and was the last person to board a Continental flight.

I had planned to sleep during the flight, but they had free DirecTV (for everyone, not just first class) and I watched Contagion instead. The cold chicken plate had pasta on the side, so I ate the chicken only. I really wish they still had special meals in domestic first class. Sigh.

We arrived at around 5:15 in the morning. Despite this being the last Continental flight to depart, it was not the last to land; that would be a flight from Narita (Tokyo) to Houston, which got a water cannon salute upon arrival. As we arrived while it was still dark (not to mention threatening to snow), a water cannon salute would have been less pragmatic. Still, there were photos to be had, announcements made, and much sadness over the final days of a legacy airline dating back to 1934.

The four of us shuffled off to the United Club for drinks and a light breakfast, then the other three people departed for their flights out of Cleveland. Me, I’d decided to spend a day here.

The Hilton Garden Inn breakfast was about what one would expect. I had planned to go to the rock-and-roll museum, but my legs were cramping (sometime medication side effect) and I was tired, so I just took long baths and slept until the legs felt better.

When I’d been researching how to spend a day, I watched Bourdain’s No Reservations episode about Cleveland, and discovered Lola Bistro. I don’t follow celebrity chefs much, so I didn’t know how famous he was, but I managed to snag a reservation and go. I had the Chilled Lobster Salad, the Scallops in Bacon Broth, and blueberry-lemon sorbet. It was an astonishingly good meal, and I’d be happy to spend a week in Cleveland if I could eat there every night.

I’m off for my return flight!

food pics after the cut... )

NYE/NYD

Jan. 2nd, 2012 12:38 pm
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New Year's Eve was lost largely to jet lag. In fact, I slept right through midnight.

When Rick was disassembling the house looking for Jackson (our inherited still-missing cat), my huge pile o' clothes got moved, which kicked up dust, and Rick got really sick as a result. So instead of handbag day, we've been doing several days of clothing re-org. I'll have vastly fewer clothes, but they'll all fit into their designated space. It's long needed doing.

So I went to go look for an air ionizer on Craigslist, and found a used Sharper Image one that had all the cool features. Probably cost $400 new, guy was selling it for $80. Catch was, it was in Santa Rosa. We made an appointment to pick it up, then the three of us (including my mom) went to Peter's Café for breakfast.

Then Rick and I went off to Santa Rosa to pick up our gadget.

We were close to Occidental, so Rick and I went. I Yelped for food possibilities. There were two Italian restaurants and one Mexican. I said, "Just watch, the Italian ones will be open and the Mexican one will be closed." Which actually happened, fwiw. Since neither Italian place seemed to be particularly celiac-compatible, I passed on both places. If there's no sides I can eat, just not worth the bother, frankly, and one can't trust salad dressing unless you brought it yourself. Since the fryers were shared with gluten, I hoped for better options in a different town.

We were passing Sebastopol on the way back to a place we'd already earmarked, so I Yelped some possible places to eat. We wound up at a BBQ place in Sebastapol that had gluten-free items clearly marked on the menu. It was awesome.

Sometimes, it really is worth not settling for the first place you see.
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As a kid, the only chickpeas I ever saw came in a can and were labeled garbanzo beans. I loathed them with a passion I still reserve only for lima beans, brussel sprouts, and (most especially) asparagus and quinoa.

I have to admit: part of it was looking down on things I perceived as Hispanic foods. I grew up in SoCal and really didn’t take to Mexican food until I was an adult, and I was (unfortunately) prejudiced as a child. Now, it’s often the cuisine of last resort for me: it’s the safest and most reliable. My friend Joyce would always want to go out to Mexican food, and I’d always want to go out to Chinese, and she called it Vitamin M and usually won these rounds. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was celiac, and the foods I ate at Mexican restaurants were better for me than what I ate at Chinese places.

When I went on a gluten-free diet in 1997, I remember going to King Arthur Flour’s shop in Norwich, Vermont. I remember standing in front of the shelf of gluten-free flours with a list. Rice flour, check. Potato starch, check. Tapioca starch, check. But what were all the other options there? Sorghum, for example, and millet, and chickpea. SInce then, amaranth and quinoa have become more popular, too.

When I looked at the nutritional content of various gluten-substitute stock flours, I was horrified. They are all carbs, almost zero protein. I wanted more protein and a better carb/protein/fat mix, so I started looking into buckwheat and chickpea, which I now add to my standard gluten-free mix.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to like chickpeas. I learned to like hummus. I even have the occasional “hummus day” where I have hummus as my lunch. The other night, I had hummus, salmon, and gluten-free crackers for dinner. I kinda overdid it, but it was yummy.

Yet still, I’m not that fond of chickpeas as whole chickpeas. They’ve become something like avocados for me: I basically don’t like them, but I like some goopy thing they’re in (guacamole for avocados) and I eat them because they’re good for me, but it’s not something I actually love. I just like it enough to keep doing it.

I still don’t like the word “garbanzo” though. It sounded intimidating and scary when I was a kid. I think it’s the Z and all the hard consonants. (Though one can’t underestimate the issue of the can. I can’t stand canned vegetables.) Chickpea sounds cute and cuddly and worthy of nurture.

Shuemais said, “And now I shall play you the song of my people … ON MY GARBANZO.”

Yes, that. It’s a musical torture device like a cross between a banjo and an accordion.

I do wonder if I would have taken to these beans earlier in life if the can had said chickpeas, though.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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I confess: At times over the years, particularly when it came to certain trigger foods, I was a bad celiac. That changed in 2009 when I saw this video. I mention my failings because I’m not the only one out there.

Truth is, I knew I was celiac for at least three years before I was diagnosed, I just didn’t want to know it. At that time, in the era before good web searches and tireless wikipedia editors, I didn’t know how bad celiac disease really was. Then again, I’m not really sure anyone did.

When I was a kid, people thought celiac disease was something you had as a kid and “got over.” I kind of adapted in weird ways: I ate my sandwiches on white bread (less protein and thus less gluten, but also I respond to the bleached protein differently) open-faced (one piece of bread instead of two). I ate lots of pasta sauce with very little noodles. When I made lasagne, I used half the noodles and twice as much other stuff. I preferred corn muffins and oatmeal cookies (but with chocolate chips). I’d use corn tortillas for my tacos. In other words, there were ways I was unaware of that I tried to reduce my gluten consumption. My dad was constantly nagging me to eat more grains, but now he admits he was wrong on that point.

And then there was the time I went vegetarian. I think I lasted a week or two, probably mostly because the wheat germ made me so very ill. It still makes me shudder.

There wasn’t a history of celiac disease in my family. My father carries some of the genes; my mother doesn’t. My stepmother noticed that I sometimes came back from visits to my mom with stomach cramps. I was sent to a shrink as it was believed to be psychological. It wasn’t, it was dietary. (I don’t actually remember the symptoms, I just remember the outrage of being sent to a shrink over it.) I was eleven at the time, so I know I was symptomatic then, but I don’t know when the symptoms actually started, only when they were noticeable by other people.

Even after I was diagnosed (at the age of 37), I would have moments of weakness. Some celiacs vomit up gluten. Lucky them, as it does less damage that way. Some get cramps within an hour. Lucky them.

And then there’s me. My symptoms take two to three days after gluten ingestion, so you can see that would be difficult to correlate food with symptom. Who remembers what they had to eat in detail 2-3 days ago on a regular basis?

There are certain foods I miss a lot. 

At the end of the first week I was gluten-free, I missed two things: pizza and chocolate chip cookies. I made a passable pizza from scratch (my first), but the cookies were awful. I didn’t know the difference between potato starch and potato flour and made the grittiest, most awful cookies such that a house full of college students wouldn’t touch the damn things.

I miss croissants and chocolate cake in particular. Sure, you can make a passable chocolate cake without gluten, and Miglet’s bakery does a great job, but it’s not really the same thing. Sadly, croissants are simply beyond what non-gluten flours can do. Actually, I did hear a rumor that someone in either Australia or New Zealand made a passable croissant without gluten, but I remain unconvinced until I try one.

So, for years, we’d go out for lingonberry pancakes every once in a while. I’d have my birthday croissant. I’d occasionally eat something else sinful, and it was touch and go whether I’d hit the bread basket in a restaurant if I was really, really hungry. Now I have the strength to push it away from me (they always put it in front of me, it’s like being the person in a room who doesn’t like cats).

I’m not talking a lot. I’m talking about a slip on average once a month. Later on, it was more like once every two or three months, but it was a significant slip: an entire non-compliant meal in the case of the lingonberries.

Lest I sound like a complete idiot for the above admission — I know of more than one celiac who, when he or she gave up gluten entirely, developed a life-threatening gluten allergy as a side effect. Thus, I thought, maybe it is better to have low occasional doses of gluten.

When I saw Dr. Murphy’s video, though, it stopped me cold. I’m still not perfect, but I feel better for the more strident and continued effort. Unfortunately, it meant food felt more like a war zone than it had before.

On my last trip to Hilo, it was really difficult. Everything’s got soy sauce or teriyaki (which is derived from soy sauce) or some other form of gluten.  This time, I picked more carefully and was able to avoid the land mines, but I nearly had an oops when I saw that McDonald’s was serving banana pies. I love hot bananas, and I love pie. One dollar and you can have both. Grrr!

I was thinking about this earlier: I probably need to make a list of foods I associate with gluten that I really, truly love — then figure out a way to work them into my food plan in some gluten-free version. I think I’ll just bronze a croissant, though, that’s a lost cause.

I also remain unhappy with all my lasagne options thus far.

With that exercise, I’ll probably discover that there’s some aspect of foods that I like where there’s some common thing I haven’t thought of.

For example, Rick and I were talking about some foods I didn’t really like. I’ll eat zucchini, pick at it more like, but I’ve never been a fan. I love the smell of cucumbers, but not the taste. The common aspect to both of those is simply that I don’t like the sharp tang they have to me. I don’t like bitter tastes for the most part. So, weirdly, I don’t like cucumbers and I don’t like vinegar, but I do like the occasional dill pickle, because the taste is more than either cucumber or vinegar or the combination of the two.

I’ve never really heard anyone else talk about having trouble staying compliant. Maybe they’re more like me than they’d like to admit, but it sure seems that most people have much more immediate gluten reactions; I’m not that fortunate. For me, these days, it’s more the emotional reaction: it’s not fair, and it’ll never feel fair. But we forge along anyway.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Jay Lake linked to an article on dieting: “Why Even Resolute Dieters Often Fail.”

I’ve become convinced the issue is deeper than that. In 2005, I wrote about a protein called Zonulin. In short, it determines how permeable your intestines are. My hypothesis (which apparently doesn’t apply for celiac disease, and possibly not for most cases of type 1 diabetes, either) is that it is an anti-starvation mechanism.

Catch is, letting in more stuff from the gut lets in a whole bunch of badness — the so-called leaky gut syndrome is, in fact, real. Elevated zonulin levels are also associated with some nasty autoimmune diseases other than celiac disease, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

I didn’t really spell out my hypothesis in detail before, so here goes:

1) You think you’re overweight (whether you are or not may not be important in this scenario).
2) You diet.
3) You trigger your body’s starvation reflex.
4) To avoid starvation, your body produces more zonulin to gather all the nutrients out of your gut.
5) This lets bacterial toxins in, as well as, well, crap, including stuff your liver’s already ejected.
6) Said toxins, after entering your blood stream, wreak havoc in your immune system.
7) You could eventually wind up with an autoimmune disease as a consequence. Which one is a matter of which toxins trigger which genetic expressions.

If there’s any truth to my hypothesis, dieting may be a Really Bad Idea. In my own experience, when I’ve been successful, it’s been careful control of exercise as well as portions.

Given that women seem more prone to dieting (Goddess knows I went on my fair share of diet fads as a teen), it might even partly explain why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases like MS.

One correction I need to make on my earlier hypothesis: the anti-equatorial factor in MS prevalence seems to be related to Vitamin D rather than starvation.

The clinical trials for larazotide acetate, a Zonulin inhibitor, have reached stage 2b, and there’s been some speculation that it could go on the market as early as next year. I know what I will be lobbying for the moment it comes out.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Story here.

"A study from Princeton published in the February issue of the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior (PDF) shows that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), used as a cheap sweetener in everything from Coke to Progresso soup, is not the same as table sugar, namely for the way that it makes you gain 48% more weight."
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One of the things I realized after going gluten free: those flour mixes have a metric ton of carbs, and they don't seem that good for you!

The mix I originally learned was 9 parts rice flour, 3 parts potato starch, 1 part tapioca starch. I don't like rice flour that much, and stuff made with this tends to turn into a hockey puck the next day, but it's a decent first approximation when you're new (and it seems awfully complicated then, trust me).

However, compared to whole wheat flour (I used Bob's Red Mill's nutrition information for this), this mix has 34% of the protein, 40% more fat, 45% more carbs, and only 17% of the dietary fiber of the wheat mix.

I've since refined the default recipe into: 3 parts rice flour, 3 parts garbanzo bean flour, 3 parts buckwheat flour, 3 parts potato starch, 1 part tapioca starch. I cut that with other flours mixed straight, like hazelnut flour for some rather ostentatious crepes, or sweet rice flour for cookies.

This mix has 70% of the protein, 80% more fat, 20% more carbs, and 57% of the dietary fiber.

I'm sure I could do better: millet and flax and amaranth are fine for me (quinoa, sorghum, and coconut are not). In thinking about it, I want to engineer the mix to have close to the protein and dietary fiber of the original whole wheat blend without increasing carbs or fat.
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Look, I know I have more dietary constraints [1][2] than the average celiac, but here's a thought:

If you are going to offer me food and you know me well enough to know that I'm celiac, I'm going to think you're being deliberately rude if you offer me something you know I can't eat. Or you should know.

I get that there are nuances to "no wheat, rye, barley, and oats are problematic too" thing that most people won't think about. Preservatives, for example. Soy sauce (and anything that contains it). Food starch.

But if you've been a guest at my place for more than 150 times and then you offer me something that contains wheat as a first ingredient, I'm just going to think you're being rude.

[1] Unsafe foods list
[2] I also am on a goitrogen-free diet.
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Epidemiological research has demonstrated a positive correlation between tofu consumption and brain atrophy in men. Note: it is difficult to show positive correlations across an epidemiological study as generally an epidemiological study is against a large unfocused population. Thus, I'd tend to consider this huge, much like the epidemiological studies about smokers led to more targeted studies about the effects of smoking. Here's a link with more info about epidemiological studies and their issues; it's fairly short.

[Researchers] show that women who drink at least four cups of coffee a day are less than half as likely to develop diabetes as non-coffee drinkers.

I've excerpted out the money shot line in each case; the links give more context.

Random Bits

Feb. 9th, 2011 01:16 am
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1. Mom points out that given that we (among other people) have possible Neanderthal genes, one should no longer use it as an ethnic slur.

2. I was jonesing for ice cream tonight and found a container in the fridge, homemade by a friend. As some of his stuff has Splenda (which will give me a migraine), I tasted just a teeny bit.

Bacon ice cream.

Who knew?

3. Did I mention I had fun at the Science museum Thursday night?

Rawr.

I saw no cuttlefish. Sniff.

4. Been working on the book. I need a revision metric, and I have none, especially for spaghetti writing like this.

5. Just heard about another "I survived Scientology" book, only this one's marketed as fiction. Hawaii, surfing, guy named Leif. Sign me up! Written by a guy who's already a successful regional indie filmmaker, btw.

6. Tonight, for the first time, Tanner jumped up on the couch uninvited. We're finally seeing her open up. She sat with me until I started sneezing. (I'm allergic to cats but I do love them.)

7. Our plums are blooming.

Plum Blossoms
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...then you may have missed the bleak post-GMO food crop world Bacigalupi paints.

It should surprise no one that the US, specifically the government lobbying on behalf of industrial food designers, is trying to push the EU (and the rest of the world) into GMO crops.

Maybe because I haven't been watching what's been happening in the religious world, I didn't expect this piece of pushback, "Because many Catholic bishops in developing countries have been vehemently opposed to the controversial crops, the US applied particular pressure to the pope's advisers."

Yay, Catholic bishops. Yay, Wikileaks.

It's interesting that, in this day and age, we are still trying to turn the world through the papacy, something that I was previously unaware of. (I was also unaware we had an embassy in the Vatican, but in retrospect that's unsurprising.)
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Hat tip to [livejournal.com profile] wshaffer.

The 6th Circuit whacked Ohio and the FDA over the head.

The district court held that the composition claims were inherently misleading because "they imply a compositional difference between those products that are produced with rb[ST] and those that are not," in contravention of the FDA's finding that there is no measurable compositional difference between the two. This conclusion is belied by the record, however, which shows that, contrary to the district court's assertion, a compositional difference does exist between milk from untreated cows and conventional milk ("conventional milk," as used throughout this opinion, refers to milk from cows treated with rbST). As detailed by the amici parties seeking to strike down the Rule, the use of rbST in milk production has been shown to elevate the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a naturally-occurring hormone that in high levels is linked to several types of cancers, among other things. The amici also point to certain studies indicating that rbST use induces an unnatural period of milk production during a cow's "negative energy phase." According to these studies, milk produced during this stage is considered to be low quality due to its increased fat content and its decreased level of proteins. The amici further note that milk from treated cows contains higher somatic cell counts, which makes the milk turn sour more quickly and is another indicator of poor milk quality. This evidence precludes us from agreeing with the district court's conclusion that there is no compositional difference between the two types of milk.


I whine a lot (relatively speaking) about the foods I can't eat, but rarely speak the virtues of the ones I can. I drink a half gallon of milk (Straus Creamery's whole milk) every 2-3 days. It's a very reliable food for me, and always has been.

Full opinion here, which is fairly readable as opinions go.
deirdre: (cuttlefish)
Friday night, Rick and I went out to the California Academy of Sciences for a company party. It was fun. Penguins! Cuttlefish! Planetarium! Free food! Photos (barely sorted) here.

Saturday was craft day, and [livejournal.com profile] vixter came over, and so that was fun. In the morning, Rick and I went to a class on growing biointensive, and he went back for another class later.

Saturday night we went to see Gamer, a movie with Gerard Butler, which was obnoxious and lacking in taste, but had some competent performances and interesting fight scenes. Overall, it's a miss. The first part was mostly action, the middle part mostly philosophical, and then the last part was completely different, so it felt like the writer/director didn't really get how to make a cohesive piece. Still, Michael C. Hall is every bit as creepy here as he is in Dexter.

Sunday, we got up relatively early, went to Draeger's for their Gluten-free club (more about that later) and picked up some things before heading over to my mother-in-law's for her birthday.

And now we're tired.

The cats are getting along well. I woke up Sunday morning to a little kitten mew and I looked down and saw the kitten looking out at the cat door and the big kitten looking in at the cat door -- almost like there was a mirror there that made cats bigger or smaller.
deirdre: (Default)
If you're one of my celiac readers, this should be of particular interest as a) celiac disease prevents absorption of vitamin D, and b) for that reason (and perhaps others), even asymptomatic celiacs are substantially more prone to colorectal cancer.

I'm not one of those people who believes in taking mega-doses of vitamins, however I know a bunch of people going through cancer right now, and there's been a whole bunch of research about the link between low levels of vitamin D and certain cancers.
According to Garland, other scientists have found that the cells adhere to one another in tissue with adequate vitamin D, acting as mature epithelial cells. Without enough vitamin D, they may lose this stickiness along with their identity as differentiated cells, and revert to a stem cell-like state.

So here's a few references:
Model of how Vitamin D works in cancer. (from which the above quote is taken)

Science Daily article has the following key points:
"[P]revious research has shown that higher levels of vitamin D reduce the risk of developing colon and rectal cancer by about 50 percent...."

For those who already have colon cancer:
The results showed that individuals with the vitamin D levels in the highest quartile were 48 percent less likely to die (from any cause, including colon cancer) than those with the lowest vitamin D measurements. The odds of dying from colon cancer specifically were 39 percent lower, the scientists found.

The question is, then, how much Vitamin D? It's an oil-based vitamin, thus you don't want to take too much. Some people can take ten times (or more) than the RDA and not have problems, but some have problems at 5x the RDA. Beware of doctors who prescribe literally crazy-making quantities of Vitamin D.

My suggestion would be to supplement take at least the RDA of 400 IU, though the number some people seem to be settling on is 1000 IU (2.5x the RDA). I currently take 800 IU, but I also drink a lot of milk.

What form of Vitamin D?

What's made in the skin as a result of sun exposure is Vitamin D-3, Calcitriol, usually supplemented as Cholecalciferol.

There's also D-2, which is supplemented as Ergocalciferol, and the process for doing this is currently (or was until recently) patented by Eli Lilly.

The NIH factsheet says:
Vitamin D3 could be more than three times as effective as vitamin D2 in raising serum 25(OH)D concentrations and maintaining those levels for a longer time, and its metabolites have superior affinity for vitamin D-binding proteins in plasma [6,32,33]. Because metabolite receptor affinity is not a functional assessment, as the earlier results for the healing of rickets were, further research is needed on the comparative physiological effects of both forms.

In other words, which is better in the long run is not known at present.

I'd also suggest that if you're high risk (e.g. celiac, family history of this cancer), you ask your doctor to check your serum levels of vitamin D when other bloodwork is done. It's not a bad thing to check every few years anyway.
deirdre: (Default)
So there I was, exiting the Metro at Place des Artes enroute to Papeterie Nota Bene when I see a crowd (2-3 dozen) of people on a street corner, and someone saying something in French. There's some singing, and a young woman with her back to me is playing on the flute, and about a dozen people are leaning up against the building, watching.

I get closer, and I see there's several people talking, but they're talking rapidly in French and mostly not vocabulary I can easily recognize.

There's a yellow cart, like a large kid's wagon, made of wood, but much bigger. In it, there's some vegetables and flowers, and I recognize marigolds and nasturtiums, so I figure it has something to do with organic gardening.

I continue on, wanting to get my errand done, but secretly hoping more will be explained on my way back. I'm overheated and nearly out of water, and my feet hurt, so there's no way I'm going to stand and find out more.

(Papeterie Nota Bene is absolutely worth a visit, but it's not really part of this story except that I nearly fell flat on my face because the stoop was so high and I almost tripped....)

So I'm walking back to the Metro and I see the wagon with one guy hovering nearby. On the side of the wagon is painted some phrasing about La Revolution Alimentaire. Apparently, it's a commune of organic farmers.

It all seemed so quintessentially French and Quebec; the people I know from Quebec are mostly farmers, and French Intensive is one of the major schools of thought on high-productivity organic gardening. If I'd had the vocabulary, it'd be interesting to see what they knew of the work of Ecology Action and Jeavons' refinements to the French Intensive methods. I don't know if they've been translated, though.
deirdre: (Default)
So several people I know have stated that they won't be shopping at Whole Foods because of the CEO's post at the Wall Street Journal. (See also his followup here.)

Fair enough. Everyone gets to decide where their money goes.

Here's my take on it: every one (including each of you reading this) will fail in a way that's important to me. Even if you and I have the same criteria for fail, we may weigh them differently. On balance, I want someone who, for my life, does more good than harm.

As an example of fail, the CEO of Cinemark donated nearly $10,000 to help pass Prop 8. This wasn't a company donation, but an individual one. Many gays and gay-friendly people boycotted Cinemark as a result.

On the flip side, Cinemark played Milk longer and on more screens than anyone else. It took a long time for the movie to earn enough to be in the black, and it wouldn't have done it without Cinemark. I know several people who learned a lot about the struggle for gay rights by watching the film. Some of them learned it at Cinemark.

So, overall, I think Cinemark as a company did more good than the CEO personally did harm.

Which brings us to the Whole Foods situation.

One of the problems of specialty foods is distribution, and Whole Foods is the 500-pound gorilla when it comes to organic food.

Sure, you can now buy organic milk at Wal*Mart, but it's the other stuff you can't get. Buckwheat cereal, for example.

In general, farm workers are treated badly, and the treatment of Smithfield workers as documented in Food, Inc. was horrific as well, complete with company-scheduled INS raids of laborers and no sanctions for the company. Grocers who aren't unionized (and Whole Foods is notoriously anti-union) are treated poorly, but not as badly as most farm workers here and abroad.

Compared to those labor practices, the health care proposal outlined in the WSJ article by John Mackey is downright enlightened. (This is not to say I agree with it; I do not.)

In general, the smaller farms and especially smaller organic farms tend to treat their workers better, and Whole Foods is the difference between make or break for many of these workers. Should their employers fail, their current alternatives are far worse than even Mackey's plan.

Additionally, Whole Foods does a whole lot of good in helping the planet, its animals, and its people avoid nasty chemicals, and so I'm going to continue to shop there.

I fully understand if you choose differently.

I'd like to add my own experience with a high-deductible plan, because I think it's relevant in the discussion of Mackey's proposal.

I had such a plan from 1994-2000 when I was doing a lot of contracting. In 1995, it was determined that I probably had sleep apnea, but I'd need to spend $1500 for a sleep study. I kept putting it off because of the money (three months' rent), and I finally had it scheduled for the end of 1996. Then my husband of the time had a stroke and died (kept alive on a ventilator while they ran tests), and I couldn't bear to be on something even remotely similar to a ventilator for even an evening. Understandably, I think. I was ready around 1998, but there was that $1500 looming overhead. Due to various coverage and money issues, I wasn't able to get the sleep study until January 2003, when I had Kaiser.

It was covered for all but a routine visit fee ($15).

It was done immediately.

I had a CPAP within a week at the princely sum of $11/month and a deposit that was under $100.

I may have done long-term damage to my heart from the oxygen deprivation over an eight-year period simply because I had a high-deductible plan. We'll never know for sure.

Updated to add: link to some of Whole Foods's less savory business practices.

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