Friday, October 30, 2009

The Diet Connection

Ever wonder why so many adults have food allergies lately? I have a theory, based on some research I did when I had my first grand mal seizure back in December of 2007.

There are many pathogens in our world, bacteria can make us acutely sick, and in certain situations, like staph pneumonia, can cause death. Viruses go dormant, like the herpes virus, and reappear when our immune system is weakened. Yeasts, which historically did not cause much disease, are now seen in many otherwise healthy people. This may be due to overuse of antibiotics, or a simple breakdown of the structure of our immune system.

It seems certain viruses are fond of the neurological system. They are happiest when occupying some part of that system. Yeasts, when left to their own devices by killing off all the good bacteria with antibiotics, are very happy with all the simple and complex carbohydrates we ingest. These include all the yeasty wheat breads, high sugar syrups and even some fruits.

My theory, by no means complete, is this: it seems to be the combination of what we eat and the pathogens we've been exposed to that creates these "food allergies." When we no longer eat the foods these pathogens like, we no longer have the symptoms of the pathogens overgrowth. These symptoms vary from person to person, including all kinds of digestive disorders, headaches, dizzy spells, hives, difficulty breathing, and yes, seizures.

While some of these symptoms are described as "allergy" and others are described as "intolerance," I think they stem from the same thing, permeability of the gut caused by pathogens, viruses, yeasts and possibly bacteria, which allow certain food particles into the blood stream. These then are identified as undigested protein pathogens by the immune system, which then creates antibodies for them. The immune system then creates histamine when you ingest these foods again, warning you not to eat these proteins.

I think an "intolerance" arises when the symptoms of allergy are so slight they are ignored. After my third daughter was born, I experienced rapid weight loss, 125 pounds in only ten months, and sometimes I'd lose as much as 30 pounds in a month. I was not trying to lose weight, but it seemed everything I ate made my stomach cramp. I did not experience typical digestive disturbances, such as vomiting and diarrhea, my belly just hurt.

Prior to this, after my second daughter was born, I had my first simple partial seizure. If you don't know what that is, it is simply a partial misfiring of the brain, resulting in loss of motor control, bodily function or thought process, but not a total loss of consciousness. Mine felt like I was having a dizzy spell and I needed to sit down. My husband later told me that my memory was terrible during this time.

Of course doctors did not know what to do with me. They thought I had some middle ear problem, or some strange form of post-partum depression. But after my first grand-mal seizure, I took note of the strange rashes I'd break out with, on the tops of both feet, or backs of both hands, my normally thin hair was falling out at such a rate that I literally could see my scalp. I'd also notice these "dizzy spells" happened about 20 minutes after I ate, and by now I was having them two or three times a day. The only thing the doctors found was an active Epstein-Barr Virus infection, of which I had no signs of at all.

After reading about celiac disease on the internet, my husband and I decided that it would not hurt to try a wheat free diet. I had taken out soy years before because soy protein powder had a direct, almost immediate effect on my "dizzy spell" seizures, so I was already carefully reading labels. After a week on the diet my seizures increased. On my daughter's third birthday my husband got a flour free "cake" from our local Whole Foods. About 15 minutes after my first bite I had another simple partial seizure. I was now convinced some ingredient in the food was a connection, but which one? I went back to the internet for more research.

I read that some celiacs, of which then I was almost convinced I was one, need to remove dairy in order to get better. It turns out the main ingredient in that "flourless" cake was cream. OK, so I'll go on a dairy free, wheat free and soy free diet. It would be hard, especially with one income, three children and gluten free flour prices five to ten times the cost of wheat flour, but it was worth a try.

The first few weeks were difficult, and limited to meat, rice, fruit and veggies, but something wonderful happened. About a day into it my friend Theresa, without knowing I was on the diet said, "You've got some color in your cheeks." I noticed the lack of strange matching rashes, then I noticed I'd go a whole day without a partial seizure, and then I went four days, then five, then nine days without a seizure. That nine day stretch was exciting, I hadn't went that long without a seizure in a year. On the tenth day, August 1, 2008, I had my last seizure.

That one was a big one. As God's providence would have it, my brother insisted on stopping over there that evening. "He never comes over," I thought, "why is he being so insistent?" My question was answered about five minutes after he arrived. While I was making dinner for my family I had my first daytime, full-blown, grand mal seizure.

I woke up to my three-year-old little daughter crying and asking if I was OK. She had never seen one of my grand mal seizures before, since all of them, prior to this one, happened during my sleep. My brother, who is normally pretty calm, was truly shaken. He was asking my then seven-year-old what my husband's phone number was. He helped me to my bed and I slept off the drowsiness that follows a seizure like this. It was my shortest seizure, but I agreed to go on medicine to make sure it did not happen again. After all, I had a seven, three and two-year-old to take care of, and what if my brother had not been there?

While on the lowest dose of Tegretol, I was completely seizure free. I continued the diet, once in a while experimenting with foods to see if one or the other I could tolerate. I'd get the most severe diarrhea when I accidentally drank wheat grass juice. I was totally repelled by the smell of cheese, my stomach hurt when I took a lick of my daughter's ice cream. I decided I was on to something. Even if the anti-seizure meds were working, the diet was doing something too. The biggest benefit was I could eat a full meal and not feel pain. I started to gain weight again, I started to notice my hair growing back, I had energy again. No matter what, I was not going to eat wheat, dairy or soy.

I needed periodic blood work to make sure my blood counts did not suffer with the Tegretol. After the third round of tests I got some bad news. My neurologist was convinced that the Tegretol was making my white blood cell, and platelet counts bottom out. "I have to take you off of this," she said. She offered another drug, but I was happy to take the chance to "test" the diet. If it did not heal me the way I thought it did, then I'd have another seizure for sure.

So September 17, 2008 I took my last dose of Tegretol, and waited. A week passed and no seizures, a month passed, I was feeling great, and no seizures. I had energy I hadn't had in years. My hair needed cut because the thin stringy stuff from when I was sick was replaced with fuller, thicker, shinier hair. I was able to eat. Now I am driving again, and expecting our fourth baby girl. I love experimenting with gluten free recipes and finding replacements for those foods I'm "missing." This gluten free, dairy free, soy free diet is not easy, but the rewards are so worth the effort.

What about that Epstein-Barr virus infection? The levels were off the charts and I had not had mono for 16 years. The connection was never made between the infection and my seizures, but what if there was one? Had my immune system degraded to the point where long conquered viruses had an opportunity to flourish or did the virus cause my immune system, and the neurological system, to react to the food? In either case, when I started the diet, I also started taking garlic, and not the powdered pill form either, cloves and cloves of garlic a day. If I had this active infection, I wanted to fight it if I could.

This leads me to my theory. Somehow the virus, or some other pathogen, like yeast, has caused an imbalance somewhere. Somehow the two are connected. Was there some type of pathogenic bacteria in the kiefer I had become so fond of? Celiac disease is much more prevalent in Europe, and so is kiefer. Did I become intolerant to these foods after some digestive illness, like a stomach virus? This happened to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the star of "The View," and since she has felt better with a wheat free celiac diet.

I realize this is all "anecdotal" evidence, but this is where it starts. This is how we found ulcers were not caused by stress, but h-pylori bacteria. The anecdotal evidence may point us to the real research that must be done to find an answer. The real question is there anybody willing to fund the research without some promise of drug profits.

Thanks for reading my story. I hope it helps you, but don't go by what I say alone. Talk to your doctor, and if he won't listen, find another. A good doctor is worth his weight in wheat-free flour! :)

Copyright October 30, 2009 - Christine Emmick

Please check with your healthcare provider before trying any advice on this site.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gluten Free Halushki

A note about my recipes: You may notice my recipes don’t include a ¼ teaspoon of anything. This method of recipe writing frees the reader to use their instincts, follow their gut, and find their inner chef. I mean, would anyone really notice a dash more salt in a vat of soup? Alright, go ahead and put it in, just taste it as you go OK? J

Gluten Free Halushki

WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT:
Oh my goodness!! This is the taste I remember. Any good hunky should know how to make halushki, even if they have food allergies. This Slovak dish, spelled “halusky,” traditionally contains dumplings and sauerkraut or goat cheese. Most people from our area include egg noodles, cabbage, onions and butter, LOTS of butter. Here is my version, which is of course DAIRY FREE, SOY FREE, EGG FREE, NUT FREE and WHEAT FREE. Enjoy!

STUFF TO GRAB:

  • Rice Pasta

About 1 pound, Cooked according to package directions, Drained and rinsed, I use fettuccini style to mimic the egg noodle texture

  • Oil

About 3 to 4 Tablespoons, Olive oil is healthy, but expensive, Canola works

  • Onions

1 large or two small, more if you like onion

  • Other Veggies

Optional, ½ cup should do it, I used fresh peppers from my garden, but fresh beans, shredded carrot or celery would work

  • Spices

Onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, basil and salt, I used about a tablespoon of salt and a sprinkle of the rest, use what you like, leave out what you don’t

  • Water

About 4 cups, enough to cover the cabbage

  • Cabbage

1 small whole or ½ large cabbage, sliced, green works, red cabbage boasts more health benefits, but when you are done with this recipe, it might not matter

  • “Butter”

about 4 tablespoons, more or less if you like; I use Earth Balance SOY FREE (www.earthbalancenatural.com) in the red and white container which meets all my food allergy needs

THE DETAILS:
Cook and drain pasta, rinse if desired. Sauté onions and other veggies in oil till translucent and a bit caramelized. In the meantime, slice and put cabbage in a large pot, cover with water and spices and simmer. Drain cabbage and place veggies and pasta in pot and toss with butter. Cook on low, stirring frequently, to heat noodles through. Serve with browned pork sausage, baked chicken or kielbasa if you are not vegan. If you are, slip in some black eyed peas or black beans.

Copyright August 5, 2009 – Christine Emmick

Please check with your healthcare provider before trying any of the advice on this site.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gluten Free Restaurant Review - Outback Steakhouse, Monroeville, PA

By Christine Emmick

The Outback Steakhouse is well known chain that is recommended by some Celiac groups. We went there about a year ago and have not been back since, and this story will tell you why.

It was a celebratory dinner and family get together. I was told that Outback would be sensitive to my dietary needs. I found out much differently. We walked in, it was very busy and raining cats and dogs. We had to wait almost an hour for a table and by this time our children were starving. We were seated and waited on by a very nice, but very busy waitress. She took my order, and even answered questions, all with grace and ease under the circumstances.

Then our food came. A man "helping out" served me a salad with croutons on it. I said, "Sir, I cannot eat these croutons." He actually said to me, "Well then why did you order them." When I said, "I didn't." He actually said back to me, "Yes you did." Then the sweet waitress came by with something else for our table. She immediately noticed that someone else at our table had my salad. He had served me the wrong one.

Then came the steak, oh my, it was the worst piece of meat I have ever eaten. They purposely did not put any seasonings on it, and I could not even chew it. They must load their steaks up with MSG or something to make them taste good, because this certainly did not. I am also allergic to soy, so it may be some type of worcheshire sauce. It was literally the worst steak I've ever eaten. I also got the baked sweet potato, without the butter and sour cream. Don't do this. It was soggy, like the consistency of pudding. Yuck.

Please let me know in the comments if you've had a better experience at the Outback. This experience led me away from some of the more, shall we say, particular restaurants. We eat at all sorts of establishments, fast food to fine dining, even with my food allergies, and have had great success. Check back soon for a review of Eat'n Park, one of our favorite family establishments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gluten Free Bread Alternatives

The most trying thing about going gluten free is the bread. Bread, or some form of it, is in almost every meal in the American household. Toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, rolls for dinner, you literally can't get away from it.

I've found some inexpensive alternatives to those four and five dollar bricks they try to pass as sandwich bread at the store. You know what I'm talking about, those frozen rice bread bricks that stay brittle and gummy even after they thaw, those loaves that if you dropped them they may hurt your ceramic tile floor.

So for sandwich bread, I usually use rice cakes. At least they come by their crumbliness honestly, and you don't have to pry a gummy glob off the roof of your mouth, or reach for a gallon of water to try to wash it down. Rice cake are also shelf stable, so you don't have to worry about your investment going green, if you know what I mean. You get all this for half the price to boot.

Here are some brands to try:

Quaker Rice Cakes - $2.09 at my Giant Eagle I get money off my gasoline bill here.
Mother's Rice Cakes - $1.89 at my Whole Foods My Whole Foods also gives me an extra 10% off a case.
Hain makes a thinner rice cake that makes eating easier, but they break up way too easy.
Lundberg Organic Brown Rice Cakes - $32.42 for a case through Amazon if you want to go organic.

You could also try to make rice cakes yourself with the recipe at bigoven.com.

Now if you don't mind the preservatives, you could try tortillas. Flour ones are out, but corn tortillas, as long as you carefully check the ingredients, can be used. Whole Foods has a small round corn tortilla that you can use as a burger "bun." Break the burger in half and wrap the tortilla around the burger like a taco, then fill your tortilla with tomato lettuce and condiments.

Another tortilla is the "Smart and Delicious" tortilla from La Tortilla Factory. They are made with teff and millet flour and are very good for chicken wraps, but they do contain some preservatives. The plus side is that they are shelf stable and very pliable, almost as pliable as a regular flour tortilla.

Enjoy experimenting with your bread alternatives. Coming soon, "Gluten Free Pizza Crust That is Actually Good!" I was a huge pizza makin' fool before I went GF. I simply had to experiment till I found a combination my family and I could live with. Look for it in June!

Copyright May 27, 2009 – Christine Emmick

Please check with your healthcare provider before trying any of the advice on this site.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ALFRED-NO Sauce - Gluten free Recipe

A note about my recipes: You may notice my recipes don’t include a ¼ teaspoon of anything. This method of recipe writing frees the reader to use their instincts, follow their gut, and find their inner chef. I mean, would anyone really notice a dash more salt in a vat of soup? Alright, go ahead and put it in, just taste it as you go OK?

WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT:

This sauce looks, smells, has the texture of and almost tastes like alfredo sauce, but is DAIRY FREE, SOY FREE, EGG FREE, NUT FREE and WHEAT FREE! It’s a simple base of rice flour, oil and spices to create a great sauce to put over pasta, chicken.

STUFF TO GRAB:

  • Rice Milk - About 2 cups, plain works best
  • Oil - About ½ to 1 cup, Olive oil is healthy, but expensive, Canola works
  • Rice Flour - About ½ cup, I grind my own with my Family Grain Mill. It saves tons of cash from buying the bagged rice flour
  • Vinegar - About 2 Tablespoons, Use more or less depending on the tang you like, I use apple cider vinegar
  • Mustard - About a Tablespoon, any kind you like
  • Sugar - About a Tablespoon, Brown sugar works and it has more minerals (potassium) than white sugar
  • Salt - About ½ Tablespoon, I use a mixture of iodized and sea salt, again more (wider variety of) minerals
  • Pepper - As much As you like, I give the peppermill a few turns and call it done
  • Garlic - Again, as much as you like in whatever form, Fresh use less, dried use more, I use frozen fresh cloves, they press a lot easier and have a bit less bite
  • Blender - I use a hand blender and a tall plastic container that holds about 1 ½ quarts
THE DETAILS:

Throw all the stuff in the blender and press go. Let sit for a minute and hit it again. This lets the tiny rice particles to absorb some of the liquid. Experiment with the amount of flour and rice milk to get that thick creamy consistency. Heat the stuff under low heat in a sauce pan until warmed. Stir frequently to avoid that goo sticking to the bottom. Pour over steamed oriental rice noodles (I use Mai Fun) and baked chicken. YUM!

Copyright 2009 – Christine Emmick
Please check with your healthcare provider before trying any of the advice on this site.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome!

Welcome to glutenfreefantasy.blogspot.com. My name is Christine Emmick and I've been on a gluten free, dairy free and soy free diet for over a year. Feel free to look around at some of the great gluten free recipes, product reviews, stories and advice to make your gluten free journey as painless as possible.

Giving up some of your favorite foods is one of the hardest transitions. I'll help you find gluten free recipe alternatives that tickle your memory of the foods you once enjoyed.

Most people will say a gluten free diet is expensive, but it doesn't have to be. I'll share what products I bought and what steps I took to keep living gluten free costs down.

I'll also share my personal testimony of why I decided to go gluten free and what wonderful things it has done for my health. If you've ever had what they call idiopathic seizures, or you have food allergies, you'll definitely want to read some of this testimony.

Thanks for stopping by. If you ever want to contact me, just log onto activerain.com/cemmick. God bless!