Grab & Go

How can I grab & go if I must avoid gluten, histamine, FODMAPS, and dairy? It’s a great question! And a pertinent one if your family gets hangry like mine.

While it may seem be easier than ever to avoid gluten, the task becomes more difficult as restrictions compound. Some restaurants offer a salad base to turn a sandwich into a salad. That’s great unless the salad contains a significant amount of mushrooms, spinach, or finely chopped tomatoes that are high in histamine. And you’ll probably have to ask them to hold the cheese to avoid dairy and problematic plant-based cheeses. Then there’s the matter of fruit in salads – some are high in histamine and some are full of short-chain carbohydrates known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols or FODMAPs.

Of course you can eat at home, but grab & go can be complicated there too. Canned tuna & chicken, deli meat, sausage, polish sausage, ham, and hot dogs are typically high in histamine. Pickles are out. Packaged salad toppers with candied nuts and dried fruit are out.

Although it requires a bit of effort, there are ways to mitigate the inconvenience and have grab & go options at the ready when mealtime slips up on you.

Here are some ideas:

Gluten-free instant oatmeal is shelf-stable, filling and easy to carry. Keep some in the pantry to fill in gaps when someone gets too hungry.

Imagine® shelf-stable chicken, bone, or vegetable (contains a small amount of tomato) broth can be heated in the microwave and served in a mug as a satisfying drink to take the edge off of hunger.

Keep some gluten free bread or bagels on hand or in the freezer and nut butters in the pantry. If you haven’t tried peanut butter on warm toast, give it a try. It’s surprisingly good!

Replace sandwich meat with pre-grilled or blackened thinly sliced chicken breasts or steak. Trim away any fat, season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Bake or grill the chicken just until done. Sear the steak in a skillet and finish in the oven. Cook two or three times as much as you normally would. Freeze in daily portions. Thaw a day or two before you run out of easy-to-grab foods.

Chicken can be eaten on a sandwich with lettuce, fresh cucumber slices, and fresh basil leaves. It can be sliced or shredded and served inside a wrap with hummus (if tolerated), and fresh red bell pepper slices.

The fastest, easiest way to have these proteins available is to buy and prepare larger than normal quantities when you’re cooking the items anyway. The same is true of beef or pork roast which can be sliced and then frozen for later use on salads, sandwiches, and in wraps. Purchase an additional pound of roast to prepare when you’re making roast for dinner.

Keep a supply of low histamine vegetables that can be enjoyed raw – carrots, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, green onions as well as low histamine/low FODMAP fresh fruit – blueberries, kiwi, and raw nuts (if well tolerated).

Purchase an extra half-dozen or dozen eggs along with your regular purchase. Boil the extras and keep them in the refrigerator. You can even pre-peel them once they’re cool so that they’re truly grab & go. They can also be used in egg salad or a green salad.

Bake and freeze a dozen muffins. Thaw in the microwave as needed or take a weekly portion out of the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator for everyday use.

You can also make and freeze pancakes fitting your needs that can be used as a wrap for breakfast sandwiches.

As long as you keep it simple, staying ahead of the game doesn’t require too much time and effort. Tack a few tasks onto things you already have planned. Keep a few strategic items in the freezer and pantry. Before you know it, dietary compliant grab & go will seem like a piece of cake.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cut It Up Into Bite Size Pieces

This week when I made chicken soup for my 95-year-old cousin (isn’t she cute!),
CEI cut the chicken up into bite size pieces. It was really more like chicken stew – thick and full of carrots, celery, potatoes, black eyed peas, and rice. Until I cut up the boneless, skinless chicken thighs I included, it was impossible to take a bite that contained vegetables, broth, AND chicken. In fact, the full size chicken thighs were an obstacle that made it difficult to even get s spoon down to the vegetables and broth. Breaking that obstacle up into small pieces resulted in a uniform consistency and full flavor in each and every bite!

When I started the soup, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it would look like when I was done. I just knew I didn’t want to have to clean another cutting board right then, so I didn’t bother to cut up the chicken before it was cooked. Once I was ready to eat the first bowl, I felt frustrated by the large pieces of meat I had to deal with. Obviously, that was low level frustration. It was only soup and I knew exactly how to fix the problem in a matter of minutes.
soup
But let’s say it hadn’t been soup. What if I were feeling frustrated by the idea that committing to a gluten-free diet means I’ll never have my favorite rolls again AND I’ll have to read labels or ask questions before ordering food. I won’t be able to drink my favorite beer. I may have to eat before parties or carry food with me. I’ll have to figure out a system for keeping my food separate from the rest of the family’s. I’ll have to explain to my grandmother why I can’t eat her scrumptious strudel. It will be harder to eat fast food for dinner or doughnuts at the office. It just seems like way too much trouble.

Most of the gluten-free community has walked down that road at one time or another. I managed to get my mind around the obstacles, make the commitment, and stick to the diet only to find myself a couple of years later on a business trip, really hungry and standing in the cracker aisle of a grocery store…pouting. Seriously, I was pouting like a small child. I eventually grabbed a banana and some nuts and was fine, but I had that moment of, “Do I really have to do this?” Of course, by the time I was pouting, I also knew how much better I feel when I’m gluten-free so I wasn’t really tempted to cheat.

If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you could have gluten-intolerance or celiac disease and, after testing, your doctor may recommend a gluten-free diet. If the idea of making such a significant change feels overwhelming to you, perhaps you can take the chicken soup approach – figure out your biggest obstacle and break it down into easily digestible pieces then proceed with a plan. As you have success, it will build upon itself and the process will become easier and the routine more uniform.

Symptoms:
General
Vague abdominal pain
Diarrhea
Weight loss
Malabsorption (Abnormality in digestion or absorption of food nutrients in the GI tract.)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Behavioral changes
Fatigue or malaise
Growth delay

Hematological
Anemia
Hematologic diathesis
Skin/Mucous Membrane
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (Skin manifestation of celiac disease.)
Alopecia (Baldness – both universalis (from the entire skin) and areata (diffuse hair loss))
Aphthous ulcers (canker sores)
Abdominal or generalized swelling
Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
Easy bruisability
Cheilosis (Scaling at the corners of the mouth.)
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Chronic dry eye.)
Stomatitis (Inflammation of the mucous tissue of the mouth.)
Scaly dermatitis (Inflammation of the skin.)

Musculoskeletal
Non-specific bone pain
Joint pain(8)
Osteopenia (Low bone mineral density. Possible precursor to osteoperosis.)
Tetany (A combination of signs and symptoms due to unusually low calcium levels.)
Hyperreflexia (Overactive neurological reflexes.)
Carpopedal spasm (Spasms of the hands and feet.)
Cramps
Laryngospasm (Spasm of the larynx, the voice box.)

Neurological
Ataxia (coordination problems)
Epilepsy
Myelopathy (Damage to white matter that carries motor signals to and from the brain.)
Peripheral neuropathy (Numbness and pain in hands and feet described as tingling or burning.)
Seizures

Gastrointestinal
Abdominal pain
Anorexia (poor appetite)
Bloating
Constipation
Cramps
Diarrhea
Dyspepsia (Recurrent discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen.)
Flatulence, distention
Foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily
Hepatic disease (liver disease)
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Stomach upset
Malabsorption-Related
Bowel is less able to absorb nutrients, minerals, and the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K.
Abnormal coagulation
Anemia (Lack of healthy red blood cells.)
Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine
Failure to thrive (Poor weight gain and physical growth failure over an extended period of time in infancy.)
Fatigue
Growth Failure
Hyposplenism (small and under active spleen)
Hyperparathyroidism (Excessive production of parathyroid hormone because of low calcium levels.)
Bone deformities
Broken bones
Swollen joins
Iron deficiency anemia
Malnutrition
Megaloblastic anemia
Muscle Wasting
Osteopenia
Osteoporosis
Pubertal delay
Vitamin K deficiency
Weight loss

Miscellaneous
Depression
IgA deficiency (Means you’re 10 times more likely to develop celiac disease, AND gives a false negative on screening.)
Increased risk of infections
Irritability
Autoimmune disorders:
Sjogren’s syndrome
Thyroid disease
Diabetes mellitus type 1
Autoimmune thyroiditis
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Microscopic colitis
Infertility
Miscarriage

When you consider the time and energy you lose to pain, fatigue, doctor’s visits, and managing symptoms, it will soon become clear that removing those obstacles will result in plenty of time and energy to pursue lifestyle changes. And unlike using pharmaceuticals, removing gluten from your diet has no deleterious side effects or long-term health dangers. You can eat a healthy, balanced diet without the artificially fortified grain-based products that predominate our grocery stores and television ads.

If you feel you just can’t give up fast food, don’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to eat all of your favorites, but a quick review of the nutrition facts on convenient fast food restaurants’ websites will give you options that you can rely on when you’re pressed for time or want to join your kids in an occasional outing.

If you travel to rural areas for business, throw a Kind bar in your bag so you feel confident that you won’t get too hungry while searching for a local steak and potato restaurant. I sometimes carry a cooler bag with a couple of peeled & salted boiled eggs and some baby carrots along with a banana. That’s enough for a meal if I run out of restaurant options. And never assume that you won’t be able to find anything in a convenience store. I recently saw Glutino pretzels and gluten-free fruit snacks at the gas station in a small town.
pretzels
While I failed to do this when making soup this week, the process is always easier when you visualize what things will look like in the end, so imagine what it will look like when you no longer feel sick, tired, and grumpy. Holding that vision in your head helps you break overwhelming ideas down into tiny, bite size momentary decisions that aren’t hard to make. And really, that’s all it takes.

I remain gluten-free with lots of very simple decisions every day: ordering grilled chicken rather than fried, no croutons on my salad, no gravy on my potatoes, befriending a waiter who will help me communicate with the kitchen, reading the labels on packaged food, hosting meetings at my house, and saying no when I need to say no. And I don’t think I’ve felt like pouting in the past 9 years!

It’s natural to feel some fear and temporary depression when making significant change. The good news is that these feelings soon dissipate just like the sore muscles you get when you start lifting weights and no matter how you feel right now, improvement will result from the small, gradual, and consistent positive steps you make over time. Perhaps we should call it a Gluten-Free Practice.