Monday, November 8, 2010


I’m thrilled and very appreciative of the positive responses I’ve received so far about this blog.  Thank you and please keep the comments, questions, and ideas coming!

Because the blog, like the cookbook I’m developing, focuses on dealing with multiple food allergies that go BEYOND the “Top 8”, I thought I’d address one of the most frustrating issues encountered all too regularly by those of us who may have a gluten or other common food allergy but also have allergies to less commonly suspected foods:

In my family, 3 out of 4 can’t eat wheat, though we are lucky that oats and spelt don’t seem to bother us (most people allergic to wheat or gluten are advised to avoid those, as well as kamut, because they are either related to wheat or may have been grown in conjunction with wheat).  It would seem that with the burgeoning availability of gluten-free baking mixes in supermarkets and online, we would still have plenty of options for quickly making baked goods using a store-bought mix.

However, I have yet to find a single pre-packaged flour or baking mix that doesn’t include potato starch, and it so happens that one member of my family is so allergic to white potatoes that if she even peels one or smells one cooking, she has an anaphylactic reaction.  Like the mixes, almost all of the packaged products touted as “gluten-free” that I’ve seen, whether they’re cookies, cakes, brownies, filled pasta, pizza or pie crust, also contain the villain potato starch, which means that although I don’t stop searching, I generally make my own version of those items at home from scratch.  A notable exception is the pie/quiche crust made by Gillian’s Foods, which not only contains no potato starch but also is quite tasty and a snap to use for both sweet and savory pies.

I understand why manufacturers use potato starch in so many gluten-free products – it behaves a lot like wheat flour when cooked in baked goods though it isn’t related to wheat, and it doesn’t have a strong flavor on its own.  Yet I can’t help but wonder how many other people with food allergies run into this same frustration of not being able to eat what should be a safe food because just one ingredient in the product is an allergen for them.  Based on my research, numerous interviews, and personal experience, I can confidently say that many people who have a gluten allergy are also allergic or intolerant to other, less common foods – even if it’s just preservatives or cane sugar – and therefore are basically an un-served portion of the gluten-free market.  What a big miss for manufacturers, especially since this portion of the market is a growing one!

I guess that some of the reasons come down to awareness and focus, because the media and medical research tend to focus on what’s “hot” at the time, and celiac disease/gluten allergy is definitely enjoying a high profile right now.  Even allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, and egg don’t seem to garner quite the number of new products or the amount of media coverage that gluten-free currently has – take a look at the most recent issue of Living Without magazine which, while a wonderful magazine in its own right, has what seems to me an inordinately large number of gluten-free articles, recipes, and advertisements versus those that cover other, less common food allergies.

A case in point, especially with regard to manufacturers but also to food allergy support organizations, is the experience that my family had at the recent FAAN Walk for Food Allergy Cure here in our hometown.  The FAAN Walks have been happening all over the country and are a fantastic way to show support for food allergy research and understanding.  But at our local Walk there were probably 12 or so tables and booths set up by various manufacturers and groups that were in some way related to food allergies; many kindly provided samples of their products, but of those, only ONE had a product that was safe for my family.  I would expect this at the supermarket or a restaurant, but not at what was basically a food allergy rally!

The one food that was safe for my daughter was a bag of loose granola which, surprisingly, didn’t contain sunflower seeds or oil like many granola products do.  Of the remaining products, all had either sunflower oil, potato starch, cane sugar, or sometimes several of those and other ingredients not safe for my family – and there was even one booth selling cookies that had wheat flour in them, which I couldn’t believe was allowed by the FAAN Walk organizers!

I suspect that it’s all part of the learning curve in our society, as more understanding and knowledge slowly come to the forefront and are demonstrated by increased action, vigilance, and success in overcoming food allergies.  FAAN, and other organizations, do a good job of advancing that cause.  My concern, nonetheless, is how long will those of us who have what are currently considered “less common” food allergies have to wait until the media, manufacturers, medical establishment, and support organizations recognize that for many people, it’s still a dangerous food world out there – and potato starch is just the tip of the iceberg.

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