Passover vs. Easter: A Gluten-Free Showdown

Much fuss is made about how gluten-free-friendly Passover is. Grain-free foods line the grocery shelves more at this than any other time of year. Macaroons and gluten-free matzo everywhere. It’s great.

But . . . the holiday story is all about bread. Sure, there’s some stuff about plague, tyrants, blood of lambs, eldest sons, escape from persecution, miraculous divisions of seas, and so forth, but at heart the holiday comes down to unleavened bread. And while, with its dry, crumbly, not-quite breadiness, matzo certainly calls to mind gluten-free bread, it does usually contain gluten—just no yeast, or enough time for gluten to do its thing (since, in the story, there was no time to wait for bread to rise before fleeing Egypt).

In fact, according to many authorities, matzo must be made from wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats, the “five grains” mentioned in the Torah, all of which contain gluten, besides oats (though that’s debatable). Some authorities don’t even believe gluten-free matzoh should be allowed at the Passover Seder! Not so friendly, after all.

Passover s'mores made with matzo

Pastel-colored matzo s’mores, though remarkable, are also not entirely canonical.
Photo © Jasmin Fine | Flickr

Easter, on the other hand—that’s a real gluten-free holiday, and I’ll tell you why: Jesus is well known to have been a big bread eater. He consumed so much of the stuff he actually considered his body to be made of it! The very night before his death, he broke bread with his disciples and told them he was giving it up. I won’t speculate on what symptoms may have led him to that decision, but no matter—it was too little, too late.

As the story goes, Jesus died because a bunch of angry people nailed him to a cross (and because it was foretold), not because he ate too much wheat. Fair. But then, after three days in a tomb with no bread, he regained his energy to the point that he actually came back to life! Miracle from god, or miraculous gluten detox?

Unfortunately, the moment the stone rolled back from his tomb, Jesus proved old habits die harder than deities’ sons. His proof to his disciples that it was really him, alive again, was, in fact, “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

the Last Supper - Jesus breaking the bread

“Don’t eat it, Jesus! The doctor said…!”
Sigh. No one ever listens to the apostles.
Photo courtesy Waiting for the Word | Flickr

Soon enough, all that bread weakened Jesus again, enough that he had to be carried up to heaven, where he planned to sit (at his father’s right hand) for eternity. That sounds like some serious fatigue!

So you see, though manufacturers may not exactly be rushing to produce egg- and bunny-shaped Easter treats on separate lines the way they’ve stepped up to the Kosher for Passover plate, the Easter story is way more sprue. And as celiac celebs go, it doesn’t get much better than Jesus.

Naturally, the entire argument falls apart if you consider that the Easter story contains a commandment to eat bread in memory, just like the Passover story, and how unlikely it is that God would have sent his only son to Earth and then saddled him with a not-yet-discovered autoimmune disease. Classic literary criticism.

By the way, for anyone wondering—based on my reduced posting of late—whether I too have died, fear not: I live, and my posts shall come again next week, provided neither the Old nor the New Testament God smites me for blaspheming first. I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll say it for you: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Regardless of which holiday you’re celebrating this year, I hope it’s a happy one! And if you’re celebrating neither, I’d wish you a happy spring, except that here in New York, it too seems to have died. Here’s hoping for a speedy resurrection.

happy Easter to our Christian friends, happy Passover to our Jewish friends, to our atheist friends...good luck

Thank you, Marsmettn Tallahassee of Flickr. You’re too kind.

For more blasphemy from me, read this oldie but goodie about sin. Alternatively, for more on why Passover actually is pretty cool for those with GRDs, try this article or this list of products to try, or just Google “Passover gluten-free,” because, seriously, the entire Internet has something to say about it. 

Do you stock up on Kosher for Passover gluten-free products? Will you be celebrating with friends or family this weekend? And what, in your opinion, is the best gluten-free holiday?

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More on drugs: Big questions and non-answers about celiac disease medication development

My first post about Columbia’s celiac disease symposium was heavy on snacks, light on facts. That’s partly because, as I mentioned, many facts are undiscovered. But also, under the residual influence of my sugar high, I got a bit carried away and didn’t make space for what I did learn.

The comments on that post made it clear I’m not the only one interested in medicating my symptoms into oblivion, and just as clear that many have serious reservations about the idea. So, I thought I’d circle back to a few more questions about the celiac disease medication options being developed:

What non-drug options exist?

Many of us have ongoing symptoms. But that doesn’t mean we all have non-responsive celiac disease or the dreaded refractory CD, and it doesn’t mean we all need medication.

In some cases, symptoms are not due to celiac disease, but to coexisting autoimmune diseases or other conditions (e.g., small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or “leaky gut”). These conditions may have been triggered by your celiac disease, the trigger for your celiac disease, or just coincidence: a sign of your good luck. In any case, if you have another issue, you have to treat it; various options exist.

In other cases, modifying your diet even more can help. You may be inadvertently consuming gluten. You may have other sensitivities—most commonly lactose intolerance—or allergies. You may need to go low-FODMAP (more on that to come). And you need only glance at the “new and popular” gluten-free cookbooks on Amazon to see how many GF people are deciding to go paleo.

Interestingly, several bigwig doctors at the conference claimed to have no idea what paleo is. A fellow attendee asked about it, and they shrugged the whole thing off as a passing fad beneath their attention.

Banksy caveman with burger and soda

Banksy doesn’t know what paleo means, either. But he’s not my doctor.
Photo © Lord Jim | Flickr

As a vegetarian, I’m far from espousing the paleo diet, but I find the doctors’ cavalier attitude absurd, considering how many of their own patients must be going paleo, and the diet’s striking similarity to the “gluten contamination elimination diet” that has demonstrated success in one small study, in which over 80% of patients with ongoing symptoms became symptom-free.

Both diets require cutting out grains, legumes, and processed foods. What sets them apart is philosophy: paleo is about changing your diet for life, with the idea of eating the way we evolved to eat; the GCED is about restricting your diet for a limited time to target a specific issue. (In the study, many participants returned to a “standard” gluten-free diet after six months, without new symptoms.)

In my opinion, both diets, as well as their offshoots (e.g., The Wahls Protocolshould be of interest to doctors engaged in treating patients with non-responsive celiac disease. But at the conference, inexplicably, no one addressed them. So if you were wondering what we know about going grain-free, the answer may as well be nothing. 

Anyway. Back to drugs. Who needs them? 

Well, we can say who doesn’t: anyone without lingering symptoms, anyone with symptoms who has already found a solution, and anyone who feels the symptoms they have aren’t worth the trouble of taking a pill.

Even when drugs are available, it’ll be your right to be suspicious of them, and certainly your right not to take them. But consider this: the main arguments against taking medication are:

  • expense—but the gluten-free diet is expensive, too
  • hassle—but the gluten-free diet is a hassle, too
  • dependence—but we’re all dependent on the gluten-free diet already
  • side effects—but the diet has those, too:

As for medication side effects—who knows? But the drugs currently being developed are meant to target gluten, not the body, so their side effects may in fact be less severe than those of the diet. Not many things affect us on more sides than diet does.

For those of us who want them . . . when can we get them?

The panel of reps from Glutenase, Larazotide, and Immusan-T, gave some very slippery answers to this question: “no way to know”; “too many variables”; “developing a drug is a marathon”; and so on.

The moderator, much to his credit, insisted on pinning them down: “Assuming things go reasonably—not miraculously—according to plan, when can we expect these drugs to hit the market?”

One drug representative gave a very flip answer to this question (perhaps indicating a lack of confidence in his ability to answer it). Another seized this opportunity to lean forward and intone, directly into the mic, “Three years.” That set the bar: the other two grudgingly agreed that three to five years should do it.

That’s not so far off (!), but we do have some time to decide whether we want to take medication in addition to our diet.

Why not talk about it now? What worries you about drugs? What doesn’t? What else have you tried or are you thinking of trying? And why don’t docs care about cavemen?

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April Fools! 6 Gluten-Free Pranks to Play Today

I’ll be back soon with more absences of answers to ever-present questions about celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders, but I thought I’d take a break for April Fools Day.

This day last year, I convinced a few people that Dunkin Donuts would be going all gluten-free by 2015 (sorry!). Between then and now, the chain announced that, although it wouldn’t be dropping wheat from its pastries entirely, as I’d “predicted,” it would introduce wheat-free goods to every store nationwide in 2013.

The gluten-free community got pretty excited about that. But sadly, the joke was on us: Dunkin Donuts reversed the decision months later, with little explanation, before I even got to try one of those shrink-wrapped muffins. A lot of people were disappointed, and truth be told, I felt a bit responsible, as though I’d jinxed it. So this year, none o’ that.

However, superstition aside, there’s no reason not to get what laughs we can out of our chronic disease. If you haven’t yet decided what jokes to make today, here are a few you could try:

“Guess what! I don’t have celiac disease after all.”

Just as it’s good to have an all-purpose GF flour blend (if such a thing really exists), a good all-purpose trick comes in handy, too. Play this prank on just about anyone. Take it to the next level by whipping out a sandwich (which should of course be made with a reasonably uncrumbly gluten-free bread, unless you’re a truly dedicated prankster) and taking a big bite.

Girl eating sandwich

This “gluten” sure is good!
Photo © Jessie Jacobson | Flickr

“Soooo . . . celiac disease is contagious.”

Said with a bit of a wince and an “oopsie” expression, this is handy for that annoying coworker who’s always sticking his gluteny hands into your gluten-free snacks. To kick it up a notch, come up to him later, stare intently at his elbow, and when he asks what you’re doing, say, “Oh, I thought I saw some dermatitis herpetiformis. It’s probably nothing, though.”

“Bad news. They just found out potatoes contain gluten.”

This joke has limited utility. Most people with celiac won’t believe it; most non-celiac people already do.

Mr. Potato Head and family

Personified potatoes: Creepy? Yes. Glutenous? No.
Photo © Jeremy Page | Flickr

“I’m going back to school to become a [dietitian/gastroenterologist/celiac disease researcher].”

This is another good one to use at work, though probably not on your boss. If your parents are still paying off loans from your undergraduate English degree, maybe you’d like to try it on them, too. To really go for it, forge a letter of acceptance to display to the skeptics.

“Turns out, gluten is bad for everyone.”

Several savvy authors have made a killing off of this classic, so why not get in on the fun? Arm yourself with statistics and direct your chosen fool to the library to learn more. If it’s in a book, it must be true.

girl eating bread and yelling

Breeeaaddddd. It’s coming for you!
Photo © Eltjo Poort

“Hey, did you hear about that new gluten-free and vegetarian restaurant opening in Washington Heights next month?”

That’s not funny.

gluten-free restaurants in New York - Gluten-Free Fun map

See this map of gluten-free-friendly NYC establishments created by Erin of Gluten-Free Fun (interactive version here)? Cool, right? See how many are north of Central Park? …yep. But hey, it’s home.

Happy April Fools Day! Hope the jokes are on everyone else and not on you.

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