Tag Archives: bacteria

Wait, wait…don’t gluten me! (I’m talking to you, Trader Joe’s.)

I hope you’re in the mood for some shenanigans. It’s the Friday before a long weekend, which means it’s time for one thing only: limericks about gluten.

In 2011, we learned that 21 percent of young people get most of their news from the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. Judge that as you will. I myself am among the unreported mass of people who get the majority of their news from podcasts of Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Are you?

Who doesn't love this guy?

Who doesn’t love this man?

For me, it means that I’m always at least a week behind and that I occasionally mistake the fake news stories on the show for real news. It also means I have a thing for Carl Kasell.

In Carl’s honor, I hereby introduce to you the first ever installment of Wait, Wait…Don’t Gluten Me! I’ll share three gluten-related tidbits I recently discovered, in limerick form.

Guess the missing word in each and you’ll win my voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Just kidding—you don’t want that. I don’t even want that.

Here we go:

Limerick #1

There once was a blind brownie test,
the results of which couldn’t be guessed.
Some with gluten, some not,
twenty mixes were bought.
And GF Betty Crocker was ____.

Highlight for answer:    BEST   

Stunning underdog victory! Full results here.

Stunning underdog victory! Full results here.

I’ve never tried this mix, but it seems I should—and fast. (May I remind you again that it’s Friday?) 

Have you tried the Betty Crocker mix? Does it live up to the hype if so? What’s your favorite brownie mix or recipe if not?


Limerick #2

I wanted to eat something green;
Trader Joe’s prices weren’t too obscene.
Skimmed the salad greens bag,
and I thought I might gag!
Wheat in lettuce? Now that’s just plain ____.

Highlight for answer:    MEAN   

photo (2)

Hey, at least it’s kosher.

Ugh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten TJ’s greens over the past months. I know, I know, “If it has a label, read it.” It just didn’t occur to me that the rule would extend to lettuce! Yet another reminder to maintain “constant vigilance.”

What’s the most surprising place you’ve discovered potential gluten contamination?


Limerick #3

What triggers this illness? Not sure.
It’s genetic but likely there’s more.
No milk from your momma?
Who cares? Please just find us a ____!

Highlight for answer:    CURE   


Photo © Armin Kübelbeck
Shots! (Once again, my friends…Friday.)

Do you think they’ll figure out a vaccine in our lifetime? What’s your pet theory about the cause of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? 

Mine is that it’s all in our heads.


That’s it! If you got ’em all right before looking at the answers and feel you deserve a reward, come back next week. I’ll be sharing a test of a different sort, giveaway included.

In the meantime, tell me: What intriguing gluten-free news have you come across lately? (Limericks encouraged but certainly not required.) And do you love NPR as much as I do?

If you’re new in these parts, welcome! Please check out my About page or skim the index to see what I’m about (hint: it’s not all limericks). If you’d like to stick around, scroll to the bottom to follow me via Facebook, Twitter, email, WordPress, or any blog-reading platform your heart desires.

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Got worms? A review of The Wild Life of Our Bodies, by Rob Dunn

“You should rewild your gut,” my sister said to me one day, conversationally, over the phone. She said this in part because it’s the kind of thing people say to me all the time, but also in part because she’d just read The Wild Life of Our Bodies (Harper, 2011) and was eager to proselytize. When it comes to books, there’s a vacuum in me that yearns to be filled (perhaps by an intestinal worm—but we’ll get to that later), so I was an ideal soul to target.


Althea tells me I’m the first person she recommended the book to who actually read it. Too bad, because it’s solid pop science (I, as a generally non-pop-science reader, enjoyed it), and it’s full of a lot of great tidbits for those of us who spend our days preoccupied with parts of the body that normal people are fortunate enough to forget exist.

Subtitled Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, the book’s central takeaway (which author Rob Dunn makes explicit only on the second-to-last page) is that “our bodies and lives only make sense in the context of other species. Only by looking at other lives do we really understand our own.” Although Dunn is careful to make clear just how much of what he’s writing is unproven, the ideas he presents do make good sense of senseless things.

For instance, why do we have allergies or autoimmune diseases? How did our bodies get so darn stupid? In a childhood game of “stop hitting yourself,” there’s always a sadistic older sibling in the background causing the trouble. When our own insides won’t stop hitting themselves, though, what on earth is to blame? Tell me you haven’t wondered this yourself once, twice, or every day. Dunn wondered, too. The hypothesis he describes in response is sort of the opposite of “stop hitting yourself.” It’s not that some outside force is taking the immune system by the hand and making it hurt itself; it’s that the immune system, used to having a force to act against, is hurting itself out of what amounts to habit—or boredom.

Life, as a wise candlestick once said, is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving. Like the servant in that awkwardly classist formulation, the immune system, finding its original function unneeded, casts about for something to do with all of the useful skills it’s evolved. And in the process, it manages to mess things up for us pretty thoroughly. Here’s what Dunn thinks went down.

Once, he suggests, we all had intestinal worms. They snuck in through unfiltered water or burrowed up through the soles of our feet, and they made themselves at home within our guts. In response, our immune systems sprang into action, producing antibodies to oust the unwanted guests. But, if the worms stuck around long enough and seemed not to be causing much damage, peacekeeping cells developed, too, allowing our bodies to settle into equilibrium. “This isn’t so bad,” they told the immune system, in essence. “Chill out.”

Now, clean as we are, we have no worms, but our systems, having evolved to defend us, remain slap-happy. In the absence of true parasites, they attack other stuff—stuff that isn’t in itself bad, like pollen or gluten or choice bits of our own intestines. And, unfortunately, in the absence of real threats, our peacekeepers, which might have buffered us against such needless attacks, seem to have assumed we’d be okay on our own and departed on a long, naturally selected vacation.

Dunn adds on to that one more idea—his favorite, he calls it—that a parasite, if present, would also have secreted compounds that could calm our immune systems, even bamboozle it into thinking the worm belonged. Without this gentle resistance to which it is accustomed, the immune response is even more vicious. Like the kid whose arm continues reflexively to bat back and forth even once his brother has tired of the game, our immune systems carry on lashing out—or, really, lashing in, since there’s not much to lash out against—and causing us more harm than good.

The solution? It is, of course, to dose yourself with worms (rewild your gut). Maybe. You’ll have to read chapter 4 to figure out whether or not that’s a good idea.

Other highlights, for me, included discussions of:

  • making germless animals
  • gut bacteria’s role in metabolism and obesity
  • hand sanitizer’s counterproductive legacy
  • anxiety and panic disorders as remnants of our past lives as prey
  • hairlessness as a protection against bugs and the diseases they transmit
  • the relationship between disease and disgust

Throughout, Dunn uses far clearer analogies and demonstrates a much stronger grasp of science than I have in this post (although my neuroscientist sister did approve its content). For anyone who’s ever wondered what good an appendix is, or what causes Crohn’s disease, or how bad for us city living is really, The Wild Life of Our Bodies is well worth a read. If you do decide after reading it to go get yourself some worms, I hope you’ll tell me all about it.

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When life gives you lemons (or limes)…

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Photo © CasaDeQueso | Flickr

Citrus fruit—from lemons to limes to grapefruit to the mystical Sumo orange—is naturally gluten-free. So, in fact, is every kind of fruit, even breadfruit. It’s still citrus season, and there are all kinds of citrus-heavy gluten-free recipes that you should probably make now, while the blood oranges are still sanguine and the limes are seven for a dollar (like polenta cake, or lime bars, or gelato—let me know if you do make any of the above, with recipes, please).

But here’s the thing. Those lemon and lime wedges and sad little slices of orange that the bartender adds to your cocktails are usually the dirtiest thing at the bar. This little factoid has always tickled me; I’m especially fond of sharing it just after one of my friends has squeezed out the juices and plopped the entire desiccated rind into his or her beverage, when it’s too late to turn back. It’s funnier that way.

As karma would have it, on Saturday I went out to a bar with friends and ordered a club soda with lime—that is, the preferred beverage of hard-core dieters and recovered alcoholics everywhere. I didn’t dunk the lime, but I did keep it on the rim, and I did squeeze it into my soda and lick the juice off of my fingers afterwards (which was in itself gross, considering I’d just come from the subway—what is wrong with me?).

It wasn’t until later that I started wondering whether that lime could be a cross-contamination risk. After all, if a bartender fills a pint glass with beer and the foam spills onto his hand, then he reaches that hand into the garnish caddy to rummage for a hunk of lime, isn’t drinking a soda with one of those wedges just as bad as eating from the same bag of chips contaminated by a friend’s pizzaed hand (which I avoid doing, puritanically)? Isn’t it at least as risky as, or riskier than, using a clean-looking spoon from a possibly crumby drawer without washing it first?

I’m not really at a point where I can tell when I’ve been “glutened,” because overall I still feel the same as ever (which is to say bad). I did, though, have a canker sore on the inside of my lip the next day. Of course, canker sores can be caused by approximately a billion triggers, but one of them is celiac disease. (In fact, for about 5 percent of people with celiac disease, it’s the only noticeable symptom. Learning this made me wonder whether it would be worth giving up gluten if canker sores were the only noticeable symptom…until I looked up some Google images of severe cases and answered that question for myself: yes, a thousand times yes.) Anyway, perhaps that canker sore appeared because of my lime, or perhaps I am simply female (another leading cause of canker sores and other woes).

Either way, I worried. And once I’d started down the worry road, I also worried about the glass—what if it wasn’t well cleaned after holding beer? I’ve seen the old bartender rag-swipe cleaning job before. And what about the soda itself—was the tap definitely clean?

That a simple glass of bubbly water with a hint of lime should be the source of such anxiety sort of makes me want to curl up in a little gluten-free ball in the middle of my gluten-free bedroom on my gluten-free floor and never, ever eat anything anywhere else again. Except, just how gluten-free is my bedroom floor? We all know I’ve been known to snack there—have I vacuumed up all the gluten crumbs? Have I vacuumed at all? Does a vacuum even pick up gluten? Must I go somewhere that gluten has never been?


Yes, every day I sympathize just a little bit more with Julianne Moore’s character in Safe. (Have you seen it? What do you think? It was recommended to me by a favorite college professor and it’s worth a watch, though it’s almost as disturbing as the Google image results you get by searching for “canker sores.”)

Since the curling-up-and-hiding option is neither possible nor desirable, I’ll instead conclude, “When life (or the bartender) gives you lemons (or limes)…politely decline.”

After all, that lemon or lime has probably been sitting out for days, and even if it is gluten-free, it’s most likely as flavorless as it is bacteria-ridden. It’s not worth the anxiety. All things considered, I’d rather have the gelato.

What’s your favorite drink garnish (or do you go naked)? Do you accept the lemon or lime at bars? What’s your favorite citrus recipe? Do you get canker sores/have yours gone away on a gluten-free diet?

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