The Cost of Healthy Living, Gluten-Free

On October 31, 2011, in Uncategorized, by celiacuniverse

The decision to be on a gluten-free diet is not one to be taken lightly.  Not everyone can play tennis like Novak Djokovic (ranked #1 in the World Tennis rankings, but a gluten-free diet has been attributed to his success.  I would imagine that with a career earnings of over $30 million dollars, the cost of gluten-free bread likely wouldn’t phase him, anymore than one of my passing shots.

Compared to the $4 billion dollars spent on regular old sandwich bread, (Baking and Milling News 2010), the gluten-free food industry is seeing unparalleled growth.  $2.6 billion was spent on gluten-free foods in 2010, and estimates of a $6 billion dollar industry by 2015 (Packaged Facts 2011).

In preparation for a recent hospital grand rounds, I visited a few local grocery chains, to price a few basic gluten-free items.  For sandwich bread, a basic “Mrs Baird’s”compared to a loaf of “ENER-G” gluten-free brand differed four-fold (7 vs. 30 cents/ounce). Both products were on sale, but the Mrs. Baird’s was buy-one get-one free.  The difference was even more striking if you wanted to make your own bread.  Compare Gold Medal All Purpose flour at 2.6 cents/ounce compared to 18 cents/ounce for Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour, almost seven times more expensive.  That price differential didn’t include the xanthum gum, which cost $13.49 for 8 ounces.  And what may be surprising to many readers, is that certain products @WholeFoods and similar stores were CHEAPER than the larger national and regional chains evaluated.

When I first began the gluten-free diet, two things were evident, the specialty food was neither tasty, nor cheap.  The relative expense to taste ratio was also too high, and I was on a resident’s budget.  Fortunately, with a growing industry comes increase competition and improved quality (translation=taste).

So how does one on a budget, keep expenses to a minimum while still keeping the gluten-free diet convenient and tasty?

1) Balance cost and time.  While driving to three stores in a city might provide you the maximal combination of favorites, it is somewhat impractical.  It is important to know which stores offer products you like, while at the same time developing a rapport with the stores.

2) Be a smart shopper.  Clip coupons. Stock-up when your favorites items are on sale, and try new items when they are on sale.

3) Buy as many products that are naturally gluten-free and/or available universally.  Try local produce, or sample farmer’s markets.

Keeping these tips in mind will improve the everyday gluten-free shopper’s experience, and make specialty diets easier on the pocketbook (even if you are the #1 tennis player in the world).


White House Halloween needs some new tricks

On October 30, 2011, in In The Media, by celiacuniverse

Despite nudging from Jay Leno and compromise with the President, I was disappointed to see M&M candies and frosted cookies given out at the White House for Halloween.   And while the BMI (body mass index) of Houston children is likely greater than our military children, the “Let’s Move” program needs a little help.  Maybe it needs its own rider to allow for “falling of the wagon of healthy eating” when it comes time for special holidays.  From October to February, the holidays with the tastiest treats are luring us all away from our dietary programs.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day and a few other joyous occasions add up to only a few thousand calories PER HOLIDAY.  We all need balance in our life, but also compromise.  Shouldn’t the compromise be on the side of health, finding healthy alternatives, or portion size allocations for these special holidays.

I’m sure the White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. has some healthy and tasty treats in his repertoire.  Even in Bravo’s Top Chef Season 7 in Washington DC, the contestants were challenged to cook a 4 course meal using healthy AND TASTY items for a school lunch (Sam Kass Assistant White House Chef, was EVEN one of the judges).

It is time for a referendum on healthier eating for the holidays.  Maybe more tricks and less treats at this holiday, and more thanks and giving in November.


Gluten-Fest to Gluten-Free

On October 25, 2011, in Uncategorized, by celiacuniverse

October/November 2002 (St. Louis)

I took that next weekend, to participate in what I currently refer to as a “Gluten-Fest” including a trip to The Cheescake Factory, and a few of my other favorites gluten-filled hangouts.

Monday morning, I called the office to schedule my procedure.  Because tTG can be falsely positive, and some of my other symptoms, I had requested both an upper and lower endoscopy.   For those of you who have never had an endoscopy (If you are age 50+ or have a family history please go to, the upper is the easy part.  The lower (colonoscopy) is the reason that those of you are supposed to have already had one- Have Not.  And so for all of those patients that think we GI docs are miserable because they torture their patients with the “prep”, I can safely say, I took mine.  Fortunately, there are now some better preps for patients, but my Fleet Phosphosoda prep made me feel terrible. And yes, I do remember that experience every time I order a “prep” for a patient awaiting a colonoscpy.  How could you not remember?  But, it was probably healthier than the gluten I had probably been eating for years?

The night before the procedure, NPO (nothing by mouth), and I was the first case of the morning.  I remember changing into the typical hospital gown, entering the procedure room, and requested they send a particular stain on the upper (EGD) biopsies.  Then, I remember fading off under monitored anesthesia.  I have some vague memories of the rest of the day: my mom drove me home and we stopped off at the local election booth.  Yes, I voted, but I couldn’t tell you who or what I voted for.  Although, I am sure I used some thoughtful semi-sedated thought process. I went to stay at my parent’s house, slept on the couch for a good four hours and woke several hours after dinner.  Went to sleep that night, and went to work the next day, feeling very refreshed.

I went to see the pediatric dietician to load up on gluten-free samples.  Then, to the grocery to take my first stroll down the gluten-free aisles at Dierberg’s(@Dierbergs), and the brand new Whole Foods Market in Brentwood (@wfmgalleria).  I still have a tendency to check out a few grocery stores in the same day to my wife’s dismay……

It was a long week, and the conclusion to an interesting few months.  Friday morning, I called the pathologist, to see if they would review my slides with me.

A quick aside.  A few years before, I was taking a review course in Chicago. At one of the breaks, a small group of us were chatting and talking about medicine, St. Louis, and Jewish geography (the equivalent of the Kevin Bacon game if you are Jewish).One of the guys in the group,  proceeded to ask me the most unusual question I have ever been asked directly.

“Do you know Doug Fishman?”  I turned to my friend in the group, smiled, and responded, “I am Doug Fishman, who are you?”  This was a son of my parent’s friends, but we never made acquaintance until that day. Fast forward back to 2002.

I walked over to meet with the poor pathology resident, one of my own peeps. I can claim some ignorance as a resident, so I didn’t feel bad that I was about to look at my own biopsy.   And reflecting back on my Jewish geography experience, the following wasn’t so strange. The resident asked, “Can you tell me a little about this patient, I have to present at a conference next week.”  How about, 27 year-old pediatric resident with a tTG of 238?

So we looked at the biopsy, identified the blunted villi, intraepithelial lymphocytes, abnormal crypt to villous ratio (all classic findings of celiac disease) and I left with a new identity:  Pediatrician with Celiac Disease,

So like a Jedi, I would embrace my new skill, and begin mastery of the Gluten Free-Celiac Universe.



On October 24, 2011, in Uncategorized, by celiacuniverse

Sept 16, 2002

Breaking of the fast, for Yom Kippur. An annual ritual in the Jewish religion, in which after fasting from the previous night, family gathers to “nosh”.  For me, it was always a question of how many bagels and how much spinach casserole (just a little flour) I could eat. Unfortunately several hours later, I’ve never had to run to the bathroom so quick in my whole life. Was it something I ate? Did anyone else get sick? No. But, I felt otherwise well, and by the next day, pretty much back to normal.

Sept 27, 2002

Shan et al. from Stanford provide the evidence that tTG is the auto-antigen in celiac disease in the prestigious journal Science

Mid-October, 2002

On most call nights I would have a late night snack, which consisted of a few “Uncrustables”, a Smucker’s version of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or an order of chicken strips with dipping sauces.  Sometimes both! Not exactly part of the food pyramid ( we preach as pediatricians, but it gave me enough juice (juice also not particularly good for you)to keep going.  Check out this link from the NY Dept of Health

However, after an evening of call, I remember rounding in the morning, having not felt like dinner, but felt like a new person.  I noticed a general loss of appetite for a few days, but again felt quite good.  I was calculating calories every day for patients, estimating how much weight a baby or child should gain, but I knew I wasn’t eating more than 1500 calories a day (unless it was a call night).  I also recall a day where my shoulder hurt (arthalgia) to the point that it was difficult to put on my seatbelt.  As a former-medical student, turned doctor, I tried to give myself a unifying diagnosis, unfortunately the two options in my mind were Crohn’s disease (, and celiac disease (

I knew how to test for both, but I needed a middle-man, one of my future peers, an adult gastroenterologist to complete my evaluation.  I had seen a GI doc during winter vacation in college for abdominal pain, and given an anti-spasmodic with a presumptive diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.  I had an upper GI and small bowel follow through (UGI-SBFT) with barium, that did not demonstrate any evidence of Crohn’s disease.  Interestingly, it did suggest stomach inflammation.  (To this day I have never seen an otherwise healthy patient with that description type on an UGI-SBFT).

Now, at what point in my career should I have figured out that eating cereal without milk, or eating pizza without all of the cheese to eliminate lactose wasn’t exactly my problem. 

 I went back to a different GI doctor, to help figure me out what was going on. But, I had my own agenda, a CBC (complete blood count) and a tTG (tissue transglutaminase for celiac disease).

We went through my history and proceeded to get reassurance that I indeed had Irritable Bowel.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you have to be kidding me. No freaking way, I was leaving with that diagnosis, and I proceeded with the following dialogue.  Fortunately, this doctor was Danish, and Scandinavians have the throne for celiac awareness in my eyes.

What I remember saying: “I am playing the best golf of my life (with a recent round at the Orchards, still career best of 93) and I just accepted a fellowship at Harvard in GI.  I understand that these symptoms are vague, but this is not IBS. I would like to have a CBC and tTG and perhaps we can go from there.” I am not sure what he thought about that, but I had been preparing for a career in this field, and it just felt different.

48 hours later, I called the lab (pre-HIPAA), 4 pm on a Friday afternoon and got the 411.  Actually it was 238, my tTG was a whopping 238. (Normal in this lab was less than twenty).  I remember pacing in my apartment a few minutes.

I don’t remember at what point I decided that I would invoke my first professional courtesy call to my future GI colleague.  I left a message with his answering service, and he called me back.  As I would with one of my attending physicians, I reported my TTG, and normal CBC, and proceeded to ask, “What day next week can you do my endoscopy?” We needed to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease. Was I really, 27, a new celiac disease patient? Was that even possible? Of course it was.  It was 2002, and celiac disease although around for centuries was just warming up. This week of my life I remember as it was yesterday.