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Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Let Down My Guard

Good morning:

It is a rainy Sunday in Nashville and what better time than to share a story and a link with you.

I was at my Mom's on Friday and was starving.  I went to her pantry and she had some honey-roasted peanuts (but only like 4 in the jar - why she didn't finish them or throw away I do not know).  I read the label, all was good, but hey, 4 peanuts did not curb the hunger.  So she had a new jar of Dry Roasted peanuts - I did not read the label - so stupid on my part.  I was really starving. 

So I popped a few in my mouth and within seconds I felt my blood pressure dropping and my tongue started minor swelling.  I ran and looked at the jar and at the bottom of the ingredients list "Gelatin".  Why on earth would Gelation be in peanuts?  So I ran to my car and grabbed a Zyrtec, 2 steroids and my Epi-Pen.  I took the Zyrtec and the steroids and sat with the Epi-Pen ready to go.  It was scary! I have been so good and so Diligent in my efforts to not have another attack.

Well I probably pushed it but I did not want to go to the hospital - it took over an hour for things to start settling down and I walked around with the Epi-Pen in my pocket all day just in case.  If the gelatin had been closer to the top of the ingredients list there is no doubt I would have been in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

So lesson learned - never stop reading labels and paying attention to what you are eating!

Also I was featured in a story about "Alpha Gal" on the "Today" show over the weekend.  Here is the link

Stay Safe and Eat Well!

Have a great Sunday - September

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Grocery Store Maze

Good afternoon:

It is amazing to me what brings people together.  I have in recent weeks talked to so many new and interesting people who - unfortunately - have been diagnosed with Alpha-Gal.

The two questions I am asked are "Where do I start?" and "How do I determine what I can eat?"

The first place I tell people to start is in you refrigerator and pantry.  Read every label thoroughly.  If you cannot decipher if the product is safe for you - call the company's 1-800 number and ask.

If they cannot give you a definite answer - then give the food items away or toss them.  It is not worth the risk.  For example, shortly after being diagnosed I went through everything including my vitamins.  I discovered that Centrum Multivitamins contain pork and my calcium supplement contained beef.  Yikes!  I even found an all natural cereal that contained Gelatin.  I have a list below of some safe foods that work for cooking, baking, etc. 

My sensitivity to dairy and  mammal meat is very high.  One day I was grocery shopping and had been buying the Lundberg Rice Cakes - well the Quaker brand was right next to them and they were $2 cheaper and I read the label and it looked clean.  After eating one I had to take everything in my arsenal (Zyrtec, Cingular, Benadryl and Pepcid) to keep from having to give myself an Epi-Pen.  I just did not want to go to the hospital for a third time.

I called Quaker and they said the plain rice cakes were made in the same facility as their cheese rice cakes (the label mentioned nothing about the product being manufactured in the same facility where dairy was present) - but their cleaning requirements for the equipment were very stringent and no contamination should exist.  They were wrong - there is always a chance for human error and apparently it happened in my case.  So guess what?  I do not buy the Quaker product any longer.

I use to be a speed shopper at the grocery.  The first couple of times I went after being diagnosed with Alpha-Gal I spend over 2 hours in the store reading labels and determining what was safe.  My doctor warned me just because it is safe now - does not mean they might not change manufacturing and next month it could be manufactured in a facility that  processes dairy items.  So it is always about being diligent - when it comes to your health and more importantly - your life - it is worth every minute.

The Safe List (they are many more but I will add some every time so as not to overwhelm):
(I have tried other products and have tossed them because they did not work or did not taste good - I am hoping this will save you some time and money)

  • Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (replaces butter perfectly in recipes - plus it contains Flax oil and olive oil which are super healthy for you)
  • Rice Milk (use it to replace cows milk in anything you bake, cook ,etc.  No taste  - so it works great - I even use it in my mashed potatoes)
  • Almond Milk - I use this in smoothies - it does impart flavor so not good to cook with unless you are making something with almond/nut flavoring
  • Coconut milk - I use this in my Carrot cake pancakes (I will share this recipe in the next blog)
  • "So Delicious" Coconut Yogurt and Ice Creams - Excellent!
  • Ezekiel Breads - they make sandwich bread, English Muffins, Hamburger Buns (contains no dairy)
  • Stacy's Pita Chips
  • Kettle Brand Chips
  • Garden of Eatin Tortilla Chips
  • Trader Joes Turkey Bacon (I had a bad reaction to Butterball's brand)
  • Trader Joes Chicken Sausage - no pork Casing (read the labels though because they do have a chicken sausage that has pork casing) (great replacement for Italian Sausage)
  • Kikkoman Panko Bread Crumbs (regular bread crumbs contain dairy)
  • Dark Chocolate Dream - a rich, creamy chocolate bar that contains no dairy - (my splurge :)
  • Enjoy Life Chocolate chips - a dairy free chocolate chip for baking and melting
  • All plain canned (except Pork n Beans) and dried beans, tomatoes, canned and frozen plain vegetables (no sauces), plain pastas, plain rice, couscous, quinoa, basic condiments (no salad dressings), pickles, canned tuna.
  • Paul Newman's Marinara Sauce
  • Plus more to come.
Please let me know if you have specific questions about recipes, food items, etc.  I will be happy to help in any way I can.

Stay safe and Eat Well!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

EATING OUT with ALPHA-GAL - Navigating Menus

I have always considered myself a pretty healthy eater - even when dining out.  I peruse the menu for items that are different but without all the heavy sauces and cream.  So I don't feel like I am missing out there.

The biggest problem is knowing how the dishes are prepared.  As a previous restaurant owner and chef - I am at an advantage when it comes to deciding which items would be safest to eat with the Alpha-Gal allergy.

Living in Tennessee there is a "Meat and 3" type restaurant on almost every corner (if you are not familiar with this term - it means you get a meat of your choice along with 3 vegetable sides).  The meat is usually not chicken and the vegetables are cooked with some kind of pork fat, etc.  So - these restaurants are out.

But Nashville is finally coming into its own.  We have many local, eclectic style restaurants now to choose from.  That being said - here are some rules for eating out and being safe with Alpha-Gal:

  1. Call the restaurant personally and ask to speak with the General Manager or Chef.
  2. Explain in detail what the allergy entails. 
  3. Then, after explaining the situation, I let them off the hook and tell them if they do not feel comfortable cooking for me it is perfectly okay and we will find another place.
  4. When you make a reservation they will then have your information and your server should be aware.  But always double check and go over the "rules" again with them.
Here is how my conversation usually goes:
  "Hi - my name is September Norman.  We would love to come eat at your restaurant but I have a very unusual allergy and hopefully you can accommodate us."  Then I proceed to explain that I cannot have any mammals meat or their milks - only chicken and fish and these items cannot be anywhere near where meat has been - especially on a grill.  I then proceed to tell them my chicken or fish can be sautéed in a clean pan with olive oil - no butter - and the same with any sauces.

So far, everywhere restaurant we have been to has taken very good care of me.  The best was Eastland Café in East Nashville.  The chef made me a wonderful fish dish with risotto without cheese and cooked in a vegetable stock - a basil pesto without cheese and sautéed sweet peppers.  It was outstanding.  Thank you Chef Paul.

The one thing you should do is find 2-3 restaurants that you get to know and vice-versa and then you will always feel comfortable going out.

Where should you not go:  Fast-food chains; Mexican restaurants (chips are fried in same oil as beef chimichangas, plus cheese is always around; casual dining chains (the one exception here is Carraba's - I have had success with our local store -as they managers are always there and are very attuned to allergens).

Stay safe and eat well.

Please let me know if you have any other tips or any experiences you have had eating out.  Next post:  safe and unsafe foods at the grocery store.  How I learned the hard way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

TV Interview with Channel 4 (WSMV) Nashville

I am so glad the word is getting out about the Alpha-Gal allergy.  There is a lot of interest in prevention as well as the diet I have to follow.  Watch the clip for more information.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Where's the Beef

Okay - I know it's silly - but "Where's the Beef" has been voted one of the best advertising campaigns of all time so I had to use it.  But with the "Shrimp Burger" recipe I am sharing with you today - you will not be asking that question.  These 'burgers" are juicy, flavorful, and best of all - low in fat and calories.  I decided on this recipe today because Mardi Gras is Tuesday and I am missing New Orleans where I lived for 15 years.  This reminds me of that great city and its food. Plus I guess I am longing for warmer weather and grilling out!   Hope you enjoy!  Please let me know how they turned out for you.

The reason I have listed specific products is  they are the only few on the market  I am allowed to eat based on my "Alpha Gal" allergy.  As I stated in my first post you can use the products you normally would use - but if you are looking to lose the weight - then following my diet specifically will make it happen. 

September's Shrimp Burgers
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3-6 slices jarred jalapenos, minced (depending on the spice level you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/4 cup each finely diced red, yellow, and green bell peppers
  • 1-1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh basil and thyme
  • 2/3 to 1 cup Kikkoman Panko Bread Crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Dash of Tabasco
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 Ezekiel Hamburger Buns
Serve with Easy Remoulade Sauce (below), lettuce, and sliced tomatoes.
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  When hot, onion, garlic and jalapenos.  Saute for 2 minutes.  Add the celery and bell peppers and continue to sauté for 5 minutes.  Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, place shrimp in bowl of food processor.  Pulse until shrimp are ground but still in small chunks (about the size of green peas).  Transfer shrimp to mixing bowl with cooled vegetables and add the Creole mustard, Worcestershire, parsley, basil and thyme.  Gently but thoroughly mix well.  Start off with 2/3 cup of the Panko bread crumbs, add egg, Tabasco, pepper and salt.  Using your hands or large spoon mix well.  Mixture should be moist, but also firm enough to form into patties.  If not, add more of the Panko until you can form the mixture into patties that holds together and will go on the grill without falling apart.
Line baking sheet or other large platter with parchment paper.  Form mixture into eight - 3/4 inch thick burgers, placing on parchment.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
Preheat grill.  Grill shrimp burgers over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through.  Serve on toasted buns with Remoulade sauce, lettuce and tomato as desired.
Extra "burgers" can be frozen for quick dinner.  Wrap in plastic wrap individually to keep them from sticking together.  Thaw overnight in refrigerator.
Easy Remoulade Sauce
  • 1 cup Hellman's Olive Oil Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 3 tablespoons catsup
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Combine all in bowl of food processor and blend until smooth.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'm an Alpha Gal now!

I promise all my posts will not be this long - but wanted to give you the background of the story - hopefully it will save someone's life!

Who knew?  Because of a small tick bite I received 6 months ago I was  diagnosed with a new, life-threatening allergy called "Alpha-Gal".  I want to share my story and make people aware of this rare but growing allergy due to our increasing deer population, which spread the ticks. Alpha-Gal has only been discovered in the last few years and more people are being diagnosed as doctors learn more.  My allergist told me last week that he has been diagnosing about 1 person per week.

Here's my story:  My husband and I were in Falls Creek Falls, TN on a weekend trip at the end of July; we grilled steaks at our cabin for dinner, sat outside and watched the sun set.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Around midnight I woke up itching, tossed and turned for a while, and never could get back to sleep.  Then at 2:30 a.m. my hands felt like they were on fire and itching like I had never experienced before.  My first thought was something bit me and I was reacting.  I got up and drank 2 bottles of water to try to flush whatever it was out of my system.  I sat down and within seconds I became very light headed and dizzy, my lips and tongue started to swell.  I told my husband that something was very wrong.  He got out of bed and turned on the lights and from the look on his face I knew I was in trouble. (My husband, Kirk, told me later that my face was swollen like a giant red balloon and my lips look like bright red, painted clown lips -ugh- glad no one took any pictures).
We were in the mountains in Falls Creek and the cell service is very limited in the area and we had none at the cabin.  We got in the car and had to drive about 5 miles to get phone service.  My husband called 911 because we did not know where the nearest hospital was or where to go for help.  During this time I preceded to get worse – my whole body turned bright red and was covered with hives.  We were both very scared.  911 told us not to move – they were sending help to us.  The first responders were 2 volunteers from the Spencer, TN Fire Department.  They took one look at me and immediately gave me epinephrine (EpiPen).  The ambulance arrived within 5 minutes and they quickly put an IV in my arm and pumped me full of Benadryl and Steroids. I was told I was having an anaphylactic attack – such as those who are allergic to peanuts, etc.
The ambulance took me to a hospital in the small town of Sparta, TN.  The doctor and nurses were fabulous – and explained this reaction was most likely environmental, meaning I was bit by an insect or it could even be from the detergent the sheets were washed in… seemed plausible.  I was released with prescriptions for more steroids and an EpiPen.

After returning home to Nashville I did not improve – I was still having minor reactions and 3 days later, after eating pork, I had a friend try to drive me to the ER at Vanderbilt - but while on the phone with the doctor he said I needed to administer the EpiPen immediately based on my reaction.  My friend pulled over to the side of the road and she reached across the console of her car and zapped me in the leg with my EpiPen (she had a heck of a jab - I could not walk for a week - but thank goodness for her).  We called 911 and they met us with an ambulance because we were afraid the epinephrine would wear off (it only lasts about 30 minutes) before we made it to the hospital.  I found myself once again on my way to the ER via ambulance, this time to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville.  I was seen by an allergist and I mentioned I received a tick bite in June while working in my yard (this was 6 weeks earlier) – which at the time I did not think was relevant – but I was trying to give the doctor as much information as I could so we could figure this out.  He guessed it immediately – even before the blood work was back.

I had Alpha-Gal – which is short for Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose. It causes a delayed allergic reaction to mammal’s meat and is affecting a growing number of people. This allergy is initially caused by a tick bite, not just any tick, but the “Lone Star” tick, whose numbers are increasing throughout the Southeast and up the East coast.  It is the only allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction that is delayed by 4 to 8 hours after eating one of the triggers, which for me was steak and cheese.  So I am now allergic to all mammalian meats and their milks, so no more lattes or juicy burgers for me.

Because the reaction is delayed by several hours, the proper diagnosis is often missed or misdiagnosed, which happened to me on my first trip to the ER.  With the affliction to the Alpha-Gal allergy I have to be constantly vigilant about the foods I consume and avoid all triggers 100% of the time because eating the wrong food could kill me.  Alpha-Gal can strike several weeks, as in my case, after the tick bite. 

So what does life look like after being diagnosed with this new allergy?  As long as I stay away from the beef, pork, lamb, etc. and dairy products I will be fine – eating out, which is one of our favorite things to do, has been a  challenge.  Cross contamination is a problem, my food cannot be grilled on the same grill as beef or pork or I will react.  So what can I eat…anything that flies, swims, or comes out of the ground.  I will surely get some strange looks when I say I am a vegan who eats fish and chicken.  Will this go away?  The doctor said the meat allergy will not – but there is a possibility I could try dairy again. If you should get a tick bite and the location itches badly, even weeks after the bite, this is an indication you could have the antibody which causes Alpha-Gal.  Testing for this allergy involves a simple blood test and could save your life.  

Along the way I have lost 15 pounds and I am leaner than I have ever been.  For the rest of the posts I will be leading you on a journey of food as seen through the eyes of my new allergy.  You don't have to have Alpha-Gal to eat like me.  Follow me and you too can get lean and healthier than ever.