Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Today's New York Times includes substantial coverage of gluten-free dining in New York City—but if you're reading this, there's a good chance you already know that, because the main article mentions this very blog (among other blogs for the gluten-free in NYC).

The blog nods from the Times can be found in "For the Gluten-Averse, a Menu That Works" by Jennifer Romolini. Her article focuses largely on the Greenwich Village restaurant Risotteria but also offers an unusually nuanced overview of what it's like to dine gluten-free in the city: potential relationship issues, the communal feeling among patrons at Risotteria, the recent addition of Everybody Eats bread at Bistango, Catherine's "crouton surprise" found at the bottom of a salad, and the growing number of sympathetic restaurants in the Big Apple (although, as Dr. Peter Green notes, "In a city as big as New York, for there to be so few safe restaurants, that’s just really bad").

The coverage [noted this morning on NY1's "In the Papers" media roundup] extends to the gluten-free cooking experimentation of Risotteria's Joseph Pace, then takes a big, important step in sharing a version of Risotteria's breadstick recipe—that's what I call generous!

The Times package also includes "Especially for the Sensitive Diner", a list of city restaurants with gluten-free dishes; most of the eateries participate in the invaluable Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) and appear on the Gluten-Free NYC Dining Map.

After my first reading of the coverage, I do have one quibble: The main article states that gluten "lurks in soy sauce, brewer’s yeast, bourbon, vegetable starch, vinegars, salad dressings, processed cheeses and some spices." Bourbon and vinegars should not have been included on the list. [Clarification: Malt vinegar is widely recognized as being forbidden on a gluten-free diet. However, research so far (including reports from myth debunker Ann Whelan of Gluten-Free Living, which has advisory boards including Dr. Joseph Murray of the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Peter Green as well as dietitians Cynthia Kupper of the Gluten Intolerance Group and Anne Lee) supports the position that vinegars are basically suitable for people on gluten-free diets. I am not aware of any research findings that support the idea that bourbon is unsuitable for a gluten-free diet. There are certainly instances of individuals claiming to have "a reaction" to bourbon and non-malt vinegars as well as other foods...and I do think that individual reports should be taken seriously...but I also think that research findings must be recognized, especially when sharing information through mass media, including newspapers and the Internet. Considering individual reports and years of my own experiences with my understanding of the research, I don't think there is evidence of any gluten in bourbon or, say, white or rice or balsamic vinegar or even spices (as opposed to spice mixes), but I would certainly welcome more research on the subject.]

[And now, after reading the message board of the New York City Celiac Disease Meetup Group, I realize that the article doesn't clearly communicate that there is indeed an active Meetup group in the city. No biggee—I just thought I'd offer the link in case anyone might have an interest.]

DID YOU KNOW? I ate an entire Risotteria cupcake while writing this post!


Erin S. said...

Kudos to you for your shout out in the NYTimes!!

David Stubbs said...


I was diagnosed as coeliac in 1989 and have tried to follow a gluten-free diet since then. I just made the incredible discovery that beer is actually OK for coeliacs. A friend of my mother is married to Dr. Michael Marsh:

I didn't touch beer between September 1989 and May 2007, when my mother mentioned that Dr. Marsh told her that he didn't contraindicate beer for his coeliac patients. I've enjoyed quite a few beers since then and can state that other than the usual effects from overindulgence, I suffered no ill effects.

I feel a little silly, actually, as I've had a few vodkas over the same period and didn't feel any coeliac symptoms from that either. My layman's theory is that at some point in the brewing process the gluten protein is broken down or altered in such a way as not to irritate coeliacs.

Kind regards,


David Marc Fischer said...

Thanks for your comments, Erin and David!

I would not recommend that anyone diagnosed with celiac disease drink ordinary beer. Studies have repeatedly found problematic peptide chains in beer. If Dr. Marsh or anyone else has put contrary findings in writing, I am not aware of them. From another perspective, I would question why Anheuser-Busch would've bothered to create its gluten-free Redbridge beer if it could just say that all of its beers are gluten-free.

Many people with celiac disease use their own "reactions" as their criteria for "knowing" whether they are being gluten-free, but over-reliance on "reactions" is not a good idea. First of all, if you do have a reaction caused by gluten, you've already gone off the diet. Second, it is very common for people to have reactions to gluten that they don't notice. A typical example would be osteoporosis.

Many people with untreated celiac disease wind up with osteoporosis. This condition typically develops without being noticed until a fracture and/or a bone density scan. When someone with celiac disease and osteoporosis is off the gluten-free diet, the condition tends to get worse; when someone with celiac disease is on the diet, the condition can remain stable or even improve or not even develop, depending on the individual case.

In contrast with beer, vodka is widely recognized as suitable for people on a gluten-free diet. Regardless of what vegetable is used as the basis for the vodka, the distillation process separates the vodka spirits from any gluten.

David Marc Fischer said...

Two more points in response to David's comments.

1. There is such a thing as asymptomatic celiac disease--no one has a clue that the patient has it until something such as screening draws attention to the antibodies and the damaged villi.

2. I would encourage anyone with celiac disease who actually wants to risk drinking normal beer to at least do it in coordination with a well-informed physician who would monitor antibodies through the full spectrum of serum tests and maybe even perform a gluten challenge--having the you drink a certain quantity of beer per day leading up to a full spectrum of serum tests for celiac disease.