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Eating Safely and Sanely Through the Holidays!

If you think avoiding gluten is difficult in every day life, the holidays up the ante immeasurably.

Can you get away with lifting the shrimp off a cracker? Can you eat the green bean casserole and scrape the French fried onions off the top? Is that flourless chocolate cake really OK?

These worries and more assault those of us who either can't or choose not to consume wheat, barley and rye, the three grains that include illness-causing gluten. For anyone with the auto-immune disease celiac, the answer is simply no. The possibility of becoming sick from something you eat at a party carries too great a risk.

For the gluten intolerant, here are a few options for dining at a holiday party, whether it's an office get-together, a friend's soirée or a family gathering.

Eating before you go is often the best choice. You arrive happy, not hungry, and able to resist any food that contains gluten that might tempt you. You can avoid looking like a party pooper or a perennial dieter by loading your plate with crudités, cheese, shrimp cocktail, nuts and other goodies that line the appetizer table.  Or bring your own snacks and crackers.

You can also ask the caterer if he has prepared any dishes without gluten he believes would be safe to eat. Many caterers accommodate the gluten sensitive in their daily businesses and take the necessary precautions to prevent cross contamination between their dishes.

As for friends, if the affair is a sit-down dinner, ask if you might bring a dish it's possible for you to eat and to share. You might also ask if you can have dibs on a salad or vegetable before it's been dressed or topped with breadcrumbs. Some suggest mentioning your sensitivity to the hostess beforehand, others recommend eating enough in advance that you don't starve and don't have to ask for special favors in order to attend.

And then there's the family dinner -- fraught enough for those who can dine with impunity, utterly nerve wracking for those of us who can't. How do you say no to grandma's rolls, Aunt Thelma's sweet potato casserole, your mother's buche de Noel?

If you're terrified of hurting someone's feelings, fib. Say you had a bite and it was delicious, but you're so stuffed you couldn't possibly have another. If you have a more realistic relationship and have told your hosts you can't eat gluten, look longingly at the dish in question and pass it to your neighbor with a regretful "if only I could."

For the unknowing or the loutish who might insist, take a deep breath, smile and say "I'd hate to get sick at such a lovely party," then ask for seconds of a dish you can eat. No feelings will be hurt and you'll get home safe and sound, ready for the next invitation that comes your way.

To start, try bringing these dishes to a holiday party: bacon wrapped figs,  Asian chicken satay skewers, oatmeal chocolate lace cookies, or grain-free pecan torte!


Pamela Hasterok