Chicken soup feels good when anyone in my house has a cold. It’s an easy way to eat organic vegetables and spices that are gaining ground for documented health benefits. If your kids eat around the vegetables, just sipping the broth can be palliative or maybe even curative for a cold. Here’s a version you can assemble in about twenty minutes, when you don’t have time to brew your own stock from a whole chicken. I choose organic ingredients, including the spices and the canned chick peas. I add fresh saffron threads, which lend strong antioxidant properties, minerals, cytotoxic power (it may kill cancer cells), and a burst of color and flavor. There are also ample turmeric and cumin, known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. I’ve kept it grain free with chick peas, though some may like to add whole grain brown rice for more heft.
Go the extra mile to obtain high quality saffron threads instead of using powdered saffron, which is often adulterated with lesser ingredients. The intense flavor from just a few threads will surprise you, and will transform any recipe you’re using them in. If you can’t find them, you can order some from Savory Spice Shop.
Healing Chicken Soup With Saffron
3 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger (~ 1 inch of fresh root), peeled and minced
3 carrots, chopped into small coins
1 and ½ cups thin sliced cabbage
5-8 strands saffron
1/2 to 1 TBSP cumin (to your taste)
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups organic chicken broth (some as vegetable broth is ok) such as Pacific or Imagine brands
1 can organic chick peas
2 TBSP chopped cilantro
Deep orange threads in this crocus are saffron
Use 5-8 strands of saffron, that’s ample for this recipe
Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil on medium heat. Don’t brown these, just cook til getting soft/clear. Once hot, add the saffron, turmeric, and cumin. Stir well. Add the carrots, continue cooking for a few minutes, without browning/burning. Stir in the cabbage and coat well with spices. Add the broth. Cook til carrots and cabbage are tender. Add black pepper and chick peas. Stir in cilantro, heat for a minute and serve. You can even drop some vitamin D drops on the surface when you serve up a bowl – like Carlson brand drops that come in 400 IU, 1000 IU, or 2000 IU concentrations – to give this soup an extra immune boosting kick. Note! Don’t harvest saffron from your own crocuses come January or February, unless you know what you’re doing and are certain these aren’t poisonous. Check out a reliable source like Savory Spice Shop or your local farmer’s market.
Holiday season can be stressful, but everything is harder when a child’s diagnosis or condition means s/he isn’t able to manage changes in routines. Travel, packing, preparing meals, mingling with family and guests, sitting at a big family table with cousins, grandparents… loads of fun for no-issue kids, but anguish for others. Celebratory gatherings is one reason why restricted diets get deferred entirely. When you can’t participate in holiday or family food traditions – at a time when some respite and joviality is most needed – it is more isolating! But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The good news: Not as isolating as it used to be, just a few years ago. In fact, it need not feel isolating at all, once you get the game down. It’s easier than ever to navigate this time of year, for kids with diet restrictions or special supplements protocols. There are more allergen-free foods available than ever before. Support on the web is just about infinite now, for allergy-free cooking and baking. There are even gluten free holiday cookie exchanges popping up. Your family can relax about the food part, and focus on the joy. After many years of doing this for my own family and for my patient families, I’ve come up with “best practices” for this time of year on special diets – here you go:
– This may be the most important thing you do for reducing stress: Forgive your in-laws, ahead of time. Or siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins – whoever is passing judgment on you for working with a special diet for your child, or blaming you for “ruining” the holiday gathering with special food needs. Let it go. Don’t need your relatives to understand; in fact, expect them not to. Don’t try to enlighten them. If you have supportive and understanding family, lucky you! If you don’t, simply release this argument, and it will lift a big burden. Most likely, their concerns are well-intended. Remember that part and let go of the part that (understandably) makes you mad.
– Nothing eases tensions more than kindness. Bake or buy extra gluten free pies; bring a gluten free pie crust (available ready made at many supermarkets now) so it can be filled grandma’s with signature filling and enjoyed by all. Offer to bring alternate main dishes that meet the special diet needs of your family members. Or bring an extra special gift for the host family, with a note acknowledging their efforts.
– Whatever your child can eat, bring enough for many to enjoy. No need to mention that these are allergen-free versions of holiday favorites. Just bring and share.
– Often people simply don’t know how to help, what to say, or what to do. If you’re hosting, give instructions so guests can make it easier for you. They may be relieved – people mostly want to help and be appreciated. If foods appear that your kids can’t eat, instruct your kids as you would anyway about which items are safe for them to eat.
– Ship key items ahead to your destination, if local stores don’t see what you need. Gluten free bread can be shipped direct by Udi’s Gluten Free, Canyon Bakehouse, Rudi’s Bakery, Gluten Free Mall, Thrive Market, and many others. Each of these bakeries offers an assortment of gluten free baked goods too, from muffins and pizza rounds to hamburger buns. I sometimes ship ahead a box filled with gluten free pasta, cookies, baking or pancake mixes, and even the raw goat milk cheddar we use instead of cow’s milk cheeses.
– What about supplements – should you carry them with you? Is it okay to miss them for a few days? Supplements can be as important as prescription medications to your child’s mood, well being, sleep ability, or energy. But too many can be unwieldy at the airport. I often work with families to trim supplement protocols down in general, and especially for travel. You can also easily ship items ahead. Emerson Ecologics bundles brands and products from hundreds of suppliers. If you’d like help setting up your own account for easy ordering and shipping, contact me for more info.
– For food allergy, in addition to bringing your usual medications (Benadryl, EpiPen), consider naturopathic helps too, like activated charcoal, nettles herb, or homeopathic Apis, Urtica urens, or Rhus tox. These can help stop dangerous exposures to allergens in their tracks. Charcoal can be taken orally as well, to bind anything just eaten. Either swallow 1-2 capsules, or open capsule and mix in a 2-4 ounces of water, and swallow (though it looks messy, charcoal doesn’t taste like much, so this is easy to do). You can also pull charcoal mixed with water up into an oral syringe and squirt it in your child’s mouth. It will bind whatever was just eaten to help minimize effects – including medications, supplements, or other foods. It won’t stop anaphylaxis, so have your usual medications at the ready.
– If your child is not anaphylactic, but avoids foods due to intolerance, don’t sweat the small slips. Have chewable enzymes, chewable probiotics, homeopathics or medications on hand to help your child safely digest and excrete foods they typically avoid.
– Plan ahead for rare treats that give your child full inclusion. If your sister’s homemade egg nog is to die for – but full of forbidden ice cream, milk and eggs – let your child enjoy a cup with cousins, if you know this can be safe, with planned use of appropriate enzymes and probiotics. This won’t work for anaphylactic children, but for those with intolerances, a transgression or two may be manageable. I choose from a variety of digestive enzymes and probiotics in my practice to accomplish this – choose one that breaks down casein, with an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase IV.
For recipes, check out Gluten Free Baking, Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, or Gluten Free Italian Cooking – a few of my go-to books for baking and cooking at holiday time. Paleo recipes are always free of allergens like gluten, dairy, or soy, so be sure to peruse this list too. My own book Special Needs Kids Eat Right includes an egg nog recipe for those avoiding dairy and soy. And be sure to peruse my own recipe blog for more ideas. Here’s to a happy and minimal stress holiday season!
Gluten-free is a big part of my pediatric nutrition practice. It has also been my life since 1998, when we pulled gluten out of my son’s diet. He was 22 months old. Within two days, he had the first formed stool of his life. No more gold slimy lumpy stuff to burn his skin. Bloating, gone. Allergic shiners, gone. Anxiety, crying, sleep – all began to improve dramatically.
This was a big eye opener for me, after a very difficult start for my son. I’d been a nutrition professional for a decade, and had two degrees in nutrition; I was a registered dietitian who had worked in research, grant writing, and patient care. But I never knew gluten could wreak so much havoc without a celiac diagnosis. None of our pediatricians suggested this path; in fact, they opposed it. But this was a huge help to my son, who is still gluten free at age 20 today.
What our doctors didn’t realize is that you can have gluten sensitivity – an immune response to gluten – without celiac disease. Celiac disease is an end-stage symptom of gluten sensitivity. It can leave an intestinal wall atrophied and unable to function; it may trigger chronic diarrhea, unintended weight loss, meager growth, anemia, or skin changes (dermatitis herpetiformis).
Gluten sensitivity can precede a full blown celiac diagnosis by many years. It can wreak havoc on the brain and epithelial tissues (GI tract, mouth, tongue, lungs), and can increase your risk for certain cancers and neurological conditions. Gluten sensitivity is also implicated in many autoimmune conditions besides celiac disease, from diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis to muscular dystrophy.
Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune reaction to your own gut, is just one of many symptoms of gluten sensitivity, albeit an end-stage one. What is rapidly emerging in medical practice and academic press is that eating gluten can trigger autoimmune reactions in tissues besides the gut, such as your thyroid gland or your brain.
This isn’t a fad, or fiction. It’s fact. But the grey area is individual variation.
Whether or not someone will benefit from a gluten free diet takes thoughtful assessment with a knowledgeable practitioner. Ultimately, only actually trying a gluten free diet will answer this question for you – but, see below – it has to be uber strict, and long enough for the body to drop circulating levels of antibodies to gluten. Only then will those antibodies no longer be able to attack any of your own tissue in an autoimmune, cross-reactive fashion – and this can take four to six months at least. “I tried it for a month and it didn’t work” doesn’t mean much, unless you do actually have celiac disease. In that case, most people feel better pretty quickly, as soon as a three or four days going gluten free.
So, does your child or teen need a gluten free diet? Or is it just a fad? You can ask your pediatrician, but he may not be much more informed than mine were. Many docs still regard gluten sensitivity as benign, and don’t even check for it; others only advise avoiding gluten once it creates the full meltdown of celiac disease, confirmed with biopsy.
Luckily, you can find out exactly what is up for your child. Several resources are available now to look for gluten sensitivity. If your pediatrician isn’t helpful with tests below, you can work with DirectLabs.com to sort it out, or contact me for an appointment. I provide screening for gluten sensitivity, celiac serology, or gluten allergy if other resources in your insurance network can’t or don’t. And, I guide families on how to transition off gluten, what to eat, how to cook and bake gluten free, and more.
Gluten Reactions: Lab Test Basics
Wheat Allergy Test: This test checks for immunoglobulin E (IgE) reaction to wheat. A pediatrician, family practice doc, allergist, or GI MD is the usual in-network resources to order this blood test for your child. This can also be checked with a skin prick test, to see if a hive or wheal develops. It checks for a classic allergy reaction, which will usually create symptoms like hives, vomiting, headaches, stomach pain, constipation/diarrhea, eczema. Wheat allergy can be negative while gluten sensitivity is positive; the two don’t always happen together, so both should be ruled out.
Gluten Sensitivity Test: This test checks for a sensitivity or delayed reaction to wheat or gluten, mediated by immunoglobulin G. It can also check IgG to gliadin, which is part of gluten. If you need to reach beyond your pediatrician, allergist, or GI doc for this blood test, check with labs like Cyrex, Alletess, Great Plains Lab, or Genova Diagnostics. Common symptoms with sensitivity to a food protein include irritable stools, reflux, bloating, headache, mood changes or anxiety, fatigue, allergic shiners at eyes, mild eczema that comes and goes, difficulty with schoolwork or attention, and sensory irritability.
Gluten Sensitivity Test, Again: EnteroLab and Genova Diagnostics use a stool or saliva sample to check for other gluten-reactive immunoglobulins called IgA and IgM. No blood draw needed, but false negatives may be more common with this test, especially for people with chronic illness or weak overall nutrition status.
Genetic Testing: This checks your genetic odds for being gluten sensitive or acquiring celiac disease, but doesn’t measure reactions to gluten. This is often done as part of a celiac diagnostic process, because it’s unlikely you will develop celiac disease without the gene haplotype that helps make it happen. Click here to learn about HLA-DQA1 gene and here for HLA-DQB1 gene.
Tissue transglutaminase (TTG), Reticulin, and Endomysial Antibody Tests: These tests look for antibodies to your own gut tissue and enzymes. If positive, celiac disease is highly suspect. A gut biopsy may follow, to see if your gut wall is actually already damaged by the chronic autoimmune inflammation caused by these antibody reactions. In this case you are literally attacking yourself. These do not gauge reactions to gluten itself. The gluten sensitivity tests mentioned above can be positive, while these autoimmune reactions are negative, a scenario I’ve seen hundreds of times in my pediatric nutrition practice. Ding! You don’t have celiac disease (yet). You do have gluten sensitivity, and may benefit from a gluten free diet.
Elimination Diet: This means total avoidance of gluten for a while, to gauge improvement. Persons with celiac disease usually improve quickly when they first withdraw gluten, within a week or two or even faster. Persons with gluten intolerance may not notice dramatic shifts until a few weeks later. And, if there are other food proteins that bother your immune system, you may not notice any improvement on a gluten free diet at all. This could mean you’re not reactive to gluten, or, it could mean you react to gluten and some other foods you didn’t withdraw. Not sure? Do some blood work to sort it out. Especially for kids, elimination diets are cumbersome and time consuming. If your child is struggling, it’s expedient to do the lab testing. Talk to someone knowledgeable about gluten sensitivity who can review lab findings in the context of signs and symptoms, for a final decision on what to do.
Fad? Nope. We are in the midst of a scientific discovery process that many people may not tolerate gluten. And we haven’t even touched on the controversy around how the wheat we grow and eat today has changed dramatically in the last sixty years, possibly contributing to the problem, as has the heavy use of pesticides on it like glyphosate. Many conditions may have an inflammatory component that includes gluten sensitivity. Such as…
ADD or ADHD, autism, non-verbal learning disability, Asperger’s syndrome
Type 1 diabetes
Anxiety, depression, mood swings
Reflux, picky weak appetite, slow growth or gain
Sensory challenges, verbal or motor dyspraxia
Anemia, iron depletion, frequent infections
Chronic irritable stools, constipation, loose stools
Chronic headaches or migraines
In those scenarios, I regard gluten guilty until proven innocent. The fiction part? It’s definitely fiction that symptoms hobbling your child’s learning, growth, or behavior don’t matter. They do matter, and you can easily find out if gluten is part of the story. If it’s working against your child, a gluten free diet will be worth it. It’s so much easier than it was in 1998!