Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gluten Free in Sweden: The Saga begins

Today marks the one year anniversary of Finance Guy starting his job with his current company. It doesn't seem like much of an anniversary, but prior to this he was stuck in a job that didn't challenge him, or use any of his leadership skills. So a year ago, when the opportunity presented itself, it didn't take much persuasion for him to embrace a change. The job came with the possibility of a relocating and we were lucky enough to have some control over where we landed.  The options on the wheel were Kentucky, Long Island NY, Stockholm, or the UK.  I was not willing to uproot our family from home and our wonderful community just for another location in the states. So we made our wishes known to the powers that be, that we would be willing to relocate to Europe.  I immediately started researching the potential suitors.

Knowing less about Stockholm I began there.  First words Googled.....'gluten free Sweden'.  The search results were unbelievable.   Rave reviews from gluten free bloggers described Stockholm as a 'gluten free heaven'.  They described a level of awareness of Celiac Disease or a 'Gluten Allergy' as it is frequently called, that made eating in most restaurants safe and delicious.  Even McDonald's had gluten free buns and a dedicated frier.  I was enchanted with the thought that for a period of time my family's diet might be almost mainstream.  I tried to reign in my excitement, since I knew in most circumstances we can't eat like normal celiacs. With our multiple food triggers, even many 'gluten free' food products need to be avoided.

As 2011 started, and Finance Guy's travel time to Stockholm increased, it became apparent that when the call came to move, it would most likely be Stockholm.  My first trip to Stockholm was in June, (4 weeks before our family was scheduled to depart), to look for housing, and schools for the girls. One of my first stops, (after the hotel to collapse from jet lag and eat), was a grocery store.  We found an ICA (pronounce 'eeka') near T-centralen, the central train which was near our hotel in central Stockholm.  I took pictures because at the time I had no way of translating what I was looking at (the other shoppers really liked that).  These are some of the things I found.
Whole Buckwheat, Buckwheat flour, Rice flour

Oatmeal (mainstream, not gluten free)
Corn flour, Soy flour, Polenta

Milk free, and Gluten free flour mixes

So I found all of this very interesting. Lots of different flours available, but none that I had used before.  The rice flour doesn't specify what kind of rice it is from (brown, white, sweet, etc) like in the states, or how finely it's milled, so even that was different.  

The gluten free flour mixes fell into two categories 1) Those that contained Vetest√§rkelse (wheat starch) or 2) 'Naturligt Glutenfritt" (naturally gluten free) which used corn flour, or corn starch as the first ingredient.  I knew right away that corn based flours and mixes were not going to cut it, since aside from gluten, that is one of Beanie's primary triggers. 

Wheat starch...oh how Celiacs like to debate about the safety of wheat starch.  If you are new to the gluten free world, I will give you my understanding of it, in brief.  

Based on the Codex index wheat starch contains less than 20 part per million, which based The European Union Standards adopted in 2009 is 'gluten free'.  It is said that only the most sensitive celiacs react to 20 ppms of gluten.  Hence the debate begins.  Common sense would say that if any celiac reacts, it would stand to reason that most celiacs are having some kind of reaction to it, but may be asymptomatic.  Lots of people don't like that.  That kind of heresy could come between them and many yummy baked goods, and remove a whole lot of food choices from their table. Interestingly, the United States standards are yet to be determined, and last I knew they were also considering 20ppm, but not wheat starch.  At this juncture I will exercise my  fifth amendment rights refrain from commenting on the debate, (I am pretty sure I can still do that as a US citizen in Sweden) and get back to talking about me...and the anniversary.

Back in June when I saw all those interesting choices, in a little, dinky, central city grocery store, I felt pretty sure that we would lots of suitable options in the "Gluten Free Heaven" that Stockholm promised to be.  As usually I would turn out to be brilliantly right...and epically wrong. Today on the one year anniversary of Finance Guy's job, I am chuckling to myself.  When I signed onto this, I unwittingly threw my family into our next food adventure which from hence forth, shall be dubbed....'Eating Sweden'.

Cheers, Karen

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