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Choosing gluten-free over gluttony

You can cope with dietary restrictions in New Orleans: The PeaceBaker offers gluten-free treats such as these pecan tarts.

While most of you spent the past two weeks participating in a celebration of gluttony, I was tending to the demands of my early Christmas present: a diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

I have lived nearly 30 years blind to this disease, so when I received the news just days before Christmas, I figured I would spend my holiday having one last hoorah. I would gorge on as many Christmas cookies as I could fit into my mouth and hit up nearly every pizza shop my East Coast town has to offer (they are as frequent there as Saints jerseys are here).

But ... my mom had other plans. A queen of health consciousness and informant about every "new" superfood, she immediately took to the Internet and her library of diet books and gave me the cold hard truth -- that every bite of flour-based food I ingest is slowly destroying my intestines (which, for failure of over-exposure, have already seen their fair share of troubles). There would be no last piece of cake, garlic bread, or never-ending pasta bowl. I was doomed to a life of all-natural smoothies and vegetable-only soups homemade from my mom's vitamixer. FML.

Once I broke free from the ties that bind (arriving safe but hungry back in New Orleans), I started my own research for a meal plan more sustainable and, well, sociable. I have vegetarian and vegan friends who I refuse to dine with, because their dietary restrictions annoy me. And they are that way by choice. I could never be that girl who walks into a restaurant asking a million questions about ingredients and cross contamination, so I needed to prepare for one of New Orleans' greatest pastimes, dining out, while getting healthy.

With one in 133 Americans being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, restaurants and manufacturers have had to respond. The result: gluten-free friendly menus, restaurants, and even phone apps with ingredient trackers.

The Peace Baker in Metairie makes every baked-good alternative (including king cake) for those with gluten sensitivities. Meals From the Heart Cafe in the French Quarter specializes in special dietary needs and is famous for its gluten-free pancakes. And places like Phil's Grill in Harahan and Naked Pizza in New Orleans and Metairie offer comfort foods (burgers and pizza) for those of us who find discomfort when eating their traditional counterparts. Local grocers like Rouses have gluten-free aisles and labels to make shopping more efficient, and gluten-free recipe books are being published every day.

The bad news is that these specialty foods are expensive. The good news is that you can write off your grocery expenses as tax deductions since, as of now, a strict gluten-free diet is the only way to get the disease under control.

If you have celiac disease, or gave up gluten to be more health-conscious, check out www.glutenforpunishment.com for updates on newly certified foods or to comiserate with other bagel-depriveds.

Rachel Kostelec writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.