Being called ‘doctor’ doesn’t mean you are

It was another of those lazy Sunday afternoons, the kind that make working the night shift that much harder. A day of leisure followed by a night of naught can be a difficult adjustment, but in this business adjustment is what it is all about.

Two cups of coffee later — one for the mind and one for the body — I was standing behind the early evening bar, my serene summer afternoon now drifting slowly into memory.

She sat at the bar carefully; often women feel uncomfortable sitting by themselves at a bar. One can only speculate why, but when most of your evidence is anecdotal, you go with what you know.

“May I help you?” I asked doing my best to make her comfortable.

“I really feel like a glass of wine,” she said wisping a dark lock out of her even darker eyes. “But sometimes I get such a bad headache after.”

“Is it just red wine?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think I’m allergic to the sulfites.”

“Is it only red wine?”

“Usually,” she said.

Now to be certain, I am not a doctor although people often call me doctor. I’m not a chief either, but I digress.

Sulfites get a bad rap. They are a naturally occurring by-product in the making of wine. All wines contain sulfites, even sulfite-free wines. According to the Alcohol and Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), wineries can call a wine sulfite-free when the levels are less than 10 parts per million (ppm).The maximum amount allowed by law is 350 ppm and most wines contain 150 ppm or less. Contrary to popular belief, white wines often contain more sulfites than red. So if you were allergic to sulfites you would also have problems with white wine, bacon and even frozen concentrated orange juice.

“I do get the same reaction from whiskey,” she said.

“Well, both whiskey and red wine are usually aged, and both have more tannins. Do you also get a reaction from chardonnay?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Again, I am not a doctor, but you might have a problem with tannin,” I said moving off to take someone else’s’ order.

Tannins are the compound in red wine that causes that mouth-puckering effect. Both tannins and natural histamines are found in the skins and seeds of grapes (and in oak barrels). Red wine gets its color from prolonged contact with the skins and its structure from the seeds while most aged liquor gets its color from oak barrels. Both tannins and histamines can stimulate allergic responses. If you are sensitive to tannins and histamines you may also show symptoms when you eat chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats or any aged liquor or aged wine product (ergo the chardonnay.)

“Do you have any problems with any other hard liquor?” I asked reiterating that I am indeed, not a doctor.

“Hey Doctor!” said another customer at the bar, complicating the matter.

“No,” she said. “But I’m careful to drink only potato vodka, just in case it’s the gluten.”

The National Institute of Health proclaims that distilled spirits by virtue of their production are gluten-free, even suggesting that they are safe for people with celiac disease. Many celiacs disagree. And depending on sensitivity caution is definitely advised. Recently the TTB and FDA changed the rules for gluten-free labelling:

In general, the rule provides that foods may be labeled gluten-free if they do not contain an ingredient that is:

• a gluten-containing grain.

• derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour)

• derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 ppm or more gluten in the food.

“Oh,” said my dark haired beauty, suddenly losing interest in me and her headaches, but gaining interest in a man about her age now sitting next to her.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Sometimes we go to a bar not to be disturbed, and sometimes we don’t.

• Occasionally people get headaches just because they get headaches.

• There are some adjustments that are easier than others.

• Only you can manage your own health. Talk to your doctor and whatever you do, never, ever solely take health advice from a bartender, no matter how many people call him or her doctor.