Gluten-Free: Why?

26 Feb

Ever since I downloaded the iPad app Zite, I’ve been reading more and more articles on going gluten-free.  There is a lot of debate about the merits of going gluten-free (outside the necessity of celiac disease, of course), and some articles even claim that a GF diet is a fad akin to Atkins, the Paleodiet, or any other “flash in the pan” diet craze.  The biggest issue naysayers take with a GF diet is that they believe it leads to a deficiency in fiber.  I, however, have found this not to be the case.  The grains that one substitutes in lieu of processed/”refined” wheat flours are just as fiber-rich and, in fact, more nutritious (such as quinoa or millet).  If fiber is a concern, you can also eat legumes, apples, and a whole slew of other fiber and nutrient-rich foods.


I have done extensive research this past month on going GF and have found it to be essential for many reasons.  It’s healthier and easier on your body, for one.  It’s a natural anti-inflammatory diet, for another.  Most diseases (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, migraines, UTIs, Fibromyalgia, arthritis, and all forms of digestive issues (Chron’s, IBS, Diverticulitis), are root-caused by inflammation in the body. When wheat flour is processed, it becomes a toxin that many people can’t process, which leads to inflammation and poor nutrition retention.  Not all people are gluten-intolerant, but a lot are, and many of the symptoms (such as the ones that I had) often aren’t immediate “red-flags” that something may be wrong.


Based on this piece that I recently read, I’d like to share my story of going GF:




1. When and how did you first realize that you had a problem with gluten? 


My doctor suggested that I may have a gluten-intolerance after a bout of recurrent bladder pain (that were not UTIs).  I had other symptoms that to her were indicators that a GI (gluten-intolerance) was at hand: chronic headaches/migraines, brittle hair, lethargy, trouble sleeping, stomach distention when I ate anything with gluten (sandwiches, pasta, breads, etc.), sluggishness, indigestion/reflux, severe allergies.  She said it is very hard to diagnose a GI or Celiac disease (and Celiac Disease is usually diagnosed with a colonoscopy), but said that I could try removing gluten from my diet and if I improved, I had my answer.  I did not have a food allergy test or the dreaded colonoscopy, so my GI diagnosis is not “official.”


Was it difficult to cut out gluten when you first started?


For maybe the first day I kind of freaked out.  I thought a GF life meant to pasta, cakes, cookies, croissants, sandwiches.  However, because I love to cook and I love to learn about new things, I found some amazing cookbooks (such as Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook, The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods, and Gluten-Free Makeovers), plus my wonderful husband, who has gone GF with me at home, bought me the well-touted book, Gluten Toxicity.


I have made a GF Nutella Bundt Cake, GF orange chicken and rice, GF sandwiches using Udi’s sandwich bread, homemade GF bread in my new Cuisinart bread maker, GF Quinoa Macaroni & Cheese (so good!), GF pizzas, GF cookies, GF red beans & rice, GF maque choux (a Creole/Native American dish), and tonight, I’m making GF crab & corn chowder.  I don’t feel like I’ve suffered.


Some resources that have helped me go GF: The Gluten-Free Goddess,  Bob’s Red Mill, Udi’s, Amy’s, Rudis, Betty Crocker, Gluten-Free Mommy, and Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.


But you started noticing differences in your health? 


I did, which surprised me a lot!  I really didn’t expect much — maybe fewer stomach pains, less distention, but within a week, I feel like a better version of myself.  My hair has gotten fuller, my skin is clearer, I’m not as tired and achy, my headaches are less severe and have actually (like 90%) decreased in frequency, my allergies are so infrequent, that I don’t have to take allergy medicine every day, I’m not distended after every meal, I don’t have reflux, I think more clearly, the list goes on.  I’ve had some slip-ups: a burger, for one, and I do tell a big difference: my stomach distends like I ate 20 burgers, I wake up with a headache and allergies the next day, I’m lethargic.  It’s like night and day.


How have friends or family reacted to your gluten intolerance?


Everyone has been really supportive.  My husband is excited to try new grains and I think haunts the Bob’s Red Mill site more than I do!  He loves millet and just bought some millet bread at Whole Foods for his own sandwiches (I prefer Udi’s).  I have a sister that is trying to go GF for her chronic migraines and UTIs.  I have a few friends that are GF out of absolute necessity (Celiac Disease and Chron’s Disease) that are cheering me on.  I have a few other friends that have recently gone or are currently going on a 30-day cleanse diet that involves cutting out gluten, so I feel that we have formed a sort-of support group.  The thing is, no one ever says, “Damn, I want a big honkin’ Big Mac right now.” Instead, I’m hearing, “I really love quinoa in place of pasta” or “I would have never considered [X] grains or [X] vegetables before, but now I love it.”  It’s been a really positive experience and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.


When is sticking to a gluten-free diet most challenging?


At restaurants.  I went out to lunch with my younger sister yesterday, in fact, and had to make the poor server swear up and down that the enchiladas were in corn tortillas.  She was really sweet about it though and of course I tipped her accordingly.  I’m not Celiac, so I won’t be seriously harmed if I eat gluten, but I won’t feel so hot, either.  For me, it’s not just a fad or a preference, but it’s something that keeps me feeling healthier and out of the doctor’s office.  That’s the most important thing, to me.


I’m a little anxious about the next family gather.  I have a huge family and we love to eat on major holidays, as most families do.  I do a lot of the cooking (I’m the burgeoning home chef in the family), so I can control what goes in the dishes.  I’ve already started planning a little in my head: making GF bread in the Cuisinart and then making GF breadcrumbs for stuffing.  Sweet potatoes with pecans.  Pan-fried Green Beans with almonds and walnut vinaigrette.  GF cheddar-garlic biscuits (Bisquick has a GF variety). I think I can pull it off.  However, if I do see something that screams my name, such as a piece of pie that I know for a fact is not GF, I’m going to have a little.  It’s about moderation.


So you can have some gluten and still feel okay? 


A little.  My friend Matt told me that the longer you go without gluten, the more severe reaction you will have to it later.  I find this to be accurate.  I do eat a little gluten every week (moderation, again).  I had a biscuit yesterday morning with grapefruit because I love it.  However, I had yogurt with Udi’s GF granola this morning and will be GF the rest of the day.  I don’t sweat it.  If it’s ridiculous, like a cheeseburger or pizza that’s not GF, I’m not going to touch it. A little biscuit doesn’t hurt.  I just need to monitor what I eat and be reasonable.


What are the most surprising foods that contain gluten?


Soy sauce. What?


What do you think of the gluten-free food fad, or the increasing number of people who think they’re gluten intolerant?


I think if it works for you, great.  If it makes you feel better and you are willing to make the adjustments, which can be costly if you’re baking with a lot of flours or don’t make GF bread at home, then fine.  If you think you might have Celiac disease, I’d advise not going GF until you get tested, because Celiac (or Chron’s) is not something to mess around with.  People are always going to try fads.  GF is a lifestyle change.  It takes planning and research and is not for someone who once did the grapefruit diet for 3 days, Jenny Craig for a week, South Beach for a weekend.  It takes commitment.   I think the benefits are great and if you eat a well-balanced diet (and not just frozen GF pizzas all day long), you’ll feel healthier.  In the end, I think that’s  what we all want in this high-stress, fast-food nation, day and age.

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