I am woefully ignorant on what it means to have a gluten-free diet. Over the past couple years, I have noticed more and more gluten-free options on restaurant menus, in grocery stores, and even in beer, yet I am oblivious as to why people eat and drink gluten free. Is it an allergy to wheat products? Is it a digestive issue? How come more and more people are needing these items, is it a diet trend? I have a very good friend, Anna, who is eating gluten free, so I sent her some questions to find out more….
Hi Anna! Thanks alot for taking the time to answer these questions. This will be a learning experience for me.
Sure Nick! I’m happy to chat about food, diet, and health anytime!
No. I do not have celiac disease. Some people think that being celiac means that a person is allergic to wheat. Celiac is actually an auto-immune disease, triggered by gluten. Basically, as I understand it (and I am no authority) the tissues of the small intestine become inflamed after exposure to gluten, which causes tissue damage resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. People with celiac have to be incredibly diligent about avoiding gluten or they can become very sick.
I have a different auto-immune condition called ulcerative colitis, which means that my immune system reacts tocertain typically harmless bacteria, causing inflammation and swelling which leads to all sorts of unpleasantness that I won’t get long winded about. These reactions can be, in some cases, triggered by certain foods (but the challenge is that no one knows exactly what, and everyone is different). There can be other triggers too, and there is a big genetic component as well. A diet change does not “cure” it (and diet choices don’t “start it” either), but at the stage I was in last year I wanted to try anything that might help.
When did you realize that going gluten free was necessary?
I was pretty sick last year and on the verge of being put on some pretty significant immunosuppressant medications, which would in turn lessen my body’s immune response, and help control the inflammation. Rather than take that dramatic step and be exposed to the risks of walking around with a weakened immune system, I sought advice from a naturopath and other a few other alternative medicine professionals. It was decided that in addition to taking my doctor prescribed anti-inflammatories, I would eliminate many inflammatory foods; gluten, dairy and sugar being at the top of the list. Dr. Jessica Black (of Portland) has a few great books on this subject that I’d recommend to anyone interested. I am happy to say that I’m feeling healthy and holding steady at this point.
It was overwhelming at first. It felt like there was nothing to eat. I started this adventure about a year ago, and it’s gotten a lot easier over time. I had to let go of the “convenience” foods, and now realize that you can have a very full and flavorful diet without them. The continued struggles are eating out, and being a difficult guest… though by offering to bring “Anna-friendly” dishes that everyone else can enjoy too, it’s not that big of a deal. Travelling is hard, but I’m a planner so I get by just fine. I like to cook too, so don’t mind the extra time in the kitchen baking bread, granola, and cookies. I can make light of it now, but the first few months were very overwhelming. A friend recommended a book to me last year that really helped, and is still a favorite, called “The gluten free almond flour cookbook” by Elana Amsterdam (who also has a great blog.) There are a lot of great books out there for gluten free eaters.
They can range anywhere from a stomach ache, to you name it. For someone with celiac, and certainly with an allergy to wheat, they can be life threatening. For me, it might be nothing obvious, but I don’t really know at this point. Though the toxicity, if I am indeed sensitive, could probably build up over time causing inflammation to return (just a personal theory). For now, it’s safest for me to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and be gluten free.
From what I’ve read, it could be that people are ultra exposed, from a very early age. I can’t help but think about dog food here, and how allergies in dogs developed from overexposure to certain meats. There are lots of theories on wheat exposure that would be interesting to read about.
I’m biased on this subject. I see GF products everywhere now. On that note, if a person who is going gluten free buys gluten-free versions of whatever they’re used to eating, it’s a pretty expensive diet! I tried that approach at first since I was hungry and busy with a toddler, but now with some planning, I don’t miss store bought bread or cereal. I make my own. …but I do have a weakness for the dairy free, gluten free ice creams. Gotta have some crutches.
I was surprised to read on the Wiki page that ice cream, ketchup, and even some medicines contain gluten. It seems to come in many forms. How can you ever be sure when you eat something? I imagine taking a risk on eating a non labeled food item, for some people, could be deadly.
You have to read carefully. Even then some labels may not list “wheat” but may still have gluten ingredients. The only way to really know sometimes is to call the manufacturer, and even then you need to be careful that the person you’re talking to really knows what they are talking about. A lot of people just have to avoid things that they don’t make themselves to be safe.
Breakfast is typically fruit with granola and almond milk (most oats have gluten from being processed in a mill with wheat, so you have to buy specifically GF oats.) I feel fortunate to live near the Bob’s Red Mill store where they have SO MANY GF products in bulk in their very own gluten free section for the fraction of the price. If not granola, then I eat some type of home-made almond flour bread and maybe a few eggs. I make GF pancakes on the weekends… it’s nice to stuff myself on those.
Lunch varies from leftovers to egg salad or tuna on rice cakes or homemade GF crackers (or rice crackers if I haven’t made any). Other regulars include hummus, dips, veggies, almond butter, tahini.
We cook a lot with rice and quinoa, having stir fry (we us a lot of Tamari!) and fried rice, and we roast seasonal veggies and potatoes. We try to eat low fat, and local, meats. I make a lot of soups in the winter and bean salads and veggie salads in the summer. We still eat pasta, that’s the one processed food I do buy regularly (a quinoa/corn version) and eat about once a week.
I can’t say I have increased energy, but that may be because it’s zapped by my 3 year old. The biggest advantage I suppose is eating healthier, saving money, and getting more in tune with how my body reacts to certain foods. I also like that we’re raising our son without processed foods and refined sugars, with a few exceptions of course. Since I can’t just stop for pizza or a burrito, we have to plan meals and cook things in advance so we have quick supper options. It’s made me more creative in the kitchen.