Going Gluten Free
Exhaustion, weight gain, constant bloating, abdominal cramps, joint pain, headaches, behavioral shifts…just a few of the many symptoms one could have if they are intolerant to gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and it is the reason that you are probably not hearing the term “gluten-free” for the first time. These days, there seems to be a lot of people talking about gluten-free diets, and for good reason.
People can be gluten intolerant or have a confirmed case of celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten. When people with celiac or gluten-intolerance eat foods containing gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the small intestine. The tiny, finger like protrusions that line the small intestines, called villi, are damaged or destroyed. Lacking healthy villi, people with celiac cannot get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. This lack of nutrients can cause a wide range of health problems, including all the ones listed above as well as diarrhea, constipation, osteoporosis, hair loss, anemia, infertility, weight gain, and an ongoing list of abdominal complaints. According to the National Institute of Health, as much as one percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, or about 1 in every 133 people. However, as much as 95 percent of the population goes undiagnosed because celiac can manifest in so many ways.
I spent my youth being in an extreme amount of unexplainable abdominal pain. Constant bloating, abdominal cramps that would make it almost impossible to walk, and stomach spasms that made me scream and curl into a ball. I saw doctor after doctor and had many unpleasant probing tests, all with the result of the general diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. What to do? Eat more fiber. Where to get this fiber? Mostly wheat. It wasn’t until I had a medication to offset the severity of my stomach spasms and had otherwise learned to deal with my unpleasant stomach issues that my second child came along. He, much like my first, was suffering from horrifying bouts of abdominal pain, which would be classified as gastroesophogeal reflux. Unlike the route I took with my first son, which was putting him on medication to help reduce this, I went on a very strict elimination diet. Because I was breastfeeding, everything that went into me, went into him. I dedicated myself to eliminate a great number of things, but the big ones were dairy (a very common irritant for infants) and gluten.
Within days I noticed a drastic improvement. No more screaming fits after his feedings. No more violent back-arching. And not so long after I knew I was on the right path for my baby, I realized I was on the right path for myself too. I started learning more about food intolerances and kept up my dairy-free, gluten-free diet. The stomach pains, cramping, and bloating that I had gotten so accustomed to having, were no longer there. I was loosing a nice amount of weight, and despite chasing around a toddler and nursing an infant around the clock, I started to have more energy. I actually felt great.
Gluten-free Grains and Flours
Amaranth (grain and flour)
Buckwheat (seed and flour)
Corn (grain and flour)
Millet (grain and flour)
Rice, brown and white (grain and flour)
Quinoa (grain and flour)
At first, there was a little deprivation from the bread, the pizza, crackers, things like that. But as I got used to eating a little differently, I realized that all of the things that contain gluten (namely, every single processed food), no one should be eating anyways. And the nut and rice breads I started eating, I was enjoying more than any other bread, because there were no filler ingredients in them. I actually knew what all the ingredients were in the bread I was buying. As time went on, I began experimenting with making my own breads and finding better substitutes for things like breadcrumbs. After all, how do make meatloaf with no bread crumbs? Easy. Use mashed potatoes, or beans, or the bread crumbs of your home-made bread. And I was constantly upping the nutritional value of all the foods I was giving my family.
In addition to healing my own gut, I realized that not only was my newborn benefiting from my diet, but so was my toddler. His skin that used to go through bouts of eczema and random rashes, cleared up and has not returned.
Going gluten-free can be fun, but it takes a little practice, and some support. I’m blessed to have a wonderful group of like-minded moms surrounding me and a community that is ever-evolving in their attempts to provide wholesome nutritional options, but it is a journey. It’s one that I’ve found leads to a much more healthful diet, rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods. Eliminating gluten from your diet, or that of your family’s takes hard work. It is everywhere. Buns, sandwich breads, soups, baked goods, cereals, snack mixes, the list goes on and on. Unless you are eliminating gluten from your diet and have to pay attention to all the places gluten hides, you would have no idea how many things contain this troublesome protein.
Part of the gluten-free journey begins with social gatherings—playgroups, family events, barbecues, work outings—anywhere people gather, they gather with gluten-filed products. They taste good and they look good, so it’s hard to stay away. However, once you have eliminated these foods from your body and are able to recognize the difference, it will be a lot easier to prepare yourself for social events that center around food. It also helps to be educated on the topic, so you can explain your diet to your family and friends. This will in turn help them accommodate your needs, or at least understand when you bring your own versions of foods to an event.
It is also getting a bit easier to eat at restaurants. Not that it’s really easy, but people are speaking up and businesses are listening. Locally, we have Boston’s Pizzeria now offering a gluten-free pizza crust, Harmony Corner Café, whose soups are gluten-free and is working on some breads and paninis, and don’t forget about the naturally gluten-free ethnic foods like Mexican, Indian, Thai, etc. (think rice, beans, veggies).
There is an ever-expanding line of GF products to use for baking at Festival Foods, Weaver’s, and our wonderful co-ops.
If you suffer from any of the ailments listed above, it cannot hurt to eliminate gluten from your diet for a period of one to four weeks and see how your body reacts. Too many people suffer with their stomach ailments far too long, only because they think stomach issues run in the family. Well, they do, and the genes for celiac disease are passed along as well. Unfortunately, many people only discover their celiac disease after some other type of chronic disease has already set in, like diabetes or Parkinson’s. However, even if you don’t have celiac disease, you might notice that you are like many people who just don’t tolerate gluten. This is explained by the fact that humans are unable to completely metabolize gluten, and since wheat wasn’t used until 10,000 years ago, our ancient DNA has not had time to catch up with modern foods.1
You may be one of the 95 percent of people who are not diagnosed, and most likely it is because you are so used to living with your symptoms, you don’t realize that there is anything wrong. You could also just be one of those people who don’t realize that symptoms you have may manifest in an unsuspecting way. Either way, it is wise to remember that, “People who focus on healing their digestive system through gluten elimination and proper diet could potentially transform their health and how they feel.”
1 Erinn Morgan, Natural Solutions Magazine, March 2009
GLUTEN-FREE EATERIES Randy’s Family Restaurant Eau Claire, WI Open Mon-Sat 6am-9pm Boasting an entire gluten-free menu with everything from breakfast to baked fish and steaks. Boston’s Business 53 in Eau Claire 832-5100 Gluten-free pizza options Harmony Café Barstow Street in Eau Claire Gluten-free soups, cookies, muffins and working on an original gluten-free sandwich bread. Green Bakery Wheeler, WI Gluten-free bread made using ancient-style grains and legumes. Found at Menomonie Market Food Co-op and Just Local Food. Grandma Ferdon’s Hayward, WI 100% gluten free foods www.grandmaferdons.com