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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Living (and eating) Gluten-free

This post was inspired by a friend who, after finding out I was allergic to wheat, made me homemade wheat (and soy) free brownies. Thanks LeAnne! She commented, "Wow, finding food you can eat must be hard! You have to watch everything you put into your mouth." I explained that it really wasn't that difficult, and well worth the effort since I feel much better.

While everyone's symptoms are different, here's what happens to me when I eat wheat:
I have a constant runny nose, with post nasal drip.
My fingers, toes and feet are swollen. (See picture below!)
I gain weight, and can't lose weight despite a diet and even a prescription from my doctor.
I have severe leg cramps (and sometimes muscle spasms in my back).
My energy levels are extremely low.
My finger nails are thin, brittle.
I have intestinal distress.

 Here's my hand after having eaten wheat. Notice on the second finger from the top (my ring finger) that you can see how my ring created deep lines on my finger and a swollen pocket just below the knuckle. All this from just eating wheat. Astounding.

All of these symptoms disappeared once I started eating a gluten-free diet. Why would I go back? Yes, it takes an extra effort to be sure what I'm eating is wheat (and soy) free, but I'd rather feel good!

I know most people are fearful of dietary changes. What you eat is usually habit, what you've been taught growing up, or what you came to learn to cook (or buy) as an adult. So, when it is suggested that you 'change your diet', most people freak out. Take Mr. B for instance, he's on a low cholesterol diet, suggested by his doctor. He was very upset, and confused about what he could and couldn't have. I knew, and could readily adapt. I moved us to a more vegetarian and fish based diet. But, he's also not a real fish fan, so that's where I had to do most of my work. I created many different fish recipes, and now he'll tell you that he actually likes fish. See, it's all in the preparation.

One tip for cooking fish - make certain it's fresh. Fish shouldn't smell fishy! If it does, don't buy it!

So - eating gluten-free is easier now than ever. There is a growing assortment of breads, mixes, cereals, pasta, and other baked goods available in your supermarket. And I can honestly say, there really isn't much difference in taste and texture. The texture is slightly off, but not by much, and the taste is spot on.

Restaurants present their own challenge. But here is my tip for eating out (when on a restricted diet):
'Have a list of things you CAN eat. DON'T focus on what you can't have!'
I know when I go into the restaurant, I look for these things (soy and wheat-free):
Fish, and meat (plain, grilled, baked or sometimes with sauce - depending on what sauce)
Rice, risoto, polenta, potato (these starches are easy to find and filling)
Vegetables (be careful here - some preparation methods will have soy or wheat - ask for it just plain if it's a question!)

Also, learn to ferret out restaurants that are easier on your food allergies.
For instance, Mexican is a better choice for gluten-free. Look for things made with corn tortilla's. Kudo's to Moe's Restaurant  - they have an allergy-free menu that is accurate. So if you don't feel like digging through a Mexican restaurant's menu, go to Moes! They've already done the hard part for you.
Chinese food is great for those looking to eat gluten-free, but in my case, since I'm also allergic to soy, it's a bit more complicated. I can still pull it off, but again, it means more 'can't have' than 'can'.
Italian restaurants are more challenging for the gluten-free diner. However, here is where you knowledge is essential. Look for polenta, or risoto. Both are gluten-free and a staple in the Italian menu.
Most restaurant's are willing to work with you, especially if you can ask a few pointed questions about a particular dish. If something in a menu piques your taste buds, but makes you leery of ingredients and preparation, just ask. I'm sure the chef will be happy to tell you what you need to know, and might be able to make a simple substitute to allow you to change your dish to your liking.

So, if you've been told that a gluten-free diet might help, or that you are allergic to wheat, don't fret. Go for it! Trust me, you have nothing to lose, but those old nasty symptoms making you feel ill in the first place. Your body, and taste buds will thank you for it.


Marianne said...

I think it's much easier on those of us who know food, and have an interest in cooking.

The hardest part, I think, is reading labels - because wheat is hidden in so many places and you just cannot assume that because brand x of italian salad dressing is gluten free, that brand y didn't cheap out and use a wheat based thickener. Soy is in darn near everything. We spent MONTHS checking food items for allergens for our database and it was a real eye opener.

The story about the Colorado chef who claimed to be not using the gluten free pasta stated on the menu was FRIGHTENING.

The Substitute Chef said...


I agree, it's easier when you already know about food and cooking.

I've pretty much given up on reading labels, and instead just make everything from scratch (though buy staples like GF bread and pasta). It's the only way to be certain that it's allergen free.

Thanks for commenting!

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