Gluten-Free Eating

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Sat, Oct 19, 2013 - 8:52am

I've created this discussion as a spinoff of this thread (on Adam's weight-loss journey).  Many people "weighed" in (pun intended) on that thread to say that going gluten-free helped them lose weight or gain health or both.

The standard American diet is full of gluten, both obvious and hidden.  Gluten foods are a strong part of many cultural traditions (all over the world; not just American).  In many cultures, it's considered rude to not partake of food offered by a host, and navigating that can be culturally tricky.  And when you're used to gluten making up some significant part of your diet, the issue arises of what to eat instead.  So going gluten-free is effectively quite a radical and potentially challenging path.

Let's tell our stories, share our experiences, and (perhaps most importantly) trade tips on how to make gluten-free eating work for ourselves and our families.  Feel free to contribute to this discussion whether you've been gluten-free for a decade or an hour, or even if you're just considering it and weighing the challenges.

 

8 Comments

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
My gluten-free journey

I've been gluten-free for eight years.  The short-ish version of the story is, my esophagus tissue swells in response to contact with gluten, which causes food to get stuck partway down.  Let's just say it's a painful and socially challenging situation with no graceful solution. 

I find that avoiding gluten mitigates these symptoms almost completely, and I attribute the occasional symptom to gluten contamination somewhere along the way.  My symptoms are sometimes immediate and sometimes delayed.

I have had bloodwork several times to rule out celiac disease.  I have a celiac gene but it doesn't appear to be active, based on my bloodwork.  I continue to avoid gluten because there is a direct relationship with my symptoms.

This, for me, has been a long exercise in "trusting myself."  I had multiple doctors tell me that I didn't need to be gluten-free because it was not (in their minds) connected to my issues.  The most dramatic proof was this: In desperation consulted a GI doc about getting an endoscopy done to rule out blockage such as cancer.  He told me (based on initial examination and my symptom description) that what I had - esophageal "narrowing" - was common and would undoubtedly require my esophagus to be stretched and re-stretched with cannulae every six months or so.  He was confident that this diagnosis would be proven by the endoscopy, which was scheduled for four weeks later.

My symptoms were so bad that I was losing weight and subsisting mainly on smoothies and similar foods.

Probably within a day of that visit, a friend said "Go off gluten" and I was desperate, so I did.  Within two weeks, my symptoms were GONE.  Two weeks later, I had the endoscopy, and at the follow-up visit the GI doc said he was totally baffled to find that my esophagus was fine and healthy and did not need to be stretched.  I told him that I'd gone off gluten, and he complete dismissed that as a factor.  I never went back and haven't needed to see a GI doc since.

A couple of years later, I heard from a friend that he now routinely recommends that his GI patients eliminate gluten.  Interesting.

I also found that the chronic heartburn that I started experiencing in college completely disappeared.

Unlike some people who have posted, I did not lose weight as the result of going gluten-free.  But I like to believe that there are other health issues (that I'm unaware of) that could have cropped up if I had continued eating gluten.

When I was strongly concerned about celiac and about some symptoms that some of my kids were having, I took the kids off gluten for three years until I could afford the battery of testing that would reassure me one way or the other.  Turns out they also carry celiac genes that appear (via specific bloodwork) to be as-yet untriggered.  I feel there was a strong benefit to having them off gluten during a chunk of their childhoods, and since they went back on gluten, they eat relatively little compared to their peers.

We have a number of friends who are highly sensitive celiacs who can't tolerate even trace gluten contamination (such as shared factory equipment) without having symptoms.  I feel fortunate that I'm able to tolerate traces without much of an issue.  I can have oats, for example. 

More to come...

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
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Posts: 409
How gluten-free works in my life

Some people need to avoid trace gluten and cross-contamination.  I can "get away with" ignoring that level of fastidiousness.  (I might have mild symptoms, or I might not, but it's low-level and acceptable to me.)  Celiacs are advised to avoid wheat, rye, barley, and oats, and also related grains like spelt and kamut.  My understanding is that all of those grains with the exception of oats have gluten IN them, but oats are different story -- the issue is that most oat fields have wheat contaminating them, and the wheat gets processed along with the oats, which is how the gluten gets into the oats.  As of about 7 years ago, a few companies have committed to growing certifiably uncontaminated oats, and that's what you're getting when you buy "gluten-free oats" in the store.

I find that I can tolerate regular oats without symptoms, which is a great blessing and convenience

Obviously, I'm not one of the people here who eschews all grains, but it would be great to hear from those who do as well.

As for eating/living gluten-free, I think it helps that I don't "eat out" much -- it can be challenging to navigate restaurant eating, although some restaurants are now offering "gluten-free" food.  If you are hypersensitive to cross-contamination, these options might not work for you, as most restaurants do not have dedicated gluten-free facilities, but some do.

Our family eats brown rice fairly often.  Soup, or stirfry, or this thing I call "rice-n-stuff" (which is just brown rice, GF tamari, some kind of veg, and some kind of protein all mixed together).  We do occasionally have brown rice pasta or tortillas.  There are concerns out now about possible arsenic in rice, and for now I'm choosing to ignore that, buy U.S. grown rice whenever possible, and eat it only in moderation.

We also eat millet and quinoa, but less often.  Potatoes, too, fairly often.

For breakfast, we might have oatmeal or eggs or fruit or granola or nuts.

For carb snacks, popcorn or corn chips (we also snack on fruit, raw vegs, leftovers, nuts, etc.)  Crackers, but only for special occasions as they are quite expensive.

I do some baking, but not a lot.  I bake primarily with brown rice flour, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum -- a combination that I've found to be on the less-expensive side of all the very different and potentially exotic GF flour options. 

We don't eat dessert, but for special occasions (birthdays, holidays) I would possibly make cake or pie or cookies, and if we're having friends over for breakfast or brunch I'll make a batch of GF muffins.  Our family avoids sugar pretty carefully, so these things are uncommon in our diet.

Most store-bought "gluten baked goods" are not worth the cost of their packaging, in my opinion.  Better to avoid trying to substitute for something you used to eat and instead retool your array of "usual options" to include things that are naturally gluten-free.

I will occasionally buy Udi's GF bread for those comfort foods that require bread.  Like BLTs at the height of tomato season, for example.  But I've adjusted my awareness of this so it really does seem like an exceptional treat, not an everyday staple.

If anyone has specific questions about "how to make..." or "how to substitute..." just ask -- I am sure there are plenty of people here who will have good suggestions. 

I look forward to hearing your stories and how you handle a gluten-free diet!

lunableu22's picture
lunableu22
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Posts: 41
Hi Amanda:  How is

Hi Amanda:  How is "gluten-free" wheat made? acquired?  Why is the gluten-free flour so much more expensive than regular?  I am finding that only artisan locally made bread is free of sweetening, and that is cost prohibitive for feeding teenagers, and even if I'd like to make my own bread (which I know nothing about, so far), the cost of gluten-free flour is high also.  What to do?  Thanks, Luna

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Posts: 409
lunableu22 wrote: Hi Amanda: 
lunableu22 wrote:

Hi Amanda:  How is "gluten-free" wheat made? acquired?  Why is the gluten-free flour so much more expensive than regular?  I am finding that only artisan locally made bread is free of sweetening, and that is cost prohibitive for feeding teenagers, and even if I'd like to make my own bread (which I know nothing about, so far), the cost of gluten-free flour is high also.  What to do?  Thanks, Luna

Hi, Luna.  There is no such thing as gluten-free wheat, so people who cannot have gluten substitute a combination of other flours to get a similar effect in baking.  Usually, to approximate the chemical features of wheat flour without wheat, it's necessary to combine some kind of flour (such as brown rice or sorghum, or many other kinds) and some kind of starch (such as tapioca, potato, or arrowroot) and some kind of gum (typically xanthan or guar gum).

Baking without gluten is more complicated and expensive than baking with regular wheat flour.  I find that the combo of rice flour (I use brown rice flour instead of white because I want SOME vitamins in there), tapioca starch (cheaper than the others where I live) and xanthan gum seems to be the cheapest reasonable option for me in gluten-free baking.  I've also experimented with making my own brown rice flour using my VitaMix, but it comes out a bit coarser than the store-bought kind and would benefit from fine sifting first (which means you lose some of the rice, but it could be saved for a pablum-type cereal).

With hungry kids, I found it best to steer our diet away from bread and baked goods and more towards cooked grains and potatoes for starches.  I also came up with good recipes for waffles, pancakes, muffins, though they do use sweeteners.  I use maple syrup because it's local, but it's also expensive...  I think going gluten-free involves what feels at first like compromises, but then it becomes normal.

My kids were younger when they were gluten-free, but their gluten intake is pretty minimal (equiv of 1-4 slices of sandwich bread/day from all sources).  They're now 9, 11, 13, 15.  They eat a lot.  I understand.

What are your reasons for considering going gluten-free?

lunableu22's picture
lunableu22
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Joined: Oct 19 2011
Posts: 41
I think I am looking to

I think I am looking to minimize our reliance on gluten-based foods, partly because of the gliadin effect, partly because of that scary quote from WheatBelly (about the microbiochemistry) that someone else posted here, and partly because of HFCS and other sweeteners added to commercial everything.

I think I would like to still be able to enjoy some treats (like homemade german chocolate cake) without tipping us into ill-health since in the Standard American Diet the same ingredients in treats are also a basic component of everyday diet. So if our everyday diet doesn't contain heavy amts of these ingredients, then we can enjoy treats without completely compromising our health.  Also, I know there is a genetic sensitivity to gliadin and ethanol/fructose, as I have a family member who has been quite particular about the quality of ingredients she uses in her food preps for years before it was fashionable to be so inclined, and she slowly but surely became quite obese despite not eating commercially prepared foods.  Her favorite food is bread and butter (gliadin opiate response) and then she started drinking wine with meals (ethanol).  She also developed arthritis over this same time period. Now the victim of bariatric lap-band surgery and bilateral knee replacements and shoulder something-or-other surgeries.  Yuck.

On a happier note, I canned some pippin apples yesterday (as applesauce) with no added sweetening, just lemon juice and zest, and the kids gobbled it up and thought it was plenty sweet enough.  So at least that cloying overweaning sweetness that is in everything now is not perceived as "normal" at my house.  One of the things the "salt,sugar,fat" book brought out is that humans' perception of the taste of food has been altered over the last few decades to expect that all foods taste extraordinarily salty and sweet or they don't taste "right".  Thankfully, my guys still have some taste discrimination.

Thanks for the info.  I didn't think there really was a gluten-free wheat, but I wasn't sure until now.  I'm starting to think that a paleo type diet may work best for our genetic package.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
lunableu22 wrote: I think I
lunableu22 wrote:

I think I would like to still be able to enjoy some treats (like homemade german chocolate cake) without tipping us into ill-health since in the Standard American Diet the same ingredients in treats are also a basic component of everyday diet. So if our everyday diet doesn't contain heavy amts of these ingredients, then we can enjoy treats without completely compromising our health. 

Just quickly responding to this bit -- I think for many people this is true, and for some people, not.  I like to think that most of us can enjoy/tolerate the occasional "bad thing" without lifelong ill effects.  (Also, one body's 'bad thing' isn't necessarily another's.)  As I am fond of saying when I hear people fretting about some small undesirable something that their kid might have ingested, "That's why we have a liver."  (To filter out the toxins.)  If one's diet is overloading us with toxins, it doesn't work so well, but if one's diet is relatively clean, the body can handle the occasional toxin.  Or so I like to believe!

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jdye51
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Posts: 157
Amanda

My husband and I do without wheat as much as possible. It's easier at home of course although a local restaurant offers gluten free pasta and pizza. Seems like more restaurants are offering gluten free alternatives. At P.F, Chang's they note the GF items and will use a special plate just for GF meals to set them apart.

We used to use Udi's but then our food coop began carrying a millet bread that is quite good and is GF. We tried wheat free hot dog and hamburger buns but they don't hold up well. They aren't foods we eat that often - so we have a little wheat. Sometimes when eating out, we will have something wheat - it can be hard to resist when we don't have obvious symptoms like you do. I'm probably better about it than my husband but he's willing at least.

It  sounds like you don't have to worry about wheat in condiments etc. or in supplements. I haven't gone that far in eliminating wheat. I do have some GF tamari sauce also and we use brown rice and brown rice pasta. I'm a pasta fiend so I'm happy to get it - and organic when I can. I buy various pastas by the case as part of my preps. Corn chips are on occasional treat with salsa.

We have some quinoa but have to find some recipes to try it. If that goes well, I'll stock up on that too. How do you use it?

How has being GF affected your food preps?

 

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
I do have to avoid wheat in condiments and supplements.

That level does bother me, from experience.  The few times I've found myself partaking of sushi without GF tamari handy, and used the stuff on the table, I've paid for it later. 

As for preps, I stock brown rice, rolled oats, some millet and quinoa (lesser quantities than rice based on our preferences).  I buy tapioca starch and brown rice flour in bulk to begin with (usually 20-25# at a time).  Rice pasta is yummy, but it's more of a treat for us, though it surely stores very well.  I buy Trader Joe's organic pasta and it's much cheaper than Tinkiyada, even though I could get Tinkiyada in 9# bulk lots (which are tempting just for the conservation of packaging).

I also buy popcorn by the 25-50# bag, and I understand it grinds up well into cornmeal, though I haven't tried it (I am reminded to do that!)  I suppose I could stock cornmeal, but if I can make that from popcorn seed, that seems a better storage choice.

My "grinder" is my VitaMix.  I don't currently have a nonelectric mill for grain, though it would be ideal to have one.  It's hard to justify the expense when we really don't do all that much baking, though it is a good idea (and it's on my list...)  I do have a large flour-sifter that is new (no traces of gluten) -- bits of wheat flour would be too much contaminant for me, so having dedicated equipment is helpful.  In other words, I won't be sharing a grain mill with neighbors.

What about you?  How does being GF impact your preps, or anyone else's?

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