Tuesday, May 1, 2012

going gluten-free

I've just passed the two year anniversary of giving up gluten.  Wow, I hadn't even thought about that length of time until I just typed it.  What brought the thought to mind is the content of this post.  I've been working on a sort of guide for going gluten-free, and I want to share it with all of you.

I meet more and more people every day who no longer eat gluten.  Working at a grocery store, I've become sort of the go-to girl for customer questions.  'Is beer gluten-free?'  'What is gluten anyway?'   People with gluten intolerance and Celiac are no longer on the fringes, and they want to know what the dealie-yo is with this gluten stuff.

The following information is now listed in the Going Gluten-Free tab at the top of this page.  If you have any questions, comments, additions, etc., please leave a comment or email me directly.  All of the photos on this page are gluten-free recipes featured on this blog.

Why is there a gluten-free section on this blog?

When I began The Weather in Cascadia back in the summer of 2009, I intended the main focus of the blog to be local foods; how to craft incredible meals with ingredients that were produced near my home, the Pacific Northwest. I had a fantastic time cooking and baking with fresh foods grown by my regional neighbors.

But less than a year after The Weather in Cascadia was launched, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer eat gluten. It turned out that many of the recipes I was blogging about were actually making me sick. It took me a lot of time, a lot of illness, and a lot of stress to figure out that gluten was the culprit in my case of headaches, skin inflammation and bowel troubles.

Now that I have recognized my gluten intolerance and have taken action to rid my body of this unnecessary, unwanted villain, my health has improved, my skin cleared up tremendously, and I'm discovering gluten-free alternatives to the foods that I love so much, but can no longer tolerate.

How did you find out that you were gluten intolerant?

It's a long story.

I began to have severe digestive problems (we're talking doubled-over-in-pain-after-every-meal kind of problems) about 2 1/2 years before I went gluten free. The skin on my face was also horribly red and inflamed. I sought help from a naturopath and an MD that specializes in allergies. Between the two of them, I was on elimination diets, anti-fungal meds and more dietary supplements than I care to talk about.

Even though I had felt noticeably better after cutting wheat out of my diet, neither I nor my doctors made the distinct connection between my problems and gluten. Looking back now, it seems ridiculous, but I was experimenting with eliminating a lot of foods from my diet with mixed results. It was hard to pin it down on any one food.

After a year of treatment, I lost my health insurance and was no longer seeking treatment from medical professionals. My skin was breaking out more than ever, and I still had bouts of digestive trouble. In early 2010, when I began to have constant headaches on top of my other issues, I started to read more about gluten intolerance. Many of my symptoms, including things I believed to be entirely unrelated, matched what I was reading about Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. So I decided to experiment.

I stopped eating gluten to see what would happen. My headaches ceased almost immediately, my skin breakouts and redness were practically gone within two weeks, and my energy levels rose considerably in the same amount of time.

If you think you might be gluten intolerant, check into it immediately. You will be doing yourself a favor of incredible proportions.

I tested negative for Celiac Disease, but I still feel sick. Could gluten still be a problem for me?

Absolutely. Celiac Disease is just one type of reaction to gluten. You could still be gluten intolerant even if you aren't Celiac. Unfortunately, there isn't a reliable test for gluten intolerance. The best way to determine if you are intolerant is to completely eliminate gluten from your diet for 2-4 weeks and then reintroduce it to your body. If you have a negative reaction (bloating, skin inflammation, headaches, other digestive issues, hives, or fatigue) then you should be on a gluten-free diet.

Always conduct elimination diets under the supervision of your medical provider. Do not attempt to change your diet without first consulting your doctor.

I found out that I can no longer have gluten. My life is over. What's left for me to eat?

Relax, drama queen. The list of naturally gluten-free foods is long, and some ingenious bakers are providing us with many recipes for breads and pastries that rival their gluten-filled counterparts. There are also numerous companies providing products marketed to the gluten-free lifestyle.

Foods you can eat:

This list provided, in part, by The Mayo Clinic

Naturally gluten-free foods in their unprocessed forms:

  • beef, pork, lamb, chicken and all other meats (no breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
  • fish, shellfish, and all other seafood
  • fresh eggs
  • most dairy products (check labels, especially cheeses)
  • all vegetables
  • all fruits
  • beans, nuts, seeds and legumes (unprocessed without sauces or spices)
  • corn, cornmeal, corn tortillas (check labels for wheat or other gluten ingredients)
  • potatoes
  • tofu, tempeh, and miso (check labels for wheat or other gluten ingredients)
  • sweeteners: sugar, honey, agave

Naturally gluten-free grains:
Make sure that these are not processed or mixed with gluten-containing grains, additives, or preservatives

  • rice
  • quinoa
  • amaranth
  • arrowroot
  • buckwheat
  • cornmeal
  • flax
  • flours: rice, soy, corn, bean, potato
  • hominy
  • millet
  • sorghum
  • soy
  • tapioca
  • teff

Naturally gluten-free beverages:

  • coffee (plain)
  • tea (plain)
  • 100% fruit & vegetable juices
  • distilled liquors (except those containing some caramel coloring added after distillation - when in doubt, don't drink it)
  • wine

Foods to kiss goodbye:
These are the foods to avoid

  • barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley)
  • rye
  • wheat
  • triticale
  • spelt
  • Bulgar
  • durum flour
  • farina
  • graham flour
  • kamut
  • semolina

Also watch out for gluten in additives and other edible products:

  • malt flavoring, modified food starch
  • some medications, vitamins, and other supplements
  • play dough (in case little Susy decides to snack on some)
  • protein powders

Avoid these foods UNLESS they are labeled 'gluten-free':

  • beer
  • breads, pastries, bagels & other baked goods
  • pastas
  • candies
  • cookies & crackers
  • protein & snack bars
  • cereals
  • croutons
  • french fries
  • gravies
  • imitation meats & seafood
  • processed lunch meats
  • sauces & salad dressings
  • soups, stocks, & soup bases
  • seasoned rice & bean mixes
  • seasoned snack foods & chips
  • marinades

Do you have any other advice for going gluten-free?

Always, always read labels. Become compulsive about it, if you aren't already. Don't assume that a food is gluten-free just because you think it should be or someone else tells you it is.

Beyond that, my biggest piece of advice is to focus more on foods that you can eat and less on what you have to give up. Yes, it sucks that the morning croissant alongside your latte is no longer an option, but you will survive, I assure you. Bitch, moan and complain about it for a week or two, and then find yourself a fantastic gluten-free muffin recipe and take breakfast into your own hands.

That said, if you don't already, start cooking as much of your food as possible. While there are many gluten-free 'convenience foods' out there, you'll have much more variety, quality, and flavor in your meals if you prepare them yourself.

Also, try to educate yourself on what it means to be gluten-free. What is gluten? Why does it adversely affect some people? Understanding your health and how your body works can make it easier to deal with the transition into a new lifestyle.

Connect with other people who live the gluten-free life. You're just a Google search away from a world of support groups, social networking sites, blogs, etc. geared specifically toward those with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. Build yourself a support system of folks who deal with the same issues you do.

For a list of blogs, books, websites, and links to further reading, please visit my Gluten-Free Resources page (coming soon).

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