Going gluten free

Going gluten free is a big deal for most people. I’ll go out on a limb with zero substantiation (other than the looks of panic from my clients) and say that it’s a big deal for all people. Gluten is pervasive in the US food supply and in the American diet. And we really enjoy eating gluten-containing foods. You meet it first thing in the morning in cereal, muffins, toast, and bagels. On weekends, it rears its ugly head in waffles and pancakes and you’re hungry again in a couple of hours. Lunchtime it comes to you in the form of a sandwich. It’s not always around at dinner, but when it is it’s the mainstay of the meal as pizza or pasta. It’s unavoidable on those detestable kids’ menus as macaroni and cheese and at restaurants as the bread basket. And there are the snacks and desserts – pretzels, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies. This is a lot of food to remove from your diet. And what about the government recommendation in the form of the food guide pyramid, which shows grains and grain products as the foundation of the diet? Maybe it’s not the best advice.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other lesser-known grains. The gluten content of wheat grown in America is higher than that grown in Europe. Hard wheat means high-gluten wheat. Gluten is what holds baked goods together. It’s the bite our teeth feel when, well, biting into a chewy piece of French bread. It’s also a protein that many people cannot tolerate. Yes, the obvious are the celiacs. People with celiac disease are allergic to gluten, meaning that they produce antibodies against gluten. The “classic” symptoms are gastrointestinal in nature and ultimately result in nutrient malabsorption and serious illness. Many people, however, have gluten intolerance or sensitivity. These people suffer from autoimmune disorders such as thyroid issues, asthma, and infertility, as well as brain fog and ADHD.

I believe that thinking about going gluten free is far worse than going gluten free. The anxiety! This I know from personal experience. We have a daughter who has learning issues. And a son who had asthma. And another daughter who had eczema. And I was loaded with autoimmune disease. I knew that living a gluten-free life was what my family needed. I knew this because I’m a registered dietitian who has immersed herself in learning about the impact of gluten on health. And I also knew how difficult it would be to make sure that my children would follow a gluten-free diet. Or so I thought.

It was not really that difficult. First of all, the entire family was going gluten-free, not just a select few. I replaced everything in our household with gluten-free counterparts. So we had gluten-free bagels (a poor substitute for this Brooklyn girl) and gluten-free pasta (a somewhat better substitute for this Italian-American). And there were gluten-free cookies, pretzels, and breads (need for improvement). And who can forget the chips, both corn and rice. My kids were eating a ridiculous amount of chips. At about month six, I stopped buying the bagels and the bread. The taste was not worth the calories. And my kids seemed to eating more grains than before and less protein and produce. We tried every single gluten-free macaroni product on the market and narrowed it down to two plus buckwheat soba noodles, which I only like. And, I only offered chips in a blue moon and the rule was you could never eat them alone. When you eat less and less grain-based products, you eat more of something else. That something is supposed to be primarily vegetables and fruit. That’s what a gluten-free diet is about, not substituting every available gluten-free product. Gradually, I began baking gluten free. I was frightened at first, but then began to enjoy it. My kids needed to bring gluten-free cupcakes to school and I wanted a gluten-free biscotti. We never tell anyone that our baked offerings are gluten-free and no one is the wiser. It has been fun (at least for me) with really not that much anxiety.

Oh, and most significantly, my daughter’s school keeps asking me what I’ve done because of her dramatic improvement; my son does not have asthma; and my other daughter’s skin looks beautiful. As for me, I haven’t felt this good since…since forever.