That’s Amandatory: Listen to your body; it will tell you what it needs.
Once people find out that I have been on the gluten-free path (more on that specific wording below) since October 2011, they are initially intrigued. Inevitably the next questions center on what does gluten-free mean and how to go gluten-free. In order to provide a permanent reference, I will walk through it here.
Before I begin, please note that I am not a medical professional. I am speaking from personal experience. If you think you may have a gluten allergy, you may want to be tested for that allergy and for Celiac Disease BEFORE going gluten-free. Most of the available tests will become compromised once you have removed the food allergen from your diet for an extended time.
WHAT IS GLUTEN-FREE?
Put simply, a gluten-free diet avoids all forms of wheat (flour), barley and rye. The most obvious offenders include breads, baked goods and pastas. More subtle villains include processed foods like chips, cereals, soy sauce (yes), and foods processed in a facility that handles wheat. In the past four plus years of this journey for me, soooooo many more food options have become available. Naturally gluten-free foods like Cheerios and Rice Chex have moved their production to facilities that do not process wheat making them safe to eat. I cannot even imagine how it must have been for those who began this lifestyle 15 years ago.
Naturally gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, most meat (exceptions may include processed meats like pre-shaped burgers and hot dogs) and fish. Other grains are OK as well including rice and oats as long as the package does not say something like “Manufactured in a facility that processes wheat”. Although a food may not CONTAIN gluten, if it is manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat, there are no currently effective government standards to prevent cross-contamination.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO AVOID GLUTEN ALTOGETHER?
We constantly hear people say that the human body is amazing and built to (often) heal itself. For someone who has a food allergen to gluten, removing SOME (rather than ALL) gluten will not allow the gut to heal. Continuously poisoning your body by filling it with an allergen than causes a reaction AND THEN asking it to heal itself is like pushing yourself to run a marathon at the pace of a sprint. It simply isn’t practical or sustainable.
The inflammatory autoimmune condition caused by the food allergen is only one sign. Other signs include bloating, gas, constipation, fatigue, anemia, skin disorders, joint pain, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, slow development in children, leg pains, tooth discoloration, loss of tooth enamel, headaches, migraines, autism, and osteoporosis. It can also lead to infertility and miscarriages. Other people have no obvious symptoms at all. Whoa.
I first went gluten-free after a conversation with a friend. He went gluten-free as an experiment. He removed gluten, stopped working out, and ate ice cream daily for a couple of weeks while losing weight and inches. He also mentioned medical studies linking thyroid issues to unchecked food allergies which likely caused immune disorders. Since I had already undergone a thyroidectomy which was causing some weight gain, I immediately researched the benefits of going gluten-free and jumped in.
When I say “jumped in” I mean feet first. If removing it from my diet could help, why not start immediately? Initially, I removed anything that obviously contained gluten. AND I saw a difference in my body within six weeks. I lost about 5 pounds, but more importantly, I lost 2 DRESS SIZES! Since the surgery, I knew I had gained weight but the more accurate description of how I felt was puffy. Reducing the gluten in my diet allowed my body to depuff. This made perfect sense because food allergies cause an inflammatory reaction in the body and I had removed it. What didn’t make sense was why I had lost so little compared to my friend. And then…
As I was munching on a Rice Krispie treat after lunch at work, a friend asked me if it was gluten free. It had not even occurred to me that something named RICE would contain wheat. When I googled it, I tossed the treat. Bummer! A few days later, the office surprised us with a sundae party and I promptly made one, carefully avoiding the sauces. Another friend asked me if all ice cream was gluten-free. In my head it was because my friend had gone gluten-free eating ice cream. Wrong. That particular ice cream (the kind that comes in 5-gallon buckets) often contains gluten as a filler. Bummer again! This trend led me to the conclusion…
STEP 1: READ THE LABEL
Obvi, right? But how does one begin? First avoid all wheat-related ingredients:
- Oats (unless labeled gluten-free)
- Soy sauce (unless labeled g-free)
STEP 2: Also AVOID HIDDEN CONTAMINATES like:
- Monosodium Glutamate (as it is usually produced using wheat as the protein)
- Bouillon and stocks (due to maltodextrin)
- Blue cheese
- Processed meats like hot dogs (unless labeled g-free)
- Items labeled wheat-free, rather than gluten-free
- Mixes like hot chocolate mix
- Sauces of any kind
- Potato or Corn Chips (unless labeled g-free)
IS THIS LIST ALL-INCLUSIVE?
No. Gluten can also be present in your home in many other areas such as pet food, beauty products, medications, and vitamins. A friend with a child who has Celiac Disease (CD) searched for the hidden culprit causing his flare ups and finally realized it was their dog food. When he fed the dog, he breathed the gluten which triggered allergy issues for him!
MY TAKE AWAY
Although it seems like life as you know it may be drastically changing, know that the change represents an improvement. Remember your parents and teachers saying things like, “Nothing worth anything comes easily.” or something along those lines? When your body responds (POSITIVELY…and it WILL), you will appreciate the work it took to go gluten free. Cheers to you and your journey! Welcome to the land of the Gluten-free…population you and me!