Sunshine and Superheros
To Gluten Or Not To Gluten, That Is The Question
Such a hot topic! And since I am going to a workshop about eating gluten-free tonight I feel like this is as good a time as any to explore the subject in greater depth.
I come from a long line of folks with intestinal issues. Bloating. Gas. Indigestion. You name it, someone in my immediate family has experienced it. And I was no stranger to feeling uncomfortable after a meal, I just figured it was something I was predisposed to and therefore not able to do anything about. When I began to experience other symptoms, such as joint pain, acne breakouts, lethargy, depression, and looked into possible causes I learned that these could all be side effects of a gluten sensitivity. Interesting, and didn't require me to take more medicine, so I decided to give it a try.
What I learned is that going gluten-free is so much more complicated than I ever imagined! I kind of thought I could stop eating bread and the world would be wonderful. Wrong! Gluten is a protein found in grains including rye, barley and wheat. These grains, evidently, are in everything I love to eat or drink. And in a lot of places I wouldn't expect, like packaged soups and chocolate bars. It kind of made me crazy. But it also made me learn what I was actually putting in my mouth/body and make more things from scratch. I've been able to step back from packaged food a bit and eat more naturally, something I have been meaning to do for, well, forever. Some things I cannot make from scratch so I have had to try to find a suitable substitutes at the store. Like pasta, one of my favorite meals. Most gluten-free pastas do not compare to their gluten filled cousins. It took A LOT of experimenting with a lot of products, but I have found varieties that I am happy with (especially in casseroles). Bread is the other staple I miss. Gluten-free breads are notoriously crumbly (Gluten is like a glue when baking, so no gluten = crumbs). The magic ingredient when baking at home, for my recipes anyway, has been xantham gum. You only need a tiny little bit, it doesn't change the taste, but everything stays together like I'm used to!
Long story short, I do feel better after going gluten-free. And I do notice when I eat gluten, like when I had Chinese carryout this weekend not knowing that soy sauce has wheat. Oops! I blew up like a balloon, couldn't bend my fingers, and took 2 naps yesterday! Soooo not worth it.
On the flip side, I feel like I should mention that our whole gluten-free adventure started when my daughter, who has autism, was put on a full elimination diet (no dairy, gluten, eggs, or peanuts). She hated it. She swore up and down that she felt worse without gluten, and was so angry with me that I was forcing such atrocities on her. I thought she just missed pizza and was being a typical grumpy teenager! Turns out, she was right. Her doctor ran some allergy and genetic tests and we learned that she was in fact not gluten sensitive but was in a category of folks who don't metabolize folate appropriately. By not absorbing/using folate correctly she was more tired, moody, anxious, fearful, foggy headed...basically, she felt really bad. And where do most Americans get their folate? Yep, wheat products. We add folic acid to most of our flour, and without it she was miserable. Since re-introducing gluten to her world she has not had sleep problems, no anxiety attacks, no random crying, and her grades are soaring.
Our story is not unusual. It is very difficult to find the right fit for your family when looking at dietary interventions, since we are all unique and individual. But I definitely believe in taking the path of least invasiveness when treating many ailments, such as eliminating foods before loading up on medications. And like with any new treatment, always discuss big diet changes with your physician before implementing. It is not right for everyone, but when it is it is so worth it.
Colleen writes with the real-life experience of raising three children as a single mom, one of whom happens to have autism. With too much on her plate, humor is Colleen's survival technique, often to the horror of her children! Welcome to the Land of Sunshine!
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