Going Gluten Free

This summer I was experiencing nausea and fatigue. I became so desperate to determine the culprit that I decided to modify my diet. I started by keeping a food journal of everything I ate and drank and how I felt afterwards. The whole process was extremely tedious, and although nothing really stood out as the “problem”, it was still worth the time. In fact, I think everyone should do it at least 1 to 2 weeks every couple of months just to make sure their diet is actually well-balanced.

ELIMINATING ADDITIVES, ETC.
I also became an obsessive label reader. I have always taken time to read the nutrition information on the products I buy, but with my new issues I started to really fixate on ingredients vs. the Cals and fat that I usually honed in on. I began avoiding anything that had ever been associated with digestive problems. I started with artificial sweeteners. Then, I avoided milk. And, finally I decided to cut out the mother of all food components – gluten.

A RELUCTANT CHANGE
I have to admit I REALLY didn’t want to eliminate gluten. After learning about Celiac Disease in college, I remember always feeling very bad for anyone who had to avoid gluten. Gluten is in wheat, rye and barley. Rye and barley aren’t so hard to avoid, but WHEAT? It is in everything! Especially for me who based my diet largely on whole grains like whole wheat pasta, wheat crackers, and whole grains breads and tortillas. To try to avoid that protein seemed absolutely unthinkable to me. After all, I was nauseous much of the time, so I couldn’t afford to lose any more weight. If I cut out wheat, what could I eat? From a nutrition standpoint I knew the answer, but I just wasn’t sure I could do it. Bottom line – I could. I did. And after two weeks of assembling my own tool kit of “go to” foods, I realized that going gluten-free was one of the best experiments I have ever undertaken.

NOT RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
Do I think everyone should eliminate gluten? No! In fact, I would caution anyone who isn’t taking it serious not to even try because you can easily develop nutritional deficiencies. In fact, I developed cracks at the sides of my mouth – a sign of B-vitamin deficiency and possibly anemia. I treated the problem by adding more fortified foods and nutritional supplements to my diet.

GLUTEN FREE PANTRY
I did struggle at first in finding foods that were gluten-free, but once my pantry was stocked I was on my way to one of the healthiest diets I have ever eaten. Here is a list of some of my favorite products and meals that are now a part of my daily diet

  • Cream of rice. I would make this creamy cereal with almond milk or fortified rice milk (being careful to check that it is fortified with vitamin D and calcium).
  • Gerber rice cereal with bananas. I know it sounds crazy to eat baby food, but it is well-fortified with iron and other B-vitamins (although the label %s apply only to infants and children, so I had to do some math to determine how much iron I was actually getting). I actually really like the taste of this product and I generally mix it with plain cream of rice to make a breakfast porridge. If I have them, I add chopped bananas, or banana baby food.
  • Rice pasta – Trader Joe’s sells an inexpensive and very versatile thin spaghetti variety that makes a great base for plain sauces or parmesan cheese.
  • Chicken broth mix – Trader Joe’s has another great product that is lower sodium and comes in packets that you rehydrate. I would add mushrooms, green onions, garlic and rice pasta to the broth for a healthy, quick soup.
  • Beans – avoiding gluten also meant less fiber in my diet, so adding beans in was a great way to add fiber, iron and protein. I ate the beans with soy and flax tortilla chips (also by Trader Joe’)
  • Rice products – rice cakes with peanut butter are a good quick snack, or instant brown rice with cooked veggies.
  • Ready made gluten-free products – Puffins breakfast cereal, or Puffed Rice cereal sweetened with honey made it possible for me to always have a super quick meal or snack on hand.
  • Miscellaneous – fruit bars (an all-fruit bar sold by Target), fresh fruits, dried fruit mixes, almonds, eggs, chicken, hummus, popcorn, corn tortillas, vegetables, guacamole, salmon.

A DIET TO STICK WITH?

A few weeks ago, I had blood tests to insure that I am not anemic. I also had tests that indicated I do not have Celiac Disease (but ate gluten before the test because otherwise I might have had a false negative). So, I don’t actually HAVE to avoid gluten anymore, and I am no longer being strict – I have had pizza on occasion and potato rolls (my fav). But, I do intend to avoid obvious sources of gluten. And, I will continue to eat more simply, avoiding foods with lots of ingredients and additives. The true lesson for me in going gluten-free is that many of the foods that contain gluten also contain lots of other junk. So while avoiding gluten may not be necessary for everyone, it is probably not a bad idea overall.

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