Why I'm Giving Up Gluten (even though I love wheat)



So here's a little announcement for you. A couple months ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. While this diagnosis comes as a relief for many who have suffered from unexplained symptoms for years, I have no known symptoms and only had myself screened because my sister was recently diagnosed. So, not a relief. It has been quite an unwelcome adjustment for me in fact.

For years, I have made almost all the bread my family eats (mostly 100% whole wheat honey bread). I also have made pizza with a delicious 50% whole grain crust weekly for years. I love making and eating hot homemade breakfasts. I bake in bulk many healthy kid-friendly snacks containing whole wheat (healthy whole grain "cookies," chocolate chip snack bars, applesauce muffins) for quick, easy, and portable snacks for me and my kids.

I'm about 7 weeks into eating gluten-free, and, no, I do not feel much more fabulous. I actually felt very healthy and energetic before my diagnosis. But I still hold out hope that there will be some benefit to going gluten-free. Perhaps I will get sick less often.

Hello, Hunger


For the first month or so of eating gluten-free I was hungry. All. The. Time. No matter how much I ate. Thankfully, this phase is over. However, I am annoyed that I still need to eat more meat to ever feel full. Before my diagnosis, I was working on eating less meat and dairy, more grains, legumes, and vegetables. This whole Celiac business has really derailed that for the moment. I crave meat. How my vegan sister (diagnosed with Celiac just before me) is dealing with this new diet I have no idea.

Eating on-the-fly is nearly impossible for me now. I can't grab a piece of whole wheat toast in the morning to carry me through until lunch. I can't snack on my kids' snacks at the park if I don't have time to eat a real lunch. It seems like I have to plan and prepare every darn meal I eat. This means that sometimes I don't eat anything but a banana until 2 pm because I just don't have time for anything else. Nonetheless, I am not losing weight, in case you were wondering.

Favorite snacks so far:  homemade hummus with apples slices or carrots (I buy these incredibly sweet and delicious small carrots at the farmers market that don't need to be peeled), corn tortilla chips with avocado, bananas, and dried persimmons. I try to have these on hand at all times. I'm already a little sick of corn. Cornbread, corn tortillas chips, corn tortillas, arepas. Of course, I'm also very grateful for corn. But I need to expand my snacking grain horizons, quick.

Breakfast has been hard. I really crave whole grains in the morning. How I loved my whole grain pancakes, German pancakespancake whole wheat waffles and french toast. Even my scrambled eggs I always ate with toast. I do plan to find a bread recipe good enough for the very occasional breakfast of french toast. Now it's either scrambled eggs (often inside a corn tortilla with cheese, green onions, and cilantro) or yogurt and homemade granola (made with certified gluten-free oats). And I'm kind of already sick of both. And they both take a lot longer to make than a piece of toast or a leftover waffle.

I was already having trouble with meal planning. Now the whole process is just so much more fraught and tortured. I think our weekly pizza night is over. Homemade pizza has long been the one meal that my entire family eats and enjoys. I will perhaps continue making pizza maybe once or twice a month, but not weekly. This was one of the hardest things for me to accept, as family dinner is a real challenge for me.

Hello, Cross Contamination


Avoiding cross-contamination is SUCH a pain. I can't do anything else while preparing my kids' lunches in the morning lest I inadvertently ingest or somewhere drop a bread crumb. Then there's the whole issue of what should be replaced: wood spoons and cutting boards, strainers, even preseasoned cast iron, all now viewed with extreme suspicion (spoiler alert: I replaced them all).

You would think shopping gluten-free wouldn't be so painful for me since I cook and bake so much from scratch with single ingredients and avoid packaged foods with long lists of ingredients. But it is. Because even ingredients such as baking soda or coconut flakes are now often taboo. If the package says on the bag "may contain wheat" or "processed in a facility that also processes wheat" or even just if it says nothing, it could contain gluten and I'm not supposed to eat it. This happens all the dang time. Tons of foods that are naturally gluten-free: 100% buckwheat noodles, corn puffs (one ingredient: corn), baking powder, sea salt grinder. Seems like every darn thing has to be officially "Gluten-free" or I'm not supposed to eat it.

I have long been a lackluster house cleaner. I like a clean house, but many many other activities take priority over cleaning for me. I certainly was not interested in becoming a fastidious house cleaner. But now I feel like the only way to avoid cross-contamination is to be OCD about kitchen cleanliness. For example, I had to clean out all my silverware and utensil drawers because they were full of crumbs. After moving all the gluten-containing products to one part of the kitchen, I had to clean out all the cabinets. I know some of you do these kind of things regularly anyway, but I didn't, and felt just fine about it.

Forget about buying organic. Not only are certified gluten-free products often even more expensive than organic (hello again, sticker shock!), there often isn't even a gluten-free and organic option available. I'm usually grateful just to even find the gluten-free option, but it makes me sad that I often have no option but to buy conventional after years of gradually switching to purchasing almost every thing organic. Of course I suppose the sticker shock of switching to organic helped prepare me in a way for the sticker shock of eating gluten-free.

I am so happy that my favorite middle eastern restaurant has numerous gluten-free dishes. However, after my conversation with my waiter on my last visit (who seemed not very well-informed about gluten and cross-contamination issues), I am worried about cross-contamination.

Hello, High Maintenance


After years as a non-high-maintenance eater, it is hard for me to accept that I will now be a somewhat annoying dinner guest or visitor in others' homes. I am dreading dealing with Celiac while traveling. I miss the carefree lifestyle of a non-special-diet eater.

I feel a deep empathy for parents with children who need to eat gluten-free (or who have other special diets). I have no trouble with not eating gluten on purpose (trying to avoid inadvertent consumption, of course, is a major inconvenience). But I can't imagine having a child who could not eat gluten. I already wring my hands over my kids being virtually the only children in their classes not participating in the school breakfast or lunch program, or their feelings of deprivation over not getting to buy Hot Cheetohs or junky ice cream treats from the vendors parked outside their school like all their friends. I can't imagine having to tell a young child that she could almost never eat any food offered to her at school and other venues.

I suppose I am mostly grateful that my Celiac was caught early, before serious damage to my intestines had occurred (my biopsy showed mild to moderate damage of villi), and before I showed numerous symptoms. But sometimes I wish I didn't know.

I try to focus on what I can eat. Many cultures do not consume wheat as a regular part of their diet. In a way, eating gluten-free opens up a lot of new flavor horizons and ethnic cuisines. I just don't really feel like I have the time for all that exploration, as I was barely getting by before. But now I guess I just have to make the time.

What are your favorite resources for gluten-free eating? Please share!


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photo credit: brown loaves. via photopin (license)

20 comments:

  1. Oh Betsy- I am sorry you have to revamp your whole life in the kitchen (and beyond!) The Oh She Glows website has a lot of great gluten-free recipes. Last night we had her Big Vegan Bowl- which I adore! It is probably one of my favorite meals as of late (I've made it at least 4 times now.) We all really enjoy it- even my oldest daughter that whined when I said it was for dinner and usually doesn't like sweet potatoes asked for seconds and specifically for more sweet potatoes with her second helping. My Whole Food Life blog also has lots of gluten-free recipes. I have made several of her snacks and treats and they are great!

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    1. Thank you, Heidi! You are such a great resource for recommended food blogs. Still need to try that chocolate cake you told me about as well : )

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  2. A lengthy response from the vegan sister diagnosed with Celiac… At my house, we now use Bob's Red Mill (BRM) gluten free (GF) flour mix in most of our usual recipes (including in my pancake/waffle mix that we use almost every day). And while I know that I get a 25# bag at a bargain ($43) at a local store, that is many times what I used to pay for unbleached flour. And all my wheat flour (for my delicious whole wheat and flax bread) I ground myself. So Celiac is sad, especially for the wallet! But except for bread (my greatest sorrow!), we have had success just substituting this BRM GF flour mix in any recipe we have tried thus far (as long as we use a small amount of xanthum gum - which brings up another topic for another day). We also LOVE the BRM brownie mix and have used the BRM biscuit mix to make the biscuit topper for our veggie pot pie (made last night by my 16 year old - DELICIOUS!!!). None of the other BRM mixes we have tried thus far (vanilla cake or pancake mix, for example) are as good (in our opinion) as our own made-from-scratch recipes. Eventually, I would like to make my own flour mixes, but for now, I sing the praises of BRM!

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    1. What a great price! I'm glad BRM is working so beautifully for you. I first tried it with pancakes and did not live the bean flavor. Will have to try it in other recipes as well.

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    2. Betsy, I did NOT like that bean flavor much at all when I first tried it. It has grown on me, and my kids. I still have my homemade wheat bread available, but now most of my kids ask for both wheat and GF bread, depending on their mood. So I feel confident we will eventually be able to fully transition to GF bread without too many tears. I made my regular wheat bread recipe recently with these changes - I obviously added no wheat gluten, I added (I think it was) 1 tsp of xanthum gum and I used BRM GF flour mix in place of my freshly ground wheat flour flour (using only 3 1/2 cups GF flour where before I had ground 3 cups of whole wheat which yielded probably more like 4 1/2 cups of flour). I made it as 2 baguettes (in my new baguette pan!) instead of one loaf since you just don't get the same rise. But it wasn't bad at all. I even found myself craving more. I also made rolls/hamburger buns out of the same dough.

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  3. Continuation of the lengthy response from the vegan sister diagnosed with Celiac… Recently, my husband (who went GF the day I was diagnosed just to be supportive of me) and I discussed with our six children how they would feel about making our house gluten free while still purchasing gluten-containing snacks that they could take in lunches or eat outside. Much to my surprise, no one was too opposed. My especially conscientious 16-year-old was ALMOST relieved because she was regularly confessing to me that she had "contaminated" this or that in the kitchen and was always worried that she would make me sick. (Too bad the six year old didn't worry about making me sick!)

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  4. Continuation of the lengthy response from the vegan sister diagnosed with Celiac… But there were some things my kids were sad to give up. So we discussed how best to address each of these things. The things they were sad to give up included: (1) ramen (considered a junk food at my house and allowed only on Sundays, when the kids prepared it themselves). This we decided to give up altogether, since it isn't any good for them anyway. Being vegan, we never used the seasoning, so I said we could make our "ramen" soup with spaghetti instead. So far, so good. I have a great broth mix that they had always used in place of the seasoning that comes with the ramen. (2) Flour tortillas. We love burrito night with my tasty homemade refried beans (and sometimes black beans, too). This week, we had our first totally GF burrito night. The 16-year-old was in charge of dinner and she wouldn't allow anyone to have flour tortillas (even though they are still in the gluten area of our kitchen). Everyone survived with corn tortillas or tostadas. I would still like to try a GF Indian flat bread recipe my sister-in-law sent me because my 16-year-old would love a replacement for flour tortillas so she could still make her yummy wraps (hummus, veggies, etc). (3) Pretzels. My kids LOVE pretzels with hummus. Frankly, they ate way too many pretzels. So now, those are in the “treats cupboard” in my hall, and they can take a bunch to eat as a snack on the way home from school. They eat far fewer pretzels, so I am happy. They wish they could enjoy them with hummus, but I say - eat your hummus with chips or veggies. They still somehow eat an inordinate amount of hummus! (4) Pita and bread. Only a few people really loved the pita, but they liked it for quick sandwiches. But bread was a BIG sticking point. My kids consider white bread dessert food. They LOVE it, but they don’t eat much white bread. My kids have been eating my hearty wheat bread their entire lives. Many of my friends and neighbors love this bread and ask me to make it for them if I go too long without bringing by a loaf. When I was diagnosed with Celiac, my husband looked at me with teary eyes and said, “Oh honey. Your bread. I am so, so sorry.” So that gives you an idea how we feel about my bread. So beyond the never ending annoyance of calling companies and trying to sort through cross-contamination issues, bread has been the #1 stressor of being diagnosed with Celiac. We decided that my homemade bread would remain a part of our family’s life until I could come up with a decent alternative.

    I have made both varieties of BRM GF bread mixes. With a flax substitute for eggs, they aren't too bad. (One has lots of seeds and is similar, ironically, to the flavor of traditional rye bread, also forbidden for Celiacs.) I have had delicious GF bread made by a local vegan bakery that has many GF products. It is made from garbanzo bean flour and brown rice flour (along with all the necessary complementary starches) as well as flax vinegar. I would really like to figure out that recipe!!!

    Vegan and gluten free is not the easiest combo as the only decent grocery store off-the-shelf GF bread contains eggs. But I have been vegan for 20+ years, and I don't feel like going back now. So no option of eating extra meats until I feel full. I am still working on the healthy snacks and foods I can eat when too busy to cook and/or desperate for something quick. “Luckily” for me, I am well accustomed to reading labels and being that pesky dinner guest who can’t eat anything you prepared. In my own kitchen, beyond baked desserts and bread, much of my cooking – excluding pasta dishes (which I now make with brown rice pasta) – was already gluten free (like chana masala and lentil daal, veggie enchiladas, veggie stir fries, and yummy soups). At least Betsy and I have each to commiserate and share ideas!

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  5. Betsy, Jeanette told me about this site. The chef is all about cooking with "alternative" grains. This link takes you to the GF recipes.
    http://www.chefbrad.com/recipes/category.php?category=&cat_id=18.

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  6. So sorry to hear this. I am traveling and am learning first-hand how difficult it can be to go gluten-free. I do not have celiac, so if I have to eat wheat, I just shrug and go on, but for someone who can't have a crumb of it, I can see how life can be very challenging. Good luck to you.

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    1. Thank you, Nadine! I am still trying to decide how extremely to avoid gluten while eating out and traveling. How much stress and inconvenience it's worth..

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  7. Oh man, I am so sorry to hear that you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease. I know a couple of folks struggling with this, and it's hard for sure. There are some great vegan blogs out there that are either totally GF or very GF-friendly, if you need cooking inspiration! These are my faves:

    http://forkandbeans.com/
    http://kitteekake.blogspot.com/
    http://www.allysonkramer.com/
    http://veganricha.com/

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    1. Natalie (the vegan sister) appreciates your sharing these sites! Thanks!

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    2. Thank you, Becky. Coming from awesome vegan food blogger Becky Striepe I know these sites will be awesome!

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  8. Sorry to hear it but I'm glad you are sharing your experience with your readers - there is a lot to be learned! I have not experienced it myself but I can appreciate how hard it is. Hang in there!

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  9. I have been gf (celiac) for many years now. I never was much of a bread eater so that didn't bother me but when I do want some I go for "Udi's". I just keep it in the freezer and pull out a slice or two. They make a variety of baked goods. Other baking I do myself but rarely as I am not a sweet eater. I rarely use any grains but I sometimes bake muffins with almond and/or coconut flour. I make a killer flourless chocolate cake and piecrusts with nut flour. Mostly I just eat veggies, fish, meat (was vegetarian pre diagnosis), eggs, some fruit, some beans, nuts . . . Just food that comes the way it grew.

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    1. Thank you, Diane. Great to hear from someone ahead of me on this new path.

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  10. I have been gluten-free for nearly 3.5 years now. After a while you get used to it. Rice cakes are handy to always have on hand for a snack (I'm in the UK and can easily get organic rice cakes).

    My favourite blog is The gluten-free girl and the chef www.glutenfreegirl.com (she also has some books if you like her writing).

    I hope you soon adapt to your new diet.

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    1. Thank you, Liz! I just checked one of gluten-free girl's cookbooks out from the library.

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