Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thinking about going gluten free?

A lot of people have been asking me if the gluten free diet is right for them.  Their doctor may have recommended it or they just don't feel great.  Here's my advice and nuggets of knowledge for people before venturing into the gluten free diet, a gluten free introduction before Gluten Free 101, so to speak.  Remember: I am not a doctor or nutritionist.  I am a very well read gluten free blogger with a Bachelor's degree in Theatre and Creative Writing who is passionate about helping people.  I literally read every book the Chicago Public Library had on gluten free within my first three months on the diet.  My gluten free diet started in June 2010.  I have been lactose free since spring 2009.
Trust your gut.  Literally.  Listen to your body.  Do you need to take a nap after eating a piece of bread?  Are you sent into the a fit of stomach cramps after a cupcake?  Are things "unusual" in the bathroom after a bite of wheat?  What symptoms do you have?  Write everything down.  Even the stuff that you don't think matters - everything in your body is all connected.  It does matter.  Everyone's symptoms are different.
Know thyself.  Are you okay with going on a gluten free diet for the rest of your life without a confirmed diagnosis of Celiac Disease?  I had the following tests done and my results were always negative: blood work, stool testing, upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, and allergy testing (skin testing).  The only test left was the gene testing.  By the time my doctor suggested it (a new one at this point - I saw four gastros in less than two years), I knew I needed to be on a gluten free diet and was rocking it for over a year and a half.  She stressed to me the for the rest of your life part.  "Forever is a long time at your age."  (I'm 27 years young.)    Honestly, the only thing a positive gene test would change would be to require all my paternal relatives to get tested as well since it is likely from my Italian side of the family.  If the test were negative, I would still eat a gluten free diet.  It cost thousands of dollars to figure out that I did not have Celiac Disease and only one week on a gluten free diet to realize that it solved all of my problems.  (I started the diet on Monday and by Friday was back to normal.  For more on how the gluten free diet flipped the light switch in my body, check out this NBC clip:  For me, I spent so much time, effort, agony and money and was literally wasting away.  I had nothing else to try but a gluten free diet.  It saved my life.  I'm stubborn enough to stick with something and am passionate enough to do all the research and whatever it takes to keep my body going in a positive direction.  Officially, my gastro wrote down "gluten intolerant" in my chart.  I later found that there was a fancier name for it: NCGI - Non Celiac Gluten Intolerance.  Yes, you can have gluten intolerance without Celiac Disease.  The treatment is the same.  The diagnostic tools aren't defined yet.  Here's my simple test: do you feel better off gluten?  If yes, then stay off it!!!  
Remember: you need to be eating gluten if you want to have your doctor run tests!  Do not start a gluten free diet unless you are okay with never having an official test done to confirm your diagnosis.
No cheating.  When I told my dad that I was going to be gluten free, he asked if I could have a roll with dinner if I was gluten free all week.  Nope.  Not even a bread crumb.  My reactions were pretty mild when I was cross-contaminated or ate the wrong food (why in the world would people put malt in cereal?) my first few weeks of going gluten free.  After that, my reactions got more severe.  Now, if I am glutenized, I miss a day of work, spend five days having my body recover, lose two pounds and get either a cold or migraine (my immune system goes into hibernation after a reaction...)  My mildest gluten hangover is much worse than my worst alcohol induced hangover.  I can't try a piece of my brother's wedding cake next month - not even a sliver.  And when that bread basket goes around the table, I lean back in my chair and let people pass it over me so I don't touch it.
Have a "last meal".  My original expirement was going to be one week off gluten, one week on gluten, then report to my doctor how I felt.  It turns out that I felt so great off gluten that I didn't want to go back on.  I knew I needed to try it again to make sure that no other factor triggered the radical change in my body.  I only made it one meal on gluten.  My "last meal" was ravioli from Whole Foods (finding some that were dairy free was a royal pain two years ago) and a (soy) ice cream sandwich.  After that in June 2010, I never consciously ate gluten again.  For me, it immensely helped to be emotionally ready to move to a life without gluten.  Most of the time, I enjoy the diet.  The negative feelings I have tend to have (and they are rare, but worth noting so you don't think the diet is all sunshine, rainbows and frosted cupcakes) are rejected (going to a party without anything but a glass of wine to eat), annoyed (why the bleep did you put gluten in this food?), sad (I'll never eat Jimmy John's again), and nervous (concerned about safe food options at unknown events).
Eating isn't as spontaneous.  You will become a label sleuth.  Gluten free means more than just wheat free.  You need to be free of malt, barley, rye and most oats.  Oats make the list due to cross contamination issues since they often share the same fields and equipment as wheat.  Did you know that beer and soy sauce contain gluten?  Did you know that companies like Bard's Beer and San-J offer even better alternatives than the original variety?  When dining out, I use restaurant cards to inform my server and chef of my food intolerances.  Almost all of my meals outside the comfort of my kitchen have been fantastic!  Check out some tips and tricks on dinning out.
Gluten is everywhere!  In your lipstick, shampoos, and even medicine!  (Gluten and lactose are often binders on medicine - lactose is especially common.  If you are considering a gluten free diet, call the manufacturer and ask if the product if gluten free.  There's nothing worse than a raging headache made worse by ingesting gluten.)  Companies are being much more proactive about labeling things as gluten free every year.  At my dentist, the fluoride they used said "gluten free" right on the front!
You'll eat healthier.  That's not to say that you'll stop eating bread, cupcakes, donuts, and cookies.  There are plenty of those out there - and they taste wonderful!  But they are pricey so you'll find yourself reaching more for fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.  I increased my vegetable intake a crazy amount after going gluten free.  Diets like the paleo diet are great for meal inspiration.  Paleo is also known as the caveman diet - so you eat what our foremothers and fathers could hunt and gather.  It is naturally dairy and gluten free!
You'll try new foods.  Have you ever tried millet before?  Tastes great!  (Yes, Mom, this is the same grain that you feed your bird.  But mine is cooked!)  I love using brown rice flour for coating chicken - it has much more flavor than wheat flour.  The diet had me trying new things - like summer squash!  (I know, not a radical thing for most people, but I never tried it before going gf.)
You'll be part of a growing community.  When I first figured out I had NCGI, I felt like an impostor.  Could I go to Celiac events and meetings?  Was I any less gluten intolerant than other people since that had a biopsy test they could point to?  The answer is no.  No matter how you found out or what your doctor says, you can proudly wear the gluten free label.  I am the co-leader of the Chicago chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group.  I "like" a lot of companies on Facebook and stay up-to-date with their latest products - and even snag some coupons!  This week, I have pizza plans with two other gluten free gals.  My life isn't slowing down on a gluten free diet!
You'll get crafty in the kitchen.  There are so many recipes to try!  With the convenience of fast food taken away, I learned how to cook great tasting meals.  I normally cook 4-6 servings at a time and freeze the leftovers in individual portions so I can have homemade frozen meals at my fingertips.  I work over 50 hours a week and have time to work, cook, clean, and enjoy my life!  If I can do it - any one can!  (I was a horrible cook before going gluten free - but an amazing baker.  Now I can proudly wear my chef's hat and my baking apron in the kitchen.)
You'll use social media in new ways.  I have a blog, facebook page, pinterest account and twitter addition to a social media-free day job!  It can be a lot, but I feel fantastic and inspired being part of this larger community.
What advice would you give to someone considering a gluten free diet?  Anything you wish someone told you before you started?

GIG Recap: Breakfast

Our August meeting for the Chicago Chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group was all about breakfast foods.  Did you know that there are many delicious options out there?  Start your morning off on a great foot with a filling meal!
At the meeting, we made waffles using Namaste's waffle mix, a little water, eggs and oil.  In mere minutes, the eggs were broken, the mix blended and the waffle iron worked its magic!  Everyone at the meeting had their very own hot waffle - a first for our GIG chapter!

We also sampled lots of different breakfast products.  Ener-G has chocolate donuts (regular and donut holes) and  English muffins that were great tasting.  O'Doughs sent us a variety of their flavorful muffins and bagels   Our members left with a bag of Bob's Red Mill's new certified gluten free oat bran and coupons for frozen waffles from Van's Natural Foods.  Many thanks to these generous companies!  Our members certainly enjoyed tasting everything during our meeting!   You even have some new fans!

Reminder: Use a dedicated gluten free waffle iron!  They are surprisingly cheap.  I use mine a lot and make several batches of waffles at once and freeze them.  They are easy to heat in a toaster.  Speaking of toasters, every gluten free kitchen has a dedicated toaster, right?  Those pesky wheat crumbs go everywhere - don't let it touch your gf food!

Products we tried today:
Oat bran from Bob's Red Mill
Chocolate doughnuts, chocolate doughnut holes and English muffins from Ener-G
Muffins and bagels from O'Doughs
Waffles from Namaste Foods
Frozen waffles from Van's

Cuisinart Waffle Iron - $39.95

Great Resources for Lots of Breakfast Recipes

Broccoli and Italian Sausage Egg Muffins
Gluten Free Pancakes – Hold the Xanthan Gum
Gluten Free French Omlette
Vegan Chocolate Spinach Shake

Next GIG Meetings:
8:00pm.  South Loop Whole Foods Classroom, Chicagp.  FREE gluten free event.  Open to all!
September 10, 2012.  Lunches on the Go and Smart Shopping.
October 1, 2012. Octoberfest: Beer Tasting and Tasty Treats.
November 5, 2012.  All Are Welcome (Thanksgiving).
December 3, 2012.  The Twelve Cookies of Christmas.

GIG Recap: Barbecues and Picnics

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone!
I hope you are taking advantage of the gorgeous weather and are enjoying some good eats.

In June, the Chicago chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group chatted about summer barbecues and picnics.  We tasted Kinnikinnick's very soft hot dog and hamburger buns (they are PERFECT for your gluten free summer eats!) - have you tried them yet?  The adults in the group enjoyed Bard's beer.  It is made with sorghum and tastes just like regular beer, our members said.

Below is the information we shared at the meeting:

Gluten Free Barbecues and Picnics
Just because you are gluten free does not mean you need to pass up that invitation to a summer barbecue or picnic!  Here are some tips we shared:

Bring your own bread. 
Prevent cross-contamination
Grill foods for guests with food intolerances and allergies on a piece of tin foil.  Use separate utensils as well.
Only eat safe foods
This may mean passing up that tempting side dish because you do not know who prepared it or the complete ingredient list.  Better safe than sorry!  If you have friends or family members attending as well, you may want to plan ahead to make sure that there is a variety of delicious foods for you to enjoy.  This may be as simple as a cousin setting aside some half finished appetizers for you before she adds the finishing touches (which contain offending allergens).
Bring some chips!
There are a ton of potato chips now being labeled as gluten free.  These are a barbeque and picnic staple.  Make yourself a plate early on to prevent cross-contamination.
But watch out for the dip
If there are chips and pretzels next to the dip bowl, be wary before eating any dip.  Cross contamination can easily occur if wheat items are scooped into the dip bowl.
Stay (naturally) sweet
Fruit is a great dessert for hot summer days.  Why not try fruit kabobs?   Or cutting watermelon with cookie cutters and placing on popsicle sticks?
Have fun!
Summer in the city is short-lived.  Enjoy it!

Frito Lay’s allergen list:
Heinz’s gluten free list:
Grilled corn on the cob with lots of tutorial photos:

More resources:

We have gathered some recipes that you are sure to enjoy.  As always, remember to read labels diligently to make sure items are truly gluten free.  Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by working with clean utensils, bowls, towels…

Gluten Free Potato Salad with Fresh Green Beans and Tarragon Dressing:
Grilled Zucchini Salad with Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette and Shaved Romano and Toasted Pine Nuts:
Gluten Free Classic All American Hamburgers:
Chili and Garlic Chex Mix:
Watermelon Lemonade Recipe:
Summer Corn Salad: