Have you noticed lately that everyone seems to be avoiding certain foods for one reason or another? Maybe it’s a food allergy or intolerance or perhaps just a dietary preference. Whatever the reason, avoiding certain foods can present challenges for both eating and cooking, but, as I have found, you can overcome them.
I am Jill (assistant to 100 Days of Real Food) and a little over 2 years ago, my husband started suffering from digestive problems following back surgery. After countless visits to doctors, including specialists, numerous medical tests and a weight loss of 40 pounds, we still had no answers. While his most severe symptoms had subsided, he was still not feeling well and was continuing to lose weight. Frustrated, we decided he should eliminate both gluten (despite him testing negative for celiac disease) and dairy (for which he had tested positive for a slight allergy although the doctors did not recommend avoiding it). It has been about 9 months now and his weight has stabilized and he is feeling pretty well overall. Even better news though is that his change in diet, although forced upon him, was really a gift. His diet of highly processed foods was finally catching up with him, even placing him at risk for elevated cholesterol (combined with a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease). Having to eliminate so much from his diet forced him to add in more whole foods, including fruits and vegetables. So, at the end of the day, while the initial change in diet was both difficult and frustrating at times, the long-term health benefits have been immeasurable.
We still do not have a definitive answer as to whether gluten or dairy was the cause of his illness, and the only way to tell for certain would be to add it back to his diet and see what happens. Right now we are not willing to do that as we are enjoying his improved health for this period of time, but we may eventually consider it just to know for sure.
Where Do I Start?
This was my biggest question and the one that caused me the most angst. Once I got started though, it became easier and almost second nature to cook within the parameters of these new food omissions. So, for starters, let’s focus on gluten first. Over the next few months, I plan to post more on food allergies and intolerances, specifically gluten and dairy, so please stay tuned.
Naturally Gluten Free Foods
So the big question I get from family and friends is “what can he eat?”. Here is a list of some more common naturally occurring gluten free foods.
- Fresh fruit – all kinds
- Fresh vegetables – all kinds
- Whole Grains
- Oats (use certified gluten free to avoid cross-contamination)
- Brown rice
- Wild Rice
The bigger issue is with the food preparation. For example, many marinades, dressings, sauces and other condiments contain wheat. For this reason, I now make all of my own marinades, dressings and sauces, not to mention that making them myself ensures that they are free of added sugar and preservatives. Additionally, there is the issue of cross contamination during food preparation with foods containing gluten.
What About the Rest of Your Family?
I am often asked if the rest of my family suffers from gluten sensitivity or intolerance and the answer is no. The obvious next question I usually get is “do you cook separate meals then or do you just have your whole family follow a gluten free diet?” Again, the answer is no. I do not (personally) believe that my children or I should avoid gluten without a medical reason to do so. I believe a diet rich in whole grains is important. A New York Times FAQ published last year quoted Michael Pollan as saying that “People who eat lots of whole grains are generally healthier and live longer than those who don’t.” In the same article Pollan also addressed gluten-free diets saying, “They are very important if you have celiac disease or can’t tolerate gluten. But it’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment, the evil twin of Omega 3 fatty acids. Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years, is suddenly making millions of us sick? I’m dubious.”
So, how do I accommodate my husband’s gluten free diet while allowing the rest of my family to eat wheat? For dinner, I most often cook a meal that is naturally gluten free. If I make something containing gluten, like whole-wheat biscuits (which my kids love), he just doesn’t eat it. On the occasion I serve a pasta dish, I make a gluten free sauce and prepare a separate gluten free pasta for him (like brown rice pasta) while the kids and I have whole-wheat pasta (although they are happy to eat the brown rice pasta too). Breakfast is probably our biggest challenge when it comes to making pancakes and waffles because I do often find myself making a whole grain version as well as a gluten free one. We all love oats too, so as long as I use certified gluten free oats, everyone can eat them and feel good. And, finally, lunch…this is my easiest meal since my husband only eats this meal at home on the weekends…PHEW!
A Final Word About a Gluten Free Diet
A gluten free diet can present a challenge in regards to whole grain intake since it eliminates some of the most common sources of whole grain, including wheat, rye and barley. Fortunately, it can also provide an opportunity to eat a more whole food diet as is evidenced by the list above. While there are many refined gluten-free grain replacements such as cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch and white rice flour, the variety of nutritious gluten free whole grains is plentiful. So, rather than having the gluten free diet be a challenge, look at is as an opportunity to increase both variety and nutrient content through the incorporation of the above mentioned gluten free foods, including whole grains.
I’d like to leave you with two gluten free recipes to try that will help incorporate the whole grains listed above.