Life On the Gluten-Free Fringe

It seems like everyone is talking about gluten these days, but some people still don’t understand why the discussion is important. Gluten is a HUGE deal because wheat, the primary source of gluten, has been so genetically modified, that our bodies no longer recognize it as food. We have a hard time processing it, and it can wreak havoc on our immune systems.

I learned about guten the hard way, after a long battle with what my doctor called IBS (irritable bowel syndrome…worst disease name ever) in the late 1990’s. It was a difficult time in my life, so everyone, including me, thought my illness and weight loss were related to stress. My doctor told me to stick to the BRAT diet (banana, applesauce, rice, and toast) until I felt better. It only made things worse. I was miserable, until I finally tried a gluten elimination diet. Within a few weeks, I got back to a healthy weight, and could eat regular foods again. My chronic sinus headaches also got better. It seemed that gluten might have been the issue all along.

After that, I tried to stay away from gluten, but would  still “cheat” every now and then. That was when the gluten/disease connection became crystal clear. There was no doubt about it…I was gluten intolerant.

This is why, when my kids and husband suffered from stomach aches, wheezing, stuffy noses, and headaches last year, I put them all on a gluten elimination diet. I cleaned out the cupboards, and asked everyone to avoid gluten when they were away from home. We talked about hidden sources of gluten (such as soy sauce and snack bars), and how we should never eat anything unless we are 100% sure it is gluten-free. Sure enough, everyone in the family felt better within a few weeks, and we became a gluten-free family.

I involved my family in the transition as much as possible. I taught them how to read labels, and empowered them to make gluten-free choices at the grocery store. They learned to replace sandwiches with soups/salads, flour-based cereals with organic corn-based cereals, crackers with gluten-free chips (such as sweet potato chips), and cookies and cakes with fruit, yogurt, or dark chocolate.

Reframing the way we think about snacks helped, too. I offered more fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds in their backpacks and family snack trays, and no one seemed to mind. Pretty soon, foods from the earth became our family’s favorite munchies.

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I did find some tasty gluten-free substitutions to keep on hand, which has helped a lot. We use them in moderation because they cost more, and are lower in nutrients than plant-based foods. Our favorite gluten-free foods are Udi’s breads, Nature’s Path cereals, Glutino crackers, Pasta Joy  pastas, Trader Joe’s ginger snaps, Pamela’s baking mixes, and Kinnikinnick frozen pizza crusts.

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Admittedly, it was not easy for my family of five to adjust to a gluten-free life….but it was absolutely worth it! These days, we get sick less often, and we all have a lot more energy. My husband and I have an ongoing dialogue with our kids about “real food”, and how to select healthy gluten-free options. The girls do a fairly good job of avoiding gluten (it can’t be easy to say no to a cupcake, when you are a kid!), and I think they enjoy being experts on the matter.

I do have to plan ahead for birthday parties and school celebrations, to make sure the kids have a delicious alternative to cakes and cookies. Most of the time my girls are happy with the substitution, and deal pretty well. This is one of their favorite treats:

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The bottom line is that, because my family wants to be crazy healthy, we avoid gluten like the plague. It makes us sick, and it’s not really food. It took some time to change our minds, and our habits, but now we all love our crazy healthy gluten-free life.

 

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