Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gluten Free + Me

Why Gluten-Free is Right for ME

In February 2011, I had just finished another round of Prednisone for an asthma exacerbation (the 3rd round in a year) and I was so fed up with the heart palpitations, the acne, and the fact that it was slowly eating away at my bones. So I took matters into my own hands:

I started using all-natural, unscented soaps, shampoos, and lotions.
I started using the Neti-Pot every few nights before going to bed.
I started vacuuming the apartment and washing the sheets weekly (I'm allergic to dust mites).
And I finally went on the dreaded elimination diet my allergist (and my GI doc) recommended.

The elimination diet actually wasn't that bad. Really. I already knew I felt better when I ate lots of fruits and vegetables, and I had played around with vegeterianism/veganism so it wasn't too hard to eat that way for a week- cutting gluten out was the only unprecedented change. I didn't stay on the diet for the recommended 3 months, but one week in, I did notice an improvement in asthma and, surprisingly, a huge decrease in a few things I had assumed were just a part of my life: stomachaches, bloating, and night sweats.

To be honest, I also didn't realize that my IBS symptoms had started to ease up until I went back to eating the Standard American Diet again. I always thought meat was the "irritant" for my IBS but giving it up for a week or two last summer didn't make a huge difference. So this time, inspired by my cousin with celiac disease, I bit the bullet and just gave up gluten.

Wow. A week later my IBS was calming down again. My weird upper-right abdominal pain went away. A week after that my night sweats went away. And a month after that, I looked down at my fingernails and realized they had NEVER been so long and healthy. I remember as early as grade school they were always peeling and breaking and it grossed me out. I only had to cut them once a month and that was because they were breaking more than they were growing. But lately, I've had to trim them every week or two to keep them at the required short length for my job!

Sometimes eating something your body doesn't tolerate for long periods of time can lead to nutrient malabsorption. If that's why my nails are suddenly growing, I hope my bones are growing, too! I always thought it was weird that I was diagnosed with osteopenia at the age of 23. (Osteopenia is a loss of bone density, but it's not as bad as osteoporosis and since I'm not 30 yet, I can still reverse it.) Hopefully my running (and heck, standing all day at work) is enough weight-bearing exercise to help strengthen my bones in addition to the calcium/magnesium/vitamin D supplement I take. And now maybe I'm benefiting more from the nutrients I eat because I'm absorbing them better!

Avoiding gluten has been a huge boon for my IBS, but it didn't significantly help my asthma like I was originally hoping (although not looking 4 months pregnant after every meal and not having to take stool softeners every few days is certainly wonderful). Lately through trial and error, I've found that my asthma and congestion feel worse after eating lots of dairy. So I stick with coconut or almond milk for my daily oatmeal and try to only have cheese and goat's milk yogurt a few times a month, if that. But that's a different story.

I know gluten-free eating has been a bit of a fad lately but given all the processed GF goodies out there, it's definitely not a tool to weight loss or a healthy diet in and of itself. But if you have any sort of chronic health problem, it might be worth it (in my humble opinion) to try eating gluten-free for a week or two.

The first two weeks, it was just easier for me to avoid imitation products. I stuck to oatmeal at the time (I didn't seem to have a problem with Quaker Oats, but some people are sensitive enough that they can only eat gluten-free oatmeal), LOTS of brown rice, and baked goods made at home with almond meal and no starches or xantham gum. That's when I feel the best. But sometimes you want pancakes, or a hamburger on a bun, or donuts. So through a lot of trial and error, I'm learning which products are worth the higher price tag.

Gluten-Free Treats I Love

1-2-3 Gluten Free buckwheat pancakes
Ancient Harvest Quinoa pastas
Enjoy Life chocolate chips
King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free chocolate cake mix
King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free multi-purpose flour
Kinnikinnick graham-style crackers
Kinnikinnick donuts
Love Grown Foods Granola

Also, keep in mind that many unprocessed real foods are naturally gluten-free: all fruits and vegetables, rice, quinoa, nuts, beans, corn (and most corn tortillas), meat and eggs, unflavored milk and yogurt.

Gluten-Free Blogs That Saved My Sanity

I love to bake. It's messy and sometimes I eat too much of the batter/finished product, but it's still a stress relief for me. I know without a doubt that the 2 reasons that I've been able to stay Gluten-Free are 1.) The Hy-Vee by my apartment has an amazing GF section and 2.) It's different, but not impossible to bake GF, thanks to these blogs:

Elana's Pantry
Gluten Hates Me
Gluten Free Goddess
The Spunky Coconut
Nourishing Flourishing

Some Articles Worth Reading

Click HERE to read a little bit about gluten sensitivity vs. celiac disease

Click HERE to read a Wall Street Journal about gluten sensitivity

Click HERE to read about food allergies

HERE is the most recent addition to this list and also the most comprehensive explanation of gluten insensitivity.

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