The irony of this post, which is a comprehensive look at my sensitivity to gluten, is not at all lost on me. I have struggled for years to eat right, eat healthily, and yet I’ve developed something that has thrown me (completely) for a loop.
In 2007, I started this blog devoted to my family’s transition from a regular diet to an all organic diet. That transition eventually included some natural foods because sourcing all organic can be pretty expensive and in the area, we live in hard to buy. Along with changing my family’s diet, I also wrote term papers and completed projects all throughout college devoted to eating healthier, the organic food movement and food safety.
Sometime around 2002- 2003, I began to feel ill every time I ate red meat. My stomach would hurt, fill up with gas, and become very tight. The red meat in our diet consisted of an occasional hamburger (at home) or roast beef dinner. From around 2002 until 2005, I took a lot of my stomach problems in stride although I did begin limiting red meat consumption and increasing organic (grass-fed beef) into our diets as well as more organic chicken. Every time I returned to red meat my stomach issue returned. Our diet consisted of salads, lean meats, light on the spicy and heavy on fruits and vegetables. In 2004 I had to go to the doctor because I developed an issue that had to do with ulcers on my bladder wall. Neither the physician nor the specialist knew how this happened but felt it would resolve on its own. It should be noted that in 2004, even though interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome existed, the physician I had at the time and the specialist just weren’t aware of it. If you would like to read more on this issue, I found a very good link here
Researchers don’t know very much about this issue but believe it may be connected to IBS, Fibromyalgia and other inflammatory issues in the body. This painful issue eventually resolved for me as I increased water intake, began daily kegel exercises, waited until my bladder felt full- a couple of hours went by vs. a couple of minutes and limited high acidic food and drink.
By 2007, I had stopped eating red meat altogether. However, I continued to eat organic chicken, organic lunch meat, turkey, and salmon. I had also stopped eating bread again. For the most part, my stomach pains and gas resolved. My IBS, which had been fairly non-existent for years, came back in and around 2004 and was finally settling down again. Normal life resumed, until 2011.
In 2011 I noticed I hiccupped whenever I had any condiments on my food. I also hiccupped with pasta, pickles and some desserts. I no longer could eat oatmeal, rye bread, or pizza without a stomach ache. Our diet began to change; slowly we began to eliminate junk out of our lives. First, most fast food and second condiments, lastly I eliminated snack foods-chips, cookies, crackers. Surprisingly enough I was able to add the condiments back in when we began to purchase organic condiments. I was also able to eat pickles again as long as they were purchased from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. What this led to was my slowly changing out ingredient laden products for gluten-free and/or organic products instead. The entire process was, quite simply put, exhausting. I began looking at labels and counting the number of ingredients in the products we were buying. I developed a household rule that if the product contained more than 5 ingredients we left it in the store. I think taste; real taste is one of the first perks we noticed. We were leaving behind processed junk for the real honest to goodness product. That was my fix, my cure for the processed foods. Little did I know my greatest enemy was still waiting out there for me. My enemy’s name is wheat-gluten and it’s everywhere.
It’s not been an easy journey. At times I have become quite upset looking at the lists of food I can no longer eat. I am very thankful to the grocery stores in my area for selling gluten-free products. That said, gluten-free is very expensive. One small pizza- single serve, is $7.00. A loaf of bread anywhere from $5-9.00 and the loaves are not the normal size loaves, think teeny tiny. Unfortunately, the food offerings are pizzas, egg rolls, bread, donuts, waffles and macaroni dishes. I think it’s great that there are donuts and cakes and waffles that are free of gluten, unfortunately, I don’t eat them. I am waiting for, as I am sure a few others are, for more healthy choices that are gluten- free. Yes, I said it, I want to eat healthily.
This year I am turning 50. Now more than ever I want to be healthy, happy and heart strong. I panic thinking that there is virtually nothing in the market I am able to eat. But there is it just takes practice and perseverance. I buy gluten-free pasta, gluten-free lunch meats, lots of fresh veggies and fruits and of course I am still able to eat rice. I am still able to eat dairy products as long as I stick to Organic Valley products. I became a vegetarian again last May; I do eat eggs, however (for now) because I am allergic to soy and the occasional organic lunch meat sandwich. I am working towards incorporating beans and lentils in my diet so that I won’t have to rely on lunch meat for extra protein. It takes time to get used to this way of eating, I need time…
For those reading who do not know about wheat-gluten, it is in everything. It is the main protein of wheat. Most flour and anything made with flour is off limits to me. So eating cookies, cakes, bread, buns, pizza crusts, taco’s, pasta and things breaded are off limits unless gluten-free. At this time there are very few restaurants that contain gluten-free menus. I found, through research, Wendy’s salad dressings; baked potatoes and hamburger (without the bun) are gluten-free. Also, Arby’s lunchmeats are gluten-free, so you’d have to bring your own gluten-free bun as you couldn’t order one of their sandwiches with their buns. I found Chick-fil-A to offer the best menu of any restaurant, with a six-page menu filled with gluten-free products. I have found a Chick- fil-A restaurant within 60 miles so I may have to stop and take a look at their menu. As with anything, cross-contamination is a concern, if the food service worker has been working with wheat products and doesn’t change their gloves, no matter what gluten-free item you order from the menu, you will become sick. Eventually, the time will come when restaurants will have to have separate kitchens for gluten-free food and staff assigned specifically to it. Currently, 1% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, 1 in every 133 Americans. It is thought that 83% of Americans suffering from celiac disease are undiagnosed. I found this information here
This site and other sites don’t even go into how many people, like me, suffer from sensitivity to gluten. The chief concern about having to deal with either one is malnutrition because they both damage the villi of the small intestine, interfering with the absorption of nutrients. If not properly addressed with a diet change, you risk your small intestine atrophying (reduced blood flow) which leads to the death of that tissue thus removal of the diseased tissue.
So far, since shortly after Thanksgiving of this year, I am symptom-free. My health overall for most of my life has been nearly perfect. I’ve had 2 colds in nineteen years and I haven’t had the sick flu (throwing up, diarrhea) in close to twenty, maybe even as long as thirty years. Once I stopped smoking my allergies went away, along with lifelong sinus problems. I do not take medications of any kind although I do take a probiotic supplement, b-complex and vitamin d(in the winter).
To find out whether you have gluten intolerance or sensitivity or celiac disease you must see a physician. You will undergo the usual questions etc. and you will undergo blood tests and other procedures (intestinal biopsy) to make the diagnosis. It may take some time for you to find out whether you have gluten sensitivity or something more serious called celiac disease. Keep this in mind; if you’ve stopped eating products with wheat gluten in them your tests will be negative. So see your physician at the first sign of discomfort while you are still consuming wheat in your diet. My disclaimer is- don’t rely on the internet entirely, you should see your trusted family doctor and go from there. Everyone is different and requires a somewhat different course of action. My post shows my personal journey and how I have come out the other side of pain and helplessness to a place where, given some persistence, I can still find food to eat that doesn’t hurt me.
I hold to my conviction of several years now that preservatives and chemicals are bad for you with my example of not being able to eat any other kind of condiments but organic ones. I hold to my conviction that meat filled with pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics are not good for human consumption. My stomach pains and tightness stopped when I began to eat organic meat and or grass fed beef. Right now the only company I trust completely, for providing good, clean, safe food is Organic Valley. Without this company, I would never have begun to drink milk again, been able to eat eggs(I tried other non-organic eggs and had allergic reactions to them) or ever known how delicious and healthy meat could be.
There are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently when I was younger (don’t we all), I take some of the responsibility for my current health issue. Whether for not eating well or for not going through the extra time and expense to stick to my convictions about eating locally, purchasing fruits and vegetables from trusted sources and not relying so heavily on convenience food or processed foods. Know where your food comes from, trace its origins. Don’t buy food filled with dangerous preservatives; eat real food locally grown meat and produce. Food isn’t supposed to be full of chemicals and unknown ingredients.
In conclusion, I owe a lot of my loyalty and devotion to small farmers to my late father who cared about the earth, his land and that around him and treated his farm animals humanely. His devotion to good farming, farming without pesticides and herbicides and his gentle nature with animals planted a seed inside me many years ago. There is a movement that is slowly taking hold in this country, returning people to their roots-eating from the land (their land, their local farmers) treating animals humanely and eliminating chemicals and antibiotics in the meat supply. Laws are being passed for safer food, labeled food (exact ingredients) and the origins of our food (where is it from). Big farming is being scrutinized. The time has come, especially with new insurance laws, for people to take full responsibility for their health and begin a very proactive approach to safer food consumption. If we all demand it, it will come.
Great sites that have helped me immensely with questions about wheat gluten diets etc. are here here and here
Gluten-free food-Amy’s Gluten-free dinners, Udi’s Gluten-free bread, and Feel Good Foods, Cup4Cup Gluten-free flour (available at Williams Sonoma). There are many more companies making cereal, bread, crackers, cookies, and so much more. Most grocery stores have a specific aisle for gluten-free products and special diet foods. Eventually, I will get around to trying them all. I will post reviews as I have them. The eggrolls by Feel Good Foods are out of this world, better than any egg rolls I’ve ever had, and anything by Amy’s Kitchen is nutritious and delicious. I am finding Amy’s in most local grocery stores, if you aren’t her line is available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.