Archive for the ‘Basics of Gluten Free Living’ Category

What are symptoms of Gluten sensitivity?

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

There is no clearcut answer to that question. Apparently, symptoms can run the gamut from no symptoms at all to debilitating chronic health problems.

Retrospectively, I feel I likely sufferred from Gluten issues for years. Once upon a time I had delighted in planning and preparing meals, selecting ingredients, cooking, baking, and eating. Somewhere along the line of time I lost interest in food. I no longer had an appetite. I simply wasn’t hungry. I had no taste for food and no desire to think about it.

It became quite common for me to rise in the morning and begin my day without thought to what I would eat. Before I knew it, it was nearing dinner time and the family needed something to eat. Dinner was often the first meal of my day. As I look back, I realize that by postponing eating, I postponed the way food made me feel… tired and generally not “well”. Postponing my first meal of the day allowed me to get things done. It had become a coping mechanism.

Yes, I had intestinal issues. Things “moved” too slow or to rapidly on any given day or hour. I regularly experienced abdominal pain, gas, bloating, acid reflux, and heartburn. Diverticular polyps were removed. I had issues swallowing. Tests showed my esophagus was narrow, but could that completely account for why, at times, it would “shut down” restricting even the swallowing of my own “spit”, while at other times it seemed fine.

Digestive problems weren’t my only concerns I associate with Gluten. They include:

  • Generally not feeling well
  • Mild depression,( not at all characteristic of me)
  • Regularly feeling tired, run-down, excessively fatigued
  • Wheezing in the chest, attributed to “asthma”
  • Gynecological problems and hormonal imbalance (Thankfully, Arbonne’s Balancing cream provided relief for these after surgery had required Hormone Replacement Therapy. I have, however, often wondered, “What if I knew then what I know now?” What if I had better understood hormone imbalance and Gluten sensitivities? Could I have avoided surgery and the serious post-op infection that followed? )
  • Intensely itchy skin that bled when scratched
  • Skin sensitivity and erythema nodosum
  • Eye pain – aching, burning, light sensitive
  • Profound joint pain and visible inflammation in joints and extremities

Once Gluten Free and feeling better, I finally understood how ‘bad’ I had been feeling for years. Hindsight is 20/20!

The good news is that the “cure” didn’t require a prescription or surgery. By simply eliminating Gluten from my diet, completely, consistently, I have re-awakened my appetite. I get hungry. I look forward to meals and have a “taste” for food again. I again takes simple pleasure in the aroma, flavor, and texture of food. I have more energy and stamina throughout my day. I feel as if a “fog” has lifted. I have noticed inflammation is gone, not only in my joints and extremities, but also in my face. My knees are no longer stiff and painful.

What is your experience? Please feel free to share.

My hope for this blog is that it will, in part, raise awareness of Gluten concerns and understanding for those with Gluten issues, also that those of us who now live Gluten Free might know we are not alone.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Like my quilt by the same name, Gluten is often “Hiding in Plain Sight”.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight

Can you see the zebras in this kaleidoscope quilt? They are in there… everywhere. The fabric cut up to make these hexagon and octagon blocks is patterned with zebras all over it.

Similarly, Gluten can hide in the most unlikely of places.

Whole peanuts, for example, should be a safe food. I can eat them in the shell, but shelled peanuts from a can makes me ill. How can that be?

Well, for some reason many companies thought it a good idea to spray peanuts with a substance that contains Gluten.

Oddly enough, I can eat canned cashews. They don’t bother me at all.

What has been your experience?

Where have you found Gluten hiding in plain sight???

Becoming a Gluten Sleuth… where does it hide?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Those choosing to go Gluten Free have quite a challenge before them. Because Gluten is not, in and of itself, an ingredient in processed foods or other products, it is not found listed on labels. Packaged, processed foods that are labeled Gluten Free are safe bets, but everything else is suspect.

Gluten doesn’t only hide in food products. It can also be found in over-the-counter and prescription medications, multivitamins, the adhesive on postage stamps and envelope seals, skin care products, hairspray, cosmetics, tooth paste, and even Play-Doh.

Some foods are naturally Gluten Free. These include fresh, whole foods such as:

  • Chicken (not processed, treated, or sliced)
  • Chickpeas (Hummus)
  • Eggs
  • Fruits
  • Fish
  • Gluten Free GRAINS (Buckwheat, Corn, Millet, Quinoa, just to name a few)
  • Meat (not processed, treated, or sliced)
  • Nuts
  • Rice
  • Seeds
  • Pure form of SPICES
  • Vegetables
  • Pure VANILLA and Vanilla Extract

Always look for “Gluten Free” options when selecting the following:

  • Beer
  • Beverages (mixes, canned, bottled)
  • Breads
  • Candy
  • Canned Foods
  • Cereals (including oatmeal and other hot cereals)
  • Cheese
  • Chips
  • Chocolate
  • Commercial Licorice Candies
  • Communion Wafers
  • Condiments (such as Ketchup)
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Dairy Substitutes
  • Deli Meats
  • Frozen Foods
  • Gelatin Desserts and Puddings
  • Products containing Glucose Syrup
  • Gravies and sauces
  • Groats
  • Gum
  • Ice Cream and Sorbets
  • Meal Replacement Bars and Shakes
  • Muffins
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Pizza Crusts
  • Salad Dressings
  • Mixed Seasonings and Ground Spices
  • Soy Sauce
  • Soup/Stock bases

Avoid the following:

  • Artificial colorings and flavorings (including “natural flavors”), “fillers”, modified food starch and “softeners” on packaged food labels
  • Brewer’s Yeast (other yeasts are generally safe)
  • Soft Cheeses including Cottage Cheese, “fat-free” cheeses, Blue Cheese, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Stilton Cheese
  • Brown Rice Syrup (contains barley malts)
  • Croutons
  • Decaf, Instant, and Flavored Coffees, and some Herbal Teas
  • Egg substitutes
  • Emulsifiers or “Emulsifying Agents” in packaged foods
  • Imitation foods, like bacon bits and seafood
  • Fried foods that are battered or foods cross contaminated in the frying process
  • Germ
  • Grain alcohols
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • HVP and HPP (Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein and Hydrolyzed Plant Protein) used in many “fake” meats
  • Malt
  • Pre-made Marinades and Restaurant Marinades
  • Instant Flavored Rice Mixes
  • “Light” Sour Cream
  • White Vinegar

While this list is comprehensive, there are sure to be things still in question. If in doubt, do without. Better safe than sorry!

What is Gluten?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

This post is to answer the most basic of questions I am often asked… “What IS Gluten”?

Gluten is a protein found in grains: Wheat (including Bran, Bulgur, Couscous, Durum, Einkorn, Emmer, Farina, Farro, Kamut, Matzo meal/flour, Orzo, Panko, Seitan, Semolina, Spelt, and Udon), Barley (including Malt and Caramel coloring), Rye, Triticale, and contaminated Oats. Like its name sounds, Gluten acts like a “glue” holding foods together, it allows for the elasticity of dough and creates the texture of breads and pastas. Gluten is also added to processed foods as a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent.

Gluten-Free grains include: Corn, Potatoes, Quinoa, Rice, and Tapioca (derived from Cassava). Less common, but also Gluten-Free are the following grains: Amaranth, Arrowroot, Chia Seed, Lupin, Millet, Montina, Sorghum (Jowar), Sweet Potatoes, Taro, Teff, and Yam. Pure Buckwheat is not related to wheat and is Gluten Free, however commercial buckwheat products are often a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour, making them unacceptable. Gram flour (which comes from Chickpeas) is Gluten-Free and should not be confused with graham flour, which is made from wheat.

Sounds simple, straightforward, right? Wrong.

Eating Gluten Free has required that I become a “Gluten Sleuth”. It was challenging at first, but has gotten easier over time… and living Gluten Free has been worth the effort!!!

Does Gluten impact only digestive issues?

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Great question!!! Simple answer… no! Want to hear more? Read on…

I don’t think that everyone with joint pain should begin to attribute their discomfort to Gluten, but on the other hand, if you suspect you have Gluten issues, don’t be suprised to see your pain go away once you are Gluten Free.  That was my experience!.

I first had my right knee operated on about 10 years ago. My right knee cap had dislocated itself to the inside of my knee and locked on an arthritic spur on my femur, I was told. Ouch, is right! That was, perhaps, the worst pain I have even experienced in my life, and yes, I am a mother, twice. :) It ultimately took surgery to scrape things down a bit so my knee cap could sit down in its proper place and stop shifting about at the most unlikely moments. Following surgery I had physical therapy and was told I had no cartilage left in either knee and that my knees looked like those of an 80 year old woman. I was, then,  just barely half that age. (I do believe doctors, nurses, therapists, and the like should be required to take classes in school to teach them what should never be said to patients. That comment would fit into that category!)
From the time I could walk again I would regularly experience stiffness and pain in my knees (and other joints), most often accompanied by visible inflammation.
Six months before I realized Gluten was an issue for me I had been prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs for persistent knee pain from swelling.
Over the six months I tried again and again to go off this medication, but each time I found myself barely able to walk. It was not fun!!!
When talking with my doctors about digestive issues I was having I was told to go off the medication (suspecting the medication was the cause of my digestive issues) and I feared I would forever be stuck in a chair or on the sofa. However, in an attempt to help solve my digestive issues, I also decided to eat only fresh fruits and vegetables for the next two weeks. Amazingly, I had no joint pain and the swelling in my joints diminished greatly.
When I met with my doctor again after the two weeks he asked how I was feeling. My digestive issues had stopped and surprisingly my joint pain and inflammation had also disappeared. He asked what I had done differently, other than stopping the anti-inflammatory medicine, and I told him what I had been eating. He asked me, “Why did you decide to eat Gluten Free?”
I was shocked! I had barely heard that term up to that point and had definitely not  done it on purpose, but it sure had made all the difference. That led to many months of tests, but the verdict was in… I had an issue with Gluten and being Gluten Free made an impact on not only my digestive systems but my whole body. Perhaps I will talk more about that another time.

I’d love to hear of your experiences! What difference has eating Gluten Free made in your life? Or, put another way, in what ways do you feel better since going ‘Gluten Free’?

Like ‘Yoda’ says… “Do or do not, there is no “try”

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Living Gluten Free is not something someone does on a whim, that is for sure! It is a path taken for health and wellness issues… for a better quality of life. You see, for those with Gluten issues it is a daily, one snack and one meal at a time, all or nothing proposition.

A mistake people make is thinking that they can simply eat a little less gluten… to “try it out”. Unfortunately, it simply won’t work that way. If you suspect you have issues with Gluten, you will only be able to notice an improvement in symptoms when you are consistently completely Gluten Free for a period of time.

I recommend a period of two weeks as an initial trial. If, after two weeks, you don’t notice an improvement in symptoms, then this may not be your issue. If you see an improvement and then go back to eating Gluten, you will immediately see a return of symptoms if Gluten is your concern.

This is a hard concept for some to grasp. After all, diabetics CAN eat some sugar. Diabetics simply compensate for indulging in sugar by adjustments to their medications. But with gluten it is not like that… it is truly all or nothing.
It is good or bad news, depending on your perspective, that there is no Rx ‘quick fix’ for Gluten (though personally I think abstinence  from Gluten is the perfect solution… it works, it is simple, it is cheaper than prescriptions and has no side effects or complications).

For clarification, Gluten is not a food allergy. For those with gluten issues… Gluten is toxic to them. You wouldn’t be ok with eating “just a little” lighter fluid (simply an example folks, I definitely do NOT recommended that anyone try that!!!)… and the same is true of gluten.

One such occasion for me was while on a recent trip to Cancun, Mexico. Even though my husband is fluent in Spanish, it was challenging to communicate my concern with the restaurant and wait staff there so it was up to me to decipher the menu and make choices from food buffets. I once ordered gazpacho soup with lunch. It is basically cold vegetable soup. As I sipped from my first spoonful, I noticed that the broth seemed to have an element of thickness to it… more than would be found in plain broth. I passed that soup along to my husband to enjoy as I noticed the first signs of symptoms within minutes.

For me, that first sign is often a discomfort in my chest, not unlike if someone were able to inflate a helium balloon within my rib cage. The pressure is quite uncomfortable and even shortens my breaths. Of course that leads to others issues further down the digestive track, but the discomfort caused by just that one bite faded within a few hours. I get similar symptoms when something I eat has been cross contaminated with Gluten during the preparation process. If I eat a lunch that has Gluten in it by mistake I will additionally pay for it by not feeling well for a few days. Life is too short to sacrifice quality of life for a few days or even a few hours.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on living Gluten Free! How long have you been living Gluten Free? Has it gotten easier for you over time???

At all stages of life, people are seeking Gluten answers…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with key people at a local retirement community regarding Gluten issues. I was pleased at their responsiveness.

This meeting flowed from a previous meeting with my Mom and other residents who have Gluten issues and their General Manager. As part of their community offerings,  a ‘meal plan’ there provides meals for the residents. Currently it has been very challenging for those residents with Gluten issues to find meals they can eat there.
We were told in our first meeting that the residents can call the kitchen manager and make their personal requests known… even as frequently as daily. But for my Mom, who has only recently discerned that the years of health issues she has suffered from stem, in part, from issues with Gluten, isn’t sure what to request.

It would be wonderful if the staff were to fix at least one delicious Gluten Free meal each week and have all Gluten Free foods in the Bistro and Gluten Free meal options in the dining rooms identified as such.

As more and more people become aware of issues with Gluten, and more of the Baby Boomer generation head to retirement communities, these facilities need to be prepared to provide for their Gluten Free residents as they do any other.

This issue with Gluten is not going away. Especially as it gets more news coverage. I understand that Dr. Nancy Snyderman was heard mid- January, 2010 commenting on NBC’s Today Show that it is now commonly recognized that a high percentage of people in America today have issues with Gluten, many of which are undiagnosed.

With all the complications and side effects from prescription drugs that fill the PDR, I am glad that this health concern can be quite simple to treat! No drugs needed. Simply eliminate Gluten from the diet and the “problem” is solved.

Following yesterday’s meeting, it is our hope that the Chef and staff will be able to identify which ingredients and products they get from their supplier are Gluten Free (contractual agreements limit their choices at this time), and that they will be able to provide that info to the residents so residents can begin to make informed food choices. The plan is to meet monthly to help raise awareness among residents and to further communication on this issue.

If the goals discussed are achieved, this facility will certainly be making advancements toward improving the quality of life for their current residents and setting themselves ahead of their competition as future residents consider where they will choose to live in their “golden years”.

Gluten Free, a diet?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Yes, it is a ‘diet’ in the sense that it defines the sum of food eaten. Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book, “The GFree Diet, A Gluten-Free Survival Guide” is a great resource. But is G-Free eating a weight loss regimen? Not necessarily.

Gluten Free Mixes

Gluten Free Mixes

Yes, we give up the typical breads, cereals, crackers, “carbs”, but there is a whole new world of Gluten Free foods to discover. Pamela’s mixes offer two choices. I use Pamela’s Bread Mix & Flour Blend to make pizza crust, but it is also recommended for pie crusts, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and more. Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix makes waffles, scones, muffins, loaf cakes, cookies, biscuits, coffee cake and more. My personal favorite mix for scones is Gluten Free Pantry’s muffin & scone mix which makes scones that rival the best I have eaten anywhere, ever. Whole Foods has a wonderful selection of frozen Gluten Free muffins and cookies, pie crusts, and more tasty treats.

So even those who must choose to be Gluten Free must choose a weight loss diet if they want to lose weight. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables and eating lean meats work for us as they do for others. Occasionally it is nice to substitute a meal with a protein shake. Arbonne has two delicious high quality vegetarian protein shakes to choose from (chocolate & vanilla) that are Gluten Free. Wahooo!!!  Arbonne’s “Chews” (also Gluten Free) make excellent snacks to curb the appetite and boost the metabolism and can also be enjoyed in place of dessert.

So choosing to stick to a diet of Gluten Free foods can make you feel better, but won’t necessarily cause you to lose weight. I think that’s awesome! Choices are wonderful! Here’s to making careful and purposeful choices.  Happy, healthy eating!!!

Feelin’ the LOVE

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

On Valentine’s Day we share our hearts and love with others.

Everyday we can make others “feel the love” with little things like a smile, a hug, a kind word, a squeeze of the hand, holding a door open, or going out of our way to let someone else know how much their friendship is cherished. I recall a few such occasions when I was honored with an extraordinary “little” act of kindness.

One such occasion was during my first “Gluten Free” holiday season when I was truly overwhelmed with the love shown me by a dear friend. I know her to always be “the hostess with the most-ess!!!” Gatherings at her home are cherished moments among friends where all feel honored, but her extraordinary act of kindness on my behalf was so unexpected and will never be forgotten.
Despite the fact that she is a vegetarian, she always goes out of her way to make delicious meat dishes she knows her guests will love. The dining room table is full to overflowing with shrimp, meatballs, fruit and veggies, cheeses and crackers, artichoke dip, stuffed mushroom caps, and a wide array of beautifully decorated cookies and other desserts.  Her thoughtfulness knows no limit.
Knowing that I was having a hard time finding foods I could eat when out, she did her research and called 1-800 numbers until she had a sideboard full of delicious Gluten free goodies in my honor. A beautifully penned sign labeled that array to be Gluten Free. I truly felt the love that went into making me feel a part of the festivities that evening!!!

It is my wish that everyone who must eat Gluten Free might similarly have the support of family and friends who understand their dilemma and show them consideration when planning shared dining experiences.

Here’s to love!

Ahhh… Gluten Free Chocolate!

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Throughout the day I had mulled over a few topics to write about, however, my plans changed when a beautiful heart shaped box arrived this afternoon via UPS.  The delivery was, in and of itself, not an easy task given the snow conditions. Yesterday’s winds had created 4 foot drifts in places.  UPS actually called us from town and asked us to come pick up our package from them, oh my! At least they got it most of the way here.

I knew instantly from the return address that this box contained a special treat.

See's Assorted Chocolate Candy Heart Valentine

Each year the VPs in my company are the recipients of an ever so sweet box of See’s Chocolate Candies from our CEO and company President. Usually, I would open it right up and pick out a tasty treat… but this year I had to first find a 1-800 number to call and check on ingredients. While online I noted that there was a link to check on allergen information and low and behold they had a list of the candies they make that contain Gluten. Imagine that!  There were 16 different candies they make that contain Gluten, but joy of joys… my box of chocolate treats are Gluten Free. Wahooo!

Now, I know that these wouldn’t be considered “healthy” if I were to have a steady diet of them, but once a year one can make an exception and while they last I will be able to see, smell, and taste the love.