In May I wrote a post on Gluten-Free Living and whether or not a gluten-free diet was for everyone. In that piece, I concluded that people fall into one of three groups. The first group consists of those diagnosed with celiac disease; they have no choice but to live a gluten-free life. The second group includes people who do not warrant a celiac disease diagnosis, but they do experience gluten-sensitive symptoms, such as digestive distress (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, fullness), brain fog, skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis, poor circulation / dark circles), exacerbated asthma, joint pain and endocrine issues, such as thyroid disorders or even infertility. This group experiences positive results once off gluten. The third group experiences no noticeable difference on a gluten-free diet.
I believe that nothing beats first-hand experience, because the truth is that your body knows best. After multiple people asked me whether or not they should cut gluten from their diet, I decided it was time to try a gluten-free diet for myself. I had already heard first-hand how positively people were affected by going gluten-free. One person’s health improved so drastically that she stopped needing hypothyroid meds, while another became 100% joint-pain free. It all sounded too good to be true.
The only way to really know if a certain dietary restriction will help you is to give it a try, and so I began my research. In the past century, “modern wheat” has been genetically manipulated to increase the proportion of gluten as a result of hybridization. Therefore, our exposure is much higher than normal, a change discussed in the well-known book Wheat Belly by Dr. Davis. While this book was a fascinating read, it is one thing to know the theory and quite another to understand the challenges of avoiding what I call the “W-BRO grains” (wheat, barley, rye, and most oats).
In reality, the half-life of gluten antibodies is typically 3–4 months. That’s about how long it takes to get gluten out of your system, barring variables such as health, previous gluten exposure, digestion and hydration (constipation and dehydration make matters worse) and food allergies. I opted for the crash course, a “Two-Week Gluten-Free Experiment.” For moral support and out of curiosity, both my husband and coworker followed the diet with me.
I cooked. As I wasn’t going to be able to eat my go-to granola cereal as a snack, I made a huge batch of homemade granola with gluten-free oats. I stocked up on Greek yogurt and made hard-boiled eggs with fruit for breakfast. I cooked a huge batch of brown rice and amaranth with beans and vegetables. I rediscovered quesadillas (made with corn tortillas, naturally!). I also made a huge pot of zucchini/carrot/Serrano soup (pictured) for dinner. And luckily for me, my upstairs neighbor, owner of Pitanga Juice, baked us a delicious loaf of gluten-free bread.
No One Said Change Is Easy
I won’t sugarcoat it—the first few days were rough. My energy level was way down and I had trouble concentrating. However, by the third day the sluggishness was gone. I was waking up easier and my stomach was flatter and less bloated. When I got on the scale, I had lost three pounds without even trying! Granted, starchy carbs retain much more water, so it was probably just water weight. But the most noticeable change was that my under-eye circles disappeared! And my husband, who has mild psoriasis, was practically cured—no itchiness or redness. My coworker experienced better digestion, improved mood and more patience. Wow!
Over the course of the two weeks, I discovered that the most random foods have gluten, like my sugar-free Altoids and a lot of restaurant dishes. It turns out that light breading and soy sauce are in almost everything. The lesson: always ask if a dish includes gluten, never assume. I went to a baby shower without planning ahead and gluten-free options were slim pickings so I resigned myself to a dinner of salad and wine— not good! Always be prepared.
The Take Away
While I had a fairly positive experience, the positive effects waned after the first week. I would classify myself as a member of the third group and am not severely affected by gluten. And truth be told, I missed my favorite meal of 10-grain bread with turkey, avocado and sprouts. Yum!
Much to my surprise…
- I can do without crackers and table bread—even if it is whole grain.
- Beer definitely bloats.
- I should be more creative with grains!
- A lot of gluten-free alternatives are very low in fiber (since so many have rice) and therefore fiber intake should be increased from other sources (seeds, veggies, fruits and other grains).
- I have since started eating gluten again, but in much smaller amounts.
- After the dramatic improvements in their health, my coworker and husband have decided to maintain a mostly gluten-free diet.
We should not eat too much of one thing. Variety is essential. ALWAYS listen to your body.
Have you tried going gluten-free?
Written and photographed by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD.
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
Pictured: lamb / beef meatballs with capers, jasmine rice with almonds and root vegetable salad (beets, fennel, carrots and zucchini). Recipes made / adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Edited by TCabrarr