Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gluten Intolerance and Me. And Possibly You, Too.

     "What does it mean to be gluten intolerant?" you might wonder.  Well... it means that I have an autoimmune disorder, which causes my body to attack itself and the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.  (The bad gluten is not in oats, but most oats are cross-contaminated, so it's best to stay away from them.)  Consuming gluten if one is gluten intolerant leads to intestinal discomfort and possibly headaches in the short term, and damaged intestines, reduced nutrient absorption, and a greatly increased risk of cancer.  For me, and a small portion of gluten intolerant people, the condition also comes with a lovely rash called Dermatitis Herpetiformis.  

     Being gluten intolerant means that I can't have most commercially-available bread, obviously, because I can't have wheat.  Consider this for a moment.  I cannot eat bread.  Which means that I can't go to a restaurant and order a sandwich... or make a sandwich if I'm hungry and want something quick and filling.  I can't have a slice with my soup, if I can even eat the soup.  Many soups are thickened with wheat flour.  Barley and rye are a little less common, but there is still a noticeable effect on my diet.  Did you know that malt flavoring is made from barley? So, no Whoppers, no malted milkshakes, no malt vinegar, no malt beverages.  No beer, not that I ever drank it... but I did like to cook with it, and now I can't kiss my husband if he's recently been drinking beer.

     Gluten intolerance means that when I do find gluten free substitutes for products I pay much more for them.  There are gluten free breads available, mostly in health food or co-op type stores, but they generally cost around five dollars a loaf, come in smaller loaves than standard bread, and don't taste very good.  There are some that I like, but a loaf of bread has turned into a decadent treat for me.

     Because I cook, it's not difficult to find food to eat.  And there are even places where I can go out and not have to worry too much about coming into contact with gluten.  Asian food is great for this, as long as there's no soy sauce involved, because most soy sauce includes wheat.  Pho, most Thai food, and sushi rolls (but not California rolls, as surimi is injected with wheat protein) are all okay.  So is some Mexican food, and nearly all Indian food.  I can generally go to a diner and have an omelette... although IHOP adds pancake batter to their eggs to make them fluffier, so I have to specifically ask for shelled eggs.

     Gluten intolerance has also been linked to several conditions, such as ADHD, schizophrenia, migraines, and arthritis.  There's increasing evidence that many of us are just not made to process modern grains, even if we don't show the typical signs of gluten intolerance.  The biggest argument I get for not trying to eliminate gluten is that it's difficult... but it's not as difficult as ADHD or intestinal cancer.  And if everyone who would benefit from a wheat-free diet did so, we could change the world.  Someday, it wouldn't be so difficult to eat gluten free.
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