I live a gluten free lifestyle. I do not choose to live this way in response to some fad diet or as a way to lose weight, I live it because it is medically necessary for me to do so. I have been living gluten free since May 2009 so I do still remember, and often crave, the foods that once were a staple in my diet.
For those who do not know what gluten is it is the binding agent in wheat, barley and rye. It is in most breads, cakes, crackers, pasta, soups, gravies, pizza, breaded items, some canned items and basically most of the food one eats on a daily basis. It is also masked by the term modified corn starch and other terms a person who is gluten intolerant or has a gluten allergy must learn to recognize. Eating becomes a science for those with allergies. One must become a detective or in the very least their own gluten advocate.
After suffering severe stomach issues from pains, to bloating, to un-lady like explosions, and feeling generally ill most of the time, I decided to seek help. I walked into one doctor’s office who after hearing my symptoms told me to eat more fiber. I told her I did eat fiber. Her response without batting an eye was to eat less fiber. Are you kidding me? You went to medical school? Seriously when you ask for help and it is not forthcoming what are you supposed to do?
My frustration at not knowing what was wrong or being able to live a normal symptom free life was immense as the symptoms were getting worse by the day. One afternoon my husband and I were watching TV when Elizabeth Hasselbeck was on promoting her new book. She was saying she had something called celiac disease and how since finding out she has felt wonderful. Neither my husband nor I had ever heard of this disease so I immediately went to the computer to look it up and it was like reading my own complaint list. I was floored. I had a condition and there was actually a name for it.
The next day we went to the book store and purchased her book along with several others we found on the subject and began reading. It was the answer I had been looking for. With the knowledge I now had I set out to test this new found information. I leapt feet first into the lifestyle and have not looked back. The results were liberating. I honestly do not know if I am a true celiac or if I am merely gluten intolerant. I did not wait to have the test before eliminating gluten from my diet. After reading that the tests are not always accurate I decided that the best route for me was to stop eating it and see how I felt. I did and I can tell you the results were immediate. That was very liberating beings I had been to multiple doctors over the years who had no clue as to what was wrong with me. Upon going back to my primary care physician I explained what I had done and all he said was “I’m sorry I didn’t think of that.” Hopefully he will remember it in the future if someone else presents with similar symptoms.
Going gluten free is not cheap. Actually it can be quiet costly, at least in the beginning. I love to cook so I went out and purchased several gluten free cookbooks and lots of specialty flours as well. The problem is that in order to sell a cookbook your recipes have to be unique therefore each flour base is different. What this means is you need to buy several different products for each cookbook as each cookbook’s base all purpose flour mixture is different. Again these flours can be very expensive and will most likely send you all over town in order to find all the ingredients to make a single dish.
I spent hundreds of dollars on specialty flours and additives when I first started out and more often than not the finished product was less than appetizing. If you cook with a bean flour there is a certain aftertaste to the finished product. Gluten free products also tend to stick to the bottom of the pan so parchment paper is imperative to gluten free cooking.
After months of seeking something that I consider edible I had nearly given up when a friend mentioned a gluten free flour she had heard about but had not yet tried herself. It was called Better Batter Flour. I ordered it and have not looked back since. It is incredible and cup for cup replaces normal all purpose flour. If I could give any advice to people who are new to gluten free it would be to buy this flour, use your current cookbooks and just use BBF instead of the all purpose flour the recipe calls for. The BBF is more expensive but not nearly as expensive as what it will cost you to purchase all the specialty flours needed in order to make a single basic gluten free flour blend. I can honestly say the items I have made using this flour taste just as good, sometimes better, than things made with normal all purpose flour. The only thing you will notice is that it crumbles easily and you may need to refrigerate items if they are not to be eaten right away.
My search for bread has been just as frustrating and equally as expensive. I have bought and discarded many loafs of gluten free bread after just a single bite. This is sad given the fact that a single loaf of gluten free bread can cost upwards of seven dollars a loaf. Still I do not intend on sacrificing taste just to have a sandwich and I am not into eating cardboard. Again after searching high and low I have discovered a bread machine and company that I think is worth mentioning. It is the Bready bread machine. It is a wonderful machine that uses specialty boxes of bread made by the same company. The bread is wonderful and the machine does all of the work. You just scan the mix, load the product and wait for the bread to kneed, rise and cook. It is incredible.
My latest discovery is gluten free bisquick. This is the best thing that has happened to gluten free in a very long time, maybe ever. I cannot say enough about how wonderful this product taste. To me it tastes better than the original as I stopped using the original because I always found it too salty for my palate. To date we have had pancakes, biscuits and the most amazing chicken pot pie using this and have been racing back for seconds every time. You cannot tell it is gluten free and my husband loves it just as much as I, and he is not gluten free. Note: I have found that I have to add a bit of extra milk when using the regular bisquick recipes.
I think my main frustration in living gluten free is that people do not always understand. More often than not when they hear why I went gluten free their response is “oh so you can have it you just choose not to.” To me that is like telling an alcoholic it is ok to have one drink, an addict to have one pill. I don’t think people realize how physically debilitating my symptoms actually were and still are when I have even the slightest amount of gluten. I usually know within the first few bites whether or not my food has been contaminated with gluten, the symptoms appear that quickly. Sometimes it takes a bit longer but I always know. I would love to pick up the phone and order a pizza, go to a party and eat a slice of the birthday cake, or enjoy a cheese burger from McDonalds, but I can’t, the repercussions are not worth it. I would be in pain and physically out of commission for days, maybe even longer. The allergy is real, the pain is real and the symptoms are very real.
As more and more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease the industry is finally producing foods that are far better than the taste free items of the past. I have seen great strides in the products available in the short time I have been gluten free. So, until they find a cure, I will continue on my quest for food that please the palate and try to educate the people I meet along the way.