Gluten Free Livin’

Standard

Hey, remember in January when I was good at having a blog and posted all the time? The good ol’ days. I now suck at having a blog, but I’m still keeping up with the experiment.  This month was a little crazy for me (I’m pretty sure I’ve said that every month, though).  I spent the first half of the month getting ready to defend my dissertation, then I defended my dissertation (and passed! I’m a doctor now!), and the last half of the month was spent coming down from the craziness, but also still writing and editing manuscripts and grading 2o95471371o25 assignments.  So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t been writing.
The other main reason why I haven’t been writing is because I absolutely hate discussing this topic with people.  This month I went gluten free (sort of…more on that in a minute).  I don’t have anything against gluten free (GF) foods — it’s more so the craze about the evils of gluten that pisses me off.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with a random stranger, usually on an airplane:
Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a nutritional scientist.
Stranger: Oh, what do you study?
Me: Vascular health.
Stranger: Oh, neat. What do you think about food allergies?
Me: I don’t think about them too much.
Stranger: laughs nervously and looks confused.
Me: Smile sweetly, put in earbuds, turn on iPod, close eyes.
If you don’t get why this is annoying, it’s because vascular disease and food allergies are extremely different topics. I try to be understanding of the fact that most people probably don’t appreciate how huge of a field nutrition is.  In many cases, I’m sure I’m extremely ignorant to what other people do.  You could be in finance, and I’d probably say something stupid like, “so how about this tax season?” And you’d smile sweetly, put in your earbuds, turn on your iPod, and close your eyes because you do absolutely nothing related to taxes and I’m an idiot.

I’m certainly not saying that food allergies/sensitivities aren’t a real thing because they definitely are.  Food allergies seem to be on the rise, and I wish I had a good explanation as to why that is.  I don’t.  But I don’t feel bad about it because no one really does.  I could speculate and say that it’s because we just know more about them and we know how to diagnose them, and that’s why we’re seeing more of them — not because of any actual pathology.  There is definitely a genetic link to it, but this doesn’t explain the huge surge that we’ve seen.  Some say there is a huge, population-wide evolutionary change that is causing us to react to gluten.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, though, because if we think of ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would we evolve to NOT digest a widely available food? It’s typically the other way around…like with humans drinking dairy.  We’re the only species that consumes milk after infancy, and that happened in response to animal husbandry in Europe, which is why many people of Asian or African descent are lactose intolerant.  They’re actually the normal ones.  The rest of us are mutants. Or it could be a huge government conspiracy.  That’s probably it.

But I digress. Now for a brief overview of the types of gluten intolerance.
Celiac Disease – This is an immune reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley or rye.  This reaction causes damage to the small intestine, which can result in malnutrition as many nutrients can’t be absorbed when the small intestine is damaged. People with Celiac’s typically have GI distress whenever they eat gluten (including diarrhea, bloating, cramps, etc).  There can also be less obvious signs/symptoms of Celiac’s, including anemia, depression, skin rashes, etc. You can get tested for Celiac’s, but you may test negative and still have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity because the test for Celiac’s only tests for a very specific protein (alpha-gliadin), and there are 5 other components of gluten that a person can react to.

Wheat Allergy– This is also an immune reaction to wheat, but it’s a little different than Celiac because of the parts of the immune system that are activated.  Once again, you can be tested for a wheat allergy, and the treatment isn’t quite as restrictive because you can still eat barley and rye.

Gluten Sensitivity– For a long time, doctors thought this was totally bogus and that people who tested negative for CD but who claimed to have an issue with gluten were just hypochondriacs.  But more research indicates that there is a very wide spectrum of reactions to gluten that can range from fairly minor (a little bloating, maybe some skin issues) to extremely painful (explosive diarrhea).  If you suspect that you have a gluten intolerance, try eliminating it from your diet.  If your symptoms go away and then reappear when you reintroduce gluten, you probably have a gluten intolerance.

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So what’s my issue with this whole gluten free thing? I’ve clearly just shown that there is a wide array of issues with gluten and that there isn’t necessarily a medical diagnosis for all of them.  My issue is that people who have absolutely no reaction to gluten like to be food snobs and think that foods that are GF are somehow healthier than foods that aren’t.  There is no evidence that suggests that gluten can have any adverse effects on your health if you don’t have a gluten intolerance.  There are a lot of THEORIES by BLOGGERS, but I’ve seen no EVIDENCE from SCIENTISTS.  And that’s where I like to get my information.  But whatever, go ahead and pay extra money for gluten free foods.  If someone is looking for a lucrative business venture, I recommend starting a gluten free bakery or a gluten free potato chip company (chips of course are already gluten free, but label it that way, stick it on a shelf at Whole Foods, and you can make a pretty nice profit off of it).  It’s incredible what people will pay money for.

Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) describes this phenomena as “orthorexia”: an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. I think we have an epidemic of it in this country, which is ironic because we also have an obesity epidemic.  Here is a hilarious example of orthorexia in the grocery store:  The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. Give it a whirl. You’ll laugh. Because you’ll read this:

“As you read more you begin to understand that grains are fine but before you eat them you must prepare them in the traditional way: by long soaking in the light of a new moon with a mix of mineral water and the strained lacto-fermented tears of a virgin.”

Alright, now that I’ve talked enough smack about people obsessed with healthy eating, let me give you a run down of my GF month.

So it turns out that gluten is in a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect it to be in, like soy sauce and salad dressing.  I did a hell of a lot of food label reading this month, and that got old.  To avoid that, I just stopped eating most processed foods, which wasn’t really all that hard because I don’t eat much processed food anyways.  And I always make my own salad dressings. Problem solved.

Bread: I didn’t try any gluten free breads because I don’t eat that much bread anyways, and it seemed like a waste of money to buy it just to say “hey this does (not) suck.”
Pasta: I love pasta, and while I don’t eat it that often, I’m not willing to give it up. I had heard some horror stories about wheat-free pasta, but my experience was just fine.  Quinoa pasta was my favorite.  I seriously couldn’t tell the difference between it and normal pasta.  Quinoa pasta is a good middle ground between regular pasta and whole wheat — it’s higher in fiber than the normal stuff, and doesn’t have the distinct textural difference of whole wheat pasta.  I also tried rice pasta, which is really what most people hate on.   It wasn’t quite the same as normal pasta, but if  the choice is explosive diarrhea or a little different texture, then I’d just suck it up and eat rice pasta.
Other grains: I never realized how many gluten free foods I already eat.  Quinoa, rice, corn – all GF! Seriously, cooking at home was no challenge AT ALL.  I ate a lot of oatmeal this month, which is cool because I love oatmeal.  Oats, in and of themselves, are gluten free, but they’re typically processed on machinery that processes wheat or grown on fields that also grow wheat.  You just need to get steel cut oats if you want them to be GF.
Mexican food: Mexican food (one of my favorite things in life) is easy to make GF.  Just swap out flour for corn tortillas, and you’re golden.  Of course, there could be gluten in some other ingredients… refried beans? cheese? I don’t know. But read the labels on the cans or buy beans that haven’t been processed much, shred cheese from a block, and you should be fine.
Beer: This is where I started to suck.  I love beer, and it is just so full of gluten. I drank normal beer multiple times, but I also tried out some gluten free beers. Not too shabby.  Here’s a helpful list: The Best and Worse Gluten Free Beers I tried the New Planet 3R Raspberry Ale, and as the list says, this doesn’t really taste anything like beer.  It tastes good, and it would be a good segue for someone trying to get into beer by taking baby steps.  I also had the Redbridge Ale, which was really good, actually tastes like beer, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was GF.
Eating Out:  If you actually have Celiac’s and you are extremely sensitive to gluten, this may  prove to be challenging because you may need to eat places where they specify that GF foods aren’t cross contaminated with wheat.  Most places don’t take those kinds of precautions, but I think that those practices will become more common as time passes.  This month was especially hard for me compared to the other months.  I think the reason for that was that I just didn’t really see the point.  I already knew from my experience with Paleo (and life) that I don’t have a gluten sensitivity, so it was hard to adhere to it when I was eating out. It was a challenge with the other diet patterns as well, but with those, I was cutting out entire food groups in order to see if it affected my health, mood, etc.  Since I already knew that I wasn’t going to gain any insight on the whole gluten thing, it was harder for me to want to do it.  So a lot of times I didn’t.  I ate eggs benedict with an english muffin (I could have had them hold the muffin), I ate sandwiches, when I could have eaten a salad, I ate chicken and waffles (which were aswesome, btw. Check out Pasco if you live in Tucson. You won’t regret it) when I could have eaten a quinoa medley. My friend Dezi said he was going to call me out on my blog for being a cheater, but look who got to it first?!

Recipes!
I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything this month and make my own recipes.  Like I said, I was busy. So I’ll just share some recipes that I did try.
Roasted Chickpeas  These were super good, and a nice, healthier substitute for crackers…but a couple words of caution: bake them longer than you think necessary.  If not, you’ll get some that are still soft in the middle, which isn’t bad when you eat them right away.  But wait a couple days, and they will taste weird and gross. You can really do anything with the flavors with these as well.  Use salt, cinnamon, and honey to make sweet and salty chickpeas…use parmesan and rosemary for another twist.  Go crazy.  It’ll be fun.

Polenta Pie  This was my first experience with polenta (which is simply corn meal and water).  I wasn’t thrilled with it, but that could have been my fault. It says in the recipe to “slowly whisk the corn meal into the boiling water.” Mine was more of just pouring the corn meal into the water.  It congealed immediately and I sort of burned it.  So the texture was weird and kind of mealy.  To make up for that, I added A TON of cheese, which made it edible by giving it more flavor and improving the consistency.  So, my first attempt at polenta wasn’t really a success, but I’m not ready to give up on it because I’ve heard good things.

Almond Butter Pancakes  This is another example of my inability to follow a recipe, which resulted in a crappy meal.  This recipe calls for almond flour, and I didn’t have any, so I substituted in coconut flour.  That was dumb. More dumb than the substitution was that I did a 1:1 sub for almond flour.  If you haven’t worked with it, you should know that coconut flour is EXTREMELY absorptive.  Had I done a quick google search of “coconut flour pancakes” I would have realized that I needed about 25% of what I used.  I had to add about 2 cups of almond milk to give it a consistency that even halfway resembled pancake batter.  This was my second experience with coconut flour (I also made “tortillas” while doing Paleo), and I don’t like it.  The consistency is weird and it’s hard to manipulate to make it work well. The end product falls apart, and I don’t like the flavor much.  SO, I bet if you wanted to try these pancakes, I imagine you would have success as long as you follow the directions.

Coconut Pecan Breakfast Cookies  These were probably my favorite thing that I made on the GF diet.  I’m not much of a baker (because you have to measure and be precise, and I hate that in cooking.  See above examples.), but these were easy and delicious. I didn’t have dried blueberries, so I used dried cranberries, and they were a good substitution.

Stats

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

Clearly I lost some weight this month and didn’t even notice.  I attribute this in no way to the GF diet.  I don’t want people looking at this and coming to the ridiculous conclusion that gluten makes you fat.  I was pretty stressed out the first half of the month, and my diet was weird.  I wasn’t always eating normal meals — a lot of snacking, and I probably just wasn’t eating as much.  I was also working out more this month, which could explain some of the weight loss. Either way, it looks like I need to pack on a few pounds, because I am damn near being “underweight,” according to the BMI categories (Aside: getting down to a weight this low shows me how freakishly thin models and celebrities are… or maybe how incredible photo editing techniques are. I don’t feel like I look that thin, so that just tells me how skinny famous people actually are. I’d like to see one in real life so I can make a more informed comparison.  If you are someone who sees me on the regular and think I look too thin, please tell me.)  My blood pressure is also looking particularly phenom, but I would attribute that to the fact that I’m no longer writing/preparing for a dissertation/defense.  Life isn’t nearly as stressful as it used to be.  So, in general, no huge surprises, other than the fact that I need to put on weight.
Sorry this has been the longest blog post of all time.  This is what I get for waiting a whole month to update you fine folks.  See you next month as I go on my 30 day Smoothie Challenge!

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9 responses »

  1. Cait- love you, love your blog! I promise to never again be that person on the plane who asks you dietary questions about topics that are not in your area if expertise 😉 Just so excited to have a Dr in the fam!
    Now, go eat a burger & pack on a few pounds!
    Good Job & keep writing!
    AA

    • Haha, I should have clarified. Friends and family can ask me any questions they want! Especially if they require a little bit of research — I have been specifically trained to sift through bullshit and weed out good evidence from bad evidence. And a lot of the questions I get from friends and family result in me learning something, so I hope you always ask me questions 🙂

  2. My favorite story about GF is a friend of mine worked at an awesome cafe in Seattle (Chaco Canyon Cafe). She would have people come in and order a veggie burger on a gluten free bun. They would be ordering both because it was the thing to do and they had no idea that their veggie burger was held together with: so.much.gluten.

    Also, mom’s GF or at least low gluten cause of her neuropathy and she makes an amazing GF waffle…

    • Haha that’s hilarious! Yeah, GF is a huge fad right now… it amazes me how many people actually think it’s healthier for them.
      Can’t wait to have your mom cook me a GF waffle! Sounds awesome!

    • Yeah! There’s some evidence that it may be helpful. You have to be pretty rigorous with it in the beginning to really test it. Which means absolutely no gluten for at least a month. It can be challenging, but if it helps, it’s worth it!

  3. The only person I know who truly had Celiac Disease ate out exclusively at Mexican restaurants. He is the fellow who taught me to love corn tortillas over flour.
    Thanks for the great posts, Caitlin. Looking forward to calling you Doctor Dow to your face.

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