Category Archives: Living Gluten and Dairy Free

My Gluten-Free Journey: What Would I Do Differently?

photo credit: Flickr nathangibbs

I was gluten-free for over 4 years. During that time, I stumbled, I tripped, and I learned. A lot. I started with the basics. I learned things that made my life easier. I learned to navigate restaurants, and reduce cross-contamination in my home.

I have to admit, during those 4 years, I got pretty good at handling a gluten-free diet. I learned to cook wonderful gluten-free dishes, and I tasted a lot of gluten-free products and found many that were excellent.

But if I had to do it all over again, what would I do differently? How would I embark upon a gluten-free change?

Number One – I would have gone to a gastroenterologist to get tested for celiac disease before I eliminated gluten from my diet. I had the blood test and a genetic test done (both were negative), but I was gluten-free for almost a year before I saw a gastroenterologist about my digestive issues. By then, it was too late for an endoscopy test (the standard test for celiac disease) to be accurate. I don’t have celiac disease, but it certainly would have helped to go through the proper processes in order to get to the root cause of my digestive issues. (I might have saved myself a lot of time and agony!)

Number Two – I would have gotten more “chummy” with a few key restaurants that could cater to my gluten-free diet, and would have visited more often. I cooked 95% of my meals when I ate gluten-free, and while that meant I ate pretty healthily, it got tiresome. Also: I would have worked with other gluten-free friends and family more to reduce the cooking workload. Maybe we could each batch cook a few meals and swap, so we could each have different meals ready for those times when we don’t feel like cooking. When you have to adhere to a special diet, it’s a treat to have someone else cook for you.

Number Three – Related to the above, I wouldn’t have taken so long to speak up about my needs in restaurants. I would have advocated for myself from the get-go, asking all of the right questions to help ensure cross-contamination wouldn’t occur and I would get a safe meal.

Number Four – I would have practiced regular “chill out” times. Eating a restrictive diet raised my anxiety a lot. I worried when I wouldn’t be home to cook. I worried about travel. I worried every time I ate out that I would become sick. Truthfully, my anxiety probably negatively contributed to my health way more than a less-than-perfect diet, or a crumb of gluten, could have. (Note: yes, even getting a crumb of gluten can cause health issues for those with celiac disease. I didn’t have celiac disease.) More relaxation and less anxiety would have gone a long way towards a better transition into gluten-free eating. (Tip: Wine is gluten-free!)

Number Five – I would have spent more time doing thorough research into separating fact from fiction when it came to gluten. I read so much information on the internet that was false. I wasn’t sure which foods really did have sneaky gluten. I read that gluten was causing all sorts of unrelated illnesses. I also read that if perhaps, my mother just would have held off feeding my gluten for a while or breastfed me longer, I wouldn’t have these issues. There were so many fallacies out there, and I believed them all, rather than looking with a scrutinizing eye. (I’ve shared a Gluten-Free Mythbusters post to help separate fact from fiction when it comes to gluten-free!)

All in all, I went through daily life just fine on a gluten-free diet. With all of the gluten-free products out there today, plus my tendency to cook from scratch, I found it pretty easy to avoid gluten and eat a varied, healthy, satisfying diet. It’s not as difficult as it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago!

What do you wish you knew when you first went gIuten-free? If you’re just starting out, what are you looking to learn?

Want to know more about gluten-free living? Check out my Living Gluten & Dairy-Free page!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/community

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

Gluten-Free Mythbusters

Myth: Ding-Dongs are a thing of the past on a gluten-free diet (you can make them yourself!)

When you’re first starting a gluten-free diet, it can quickly become overwhelming. You have to read labels. You know you can’t eat wheat, barley, oats and rye, but have no idea where to find these ingredients in your food, and have been told they are lurking everywhere.

Or maybe you haven’t gone gluten-free yet. You’re just browsing around, and everywhere you look, you see the gluten-free label. You start wondering if maybe this is something you should try, for health benefits. It seems everyone else is doing it, after all!

So you start researching. You look up all these different websites, hoping for some guidance, but no luck. One site says one thing is okay to eat, another tells you that thing is unhealthy. Which is correct? What do you do?

These questions are what’s prompted this post. There are lots of myths about gluten-free living and your health. Let’s get started busting some of these myths!

Myth: A gluten-free diet is a healthier diet.

Fact: Gluten-free does not automatically mean healthy. A healthy diet is comprised of a variety of foods, from meats, to beans, to vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, nuts, seeds, even a sweet treat or the occasional French fry. For those without celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, eating gluten can totally be a part of a healthy diet.

But just because you eat gluten-free, regardless of whether you have celiac disease or an intolerance or not, it doesn’t automatically make your diet healthier. Many things are gluten-free. Gummy bears, vodka, kale, plain coffee, lead…all gluten-free. But eat any of these in excess (okay, don’t eat ANY lead, please) and it’s bad for your health. Healthy living is about a varied diet and moderation. So while gluten-free living is healthier for those that cannot tolerate it, such as those with celiac disease, gluten-free, by its definition, is not inherently a healthier diet.

Myth: A gluten-free diet will help you lose weight.

Fact: Any diet that reduces your calorie intake below the calories you burn will help you lose weight. The gluten-free diet is not a low-calorie diet or a weight loss diet – the diet is there to help those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance live without the symptoms gluten causes. Some people may lose weight when they start a gluten-free diet, but this is due to the fact that many readily available foods in restaurants and packaged foods are not gluten-free, and that may inadvertently lead to a reduction in calorie intake.

Bottom line: Restricting any food does not cause weight loss, and this includes gluten-containing foods. A gluten-free diet is again, healthy for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but is not a weight loss diet.

Myth: Those with celiac disease can cheat on their diet, as long as it’s only every once in a while.

When those with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies become damaged by the proteins and they cannot properly absorb nutrients. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is because you have damaged intestinal villi. If you continue to ingest gluten, even tiny amounts, it can prevent the villi from healing, and your body will continue to be robbed of nutrients, leading to nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, and more. This is why it’s important to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet, including paying attention to cross-contamination sources and minimizing risk.

Myth: All gluten-free store-bought products are stripped of nutrients, and are unhealthy, cause a reduction in fiber intake, and cause nutrient deficiencies.

Fact: Many store-bought gluten-free products are made with refined flours and white sugars, much like their gluten-full counterparts. This doesn’t mean they are less healthy than comparables. A gluten-free cupcake or cookie, for example, is a lovely treat and while it does often contain refined flours and sugar, can be part of a varied, well-balanced diet. (Like I mentioned above, eating ANY single food, from cookies to kale, to excess can cause negative health implications. Moderation is key.)

Furthermore, there is more variety than ever in store-bought gluten-free products, and many items are full of nutrients. You can find delicious whole grain gluten-free breads, granolas, snack bars, pastas and more that are definitely not void of nutrients. Again, the key to a nutritious diet for anyone is variety.

Myth: It’s okay to self-diagnose and go gluten-free without going through medical testing.

Fact: Going on a gluten-free diet before receiving a medical diagnosis can cause test results to be inaccurate. If you think you have an issue with gluten, see your doctor and get tested. Once a proper diagnosis is made, then the gluten-free diet can be followed accordingly. Sometimes people (such as myself – I learned this the hard way) self-diagnose only to find that a gluten-free diet is not making them feel better. This can cause them to not find a proper diagnosis.

Myth: Going gluten-free can can alleviate a bunch of other medical conditions (besides celiac disease).

There have been numerous articles written about the correlation between the gluten-free diet and alleviating numerous conditions, from migraines to eczema to autism. Unfortunately, there is not scientific evidence to back this up. (In fact, a double-blind study at University of Rochester showed no discernible difference in sleep, bowel, or behavior patterns.) If you are experiencing unexplained medical symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor to obtain a proper diagnosis.

Myth: It’s difficult, if not impossible, to eat at a restaurant while on a gluten-free diet.

Fact: While you need to conduct some due diligence and ask some key questions at a restaurant prior to eating, if you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, eating out is not impossible. In fact, it gets easier every day, thanks to increased awareness, the increased prevalence of gluten-free menus in restaurants, and smart phone apps such as Find Me Gluten Free. For some tips on eating out, check out my tips on eating out at restaurants.

Myth: As long as I avoid wheat, barley, rye and oats, I’m fine, right?

Fact: The common foods such as regular bread, pasta, crackers, and baked goods contain gluten. But there are some sneaky places it lurks as well. Sauces, condiments, medicines, and makeup can also contain gluten. It pays to check labels carefully.

Myth: There are no good gluten-free breads, pizza crusts, bagels, donuts, etc.

Fact: Now that the gluten-free diet is more prevalent than ever, there are more manufacturers out there making delicious breads, buns, pizza crusts, bagels, and more. A bonus: they taste waaay better than the gluten-free products of old. Local Oven and Udi’s are two of my favorite brands. Also, you can make yummy gluten-free products in your own kitchen! Try out my quinoa pizza crust, for example. Gluten-free doesn’t mean a life without pizza, I promise!

What are some gluten-free myths you’ve heard? Let’s bust them too!

For more help getting started or managing a gluten-free diet, check out my Living Gluten and Dairy-Free page!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/community

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

Accommodating Gluten-Free Friends and Family

Dijon Honey Pork Chops are an easy gluten-free meal!

While I no longer follow a gluten-free diet, I still have several family members that either have celiac disease or are extremely sensitive to gluten. Our house has been the house where everyone gathers for family get-togethers, and so I am often making meals that accommodate all sorts of diets. Beyond checking labels for gluten-containing ingredients, there are a few things I have to consider. Here are some tips and tricks to ensuring that when you have gluten-free family or friends visiting your home, that you can keep them safe and well-fed.

- Serve easy, naturally gluten-free foods. Whole, fresh meats and seafood (watch for added broths and marinades), eggs, vegetables, fruits, plain white or brown rice, beans, and nuts can all make up delicious, easy meals. How about a dinner of roast chicken, a baked potato, and some green beans with smoky pecans? Or lamb chops with a Mediterranean pepper salad? How about strawberry gelato for dessert? These are all simple, easy-to-make, fresh dishes that are naturally gluten-free. No need to buy expensive special “gluten-free” items or a million flours.

- Have a dedicated area for gluten-free items, if you will also be serving items with gluten. Label them clearly and keep them separate. If you will be using jars of peanut butter, mayonnaise, and the like, start with a new, fresh jar. (Don’t want any gluten-y crumbs in your gluten-free condiments!) If you have young children, putting brightly colored tape around a jar might be a great way to let them know that product is safe for them. If you buy certain specialty products, store gluten-free products on a higher shelf than gluten-containing products (if you are storing anything for several days), so if by chance, a bag spills, the gluten-y crumbs don’t fall into the gluten-free products. Educate everyone so they know where the safe gluten-free foods are.

- Thoroughly clean counters after cooking, so you won’t have to wonder if a stray crumb is gluten-free or not. I make sure to do a thorough cleaning before I have gluten-free guests over. Get down to eye level on the counters and inspect. You can also opt to designate one counter or one special area for all gluten-containing food preparation, to make it a bit easier. Other areas to think about cleaning: silverware drawer (notorious collecting crumbs) The drawer below your oven – mine gets crumbs from the oven in it pretty often. Pay attention to other surfaces that gluten-y hands touch – refrigerator handles, backs of chairs, the faucet handle, light switches, and so on.

- Have separate cutting boards, especially if you ever cut gluten-containing bread on your cutting board. If you bake gluten-free just for your guests, but typically use wheat flour, check mixers, blenders, wooden spoons, rolling pins, flour sifters, pizza stones, colanders, etc. that previously were in contact with gluten. Some tools can be well-cleaned and reused – like stainless steel cookware, which is non-porous. Tools previously in contact with gluten should not be used if they are plastic or wooden. Even baking pans that have metal seams or small edges that are hard to clean are suspect. Use your best judgment when making a decision about whether to replace or clean a certain tool. Gluten is sticky and likes to hide in these small crevices, so if you know there’s no way you’ll be able to effectively clean it, it’s best to use something else.

- Check your spices. Single-ingredient spices (such as oregano, sage, cumin, etc.) should be gluten-free, but read labels on those mixed blends. Also, consider this: did you ever use a dirty measuring cup/spoon to measure out spices, after that measuring cup/spoon was used for wheat flour? This could have contaminating the jar of spices. The same can be said of sugar and other naturally gluten-free baking ingredients – if you used the same measuring cup for the flour and the sugar in the past, it’s best to toss the sugar and buy fresh.

- If preparing gluten items, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands afterwards. If you were handling crumbs or flours, you may want to use gloves or clean with a nail brush as well, otherwise, your hands could contaminate the gluten-free items. Don’t touch any gluten-free foods with hands after handling gluten items. Same goes with utensils.

Of course, simple and easy is best - it reduces worry on both your part and the part of your guest. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests for any preferences or suggestions of what they like to eat – you can gain inspiration and find that a wonderful meal can be easily made with minimal concern.

For more information on living gluten-free, visit my resources page. Happy Cooking!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/community

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

Healing My Digestion and My Relationship with Food

sloppy joe

It’s been over 4 years since I last enjoyed a Sloppy Joe on a gluten-full bun. What changed?

Disclaimer: The following are merely my experiences and should not constitute medical advice. I am merely a person on the internet and not a doctor, and should you be curious about your diet and how it impacts your health, I suggest you talk to your favorite qualified medical professional.

Since I posted about my healing process back in September, I’ve had several people interested in learning more about how I was able to heal my gut and reintroduce gluten and dairy back into my diet successfully. Since that point, I have been able to eat gluten and dairy without restriction. Even more so, I’ve been able to do so and am currently enjoying better digestion than I’ve had in years.

What happened? How is it that I spent so many years with a bad digestive system, gave up gluten, then dairy, and then continued to struggle 3 more years, only to now find myself in a place where I can go out to eat and choose anything on the menu?

In short, I had to completely reframe my way of thinking. I’d tried everything else. I went gluten and dairy-free. I removed FODMAPs. I tried an anti-candida diet. Then a high-raw, mostly vegan diet. I was mostly paleo for over a year. I juiced nearly daily. But I found that every time I removed something from my diet, it seemed I had trouble reintroducing it. I couldn’t digest anything without bloating, and I suffered from chronic constipation. This didn’t get better, no matter what I did. I also was trying to limit my calories almost constantly through these years, in order to keep my waistline in check. I worried about eating the wrong thing and suffering from digestive upset, worried about gaining weight, and I worried about not being able to maintain control of my eating. I’d often eat “clean” for days, only to bake some gluten-free (or even paleo) baked good, and fall face-first into the pile of goodies, fueling my anxiety about food, and messing with my digestion even more. I was stressed about where I was, but was also paralyzed.

When I embarked on a training plan for my very first half-marathon race early this year, I was rapidly discovering that my body wasn’t recovering after long runs. I would be tired and sore for several days. In addition, my paleo-ish diet wasn’t giving me adequate fuel. I’d hit a wall way too early in my runs. I knew that I couldn’t meet my fitness goals unless I ate more carbohydrates and more calories. Something had to change.

This realization, in a roundabout way, led me to a fledgling Facebook group called Eating the Food (an anti-diet, anti-dogma group) that helped me get away from my anxiety about food. I also stumbled upon Matt Stone’s work – specifically, Eat for Heat and Diet Recovery. These books talked of recovery using methods that frankly, at the beginning, terrified me just a bit. Eat for Heat discusses eating starches, sugar, and simple carbohydrates to raise metabolic rates. I’d tried for so long to limit these foods that I was certain I would suffer if I tried to eat them. I was certain I would be less healthy, or gain weight, or both. It seemed to be the total opposite of my kale-heavy, grain-free diet I was so married to at the time. I had to let go of that fear.

I am no scientist or doctor, and so I don’t fully understand the mechanics and relationship behind metabolism and digestive capacity, but I knew I wasn’t giving my body enough calories to do more than the bare minimum. I was generally striving for a diet consisting of only enough calories to cover my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - or the calories my body needs just to rest – and I was requiring much more out of it than that. In addition, I was eating a lot of difficult-to-digest foods – raw, leafy greens, lots of insoluble fiber, and nuts. When a family member dealt with a digestive system-related surgery in 2012, I discovered that the doctors required a low-fiber, low-residue diet consisting of white starches, little lactose, low-fiber fruits and vegetables, and no nuts or seeds, in order to allow the body to heal the digestive system, rather than spending so much energy digesting difficult foods. In my not-scientific mind, I realized that perhaps I, too, needed to give my system a rest, and to give it enough calories to heal and do its job.

So I did.

I slowly reintroduced (gluten-free) grains, starches, and sugar. I backed off of the raw veggies (especially cruciferous) and only ate them when I truly craved them. I also backed off of the xanthan gum-heavy gluten-free products, as well as those with psyllium husk, flax and other gut-irritating ingredients. I brought in white rice, potatoes, and I allowed sweets. I slowly increased my calories so that I was eating to my Daily Energy Expenditure, or my BMR plus what I used moving around, cooking, standing and whatever I burned through conscious exercise. My belly did bloat a bit at first, but this quickly abated. I maintained a gluten-free, dairy-free diet, but I also made sure to incorporate gelatin and bone broth regularly to give my system as much as it needed to heal. I spent several months doing this. I also worked on reducing my fears associated with these foods I previously saw as “bad”, and I worked on acceptance of my body, even if I was to gain weight. I needed to reframe my mindset universally – healing my digestion and the way my body worked, for me, was dependent on my positive body image.

I found that over time, I was less anxious about food, but not just because I started to feel better. (And I DID feel better! I had more energy – I wasn’t prone to afternoon slumps, I wasn’t exhausted, I wasn’t hungry all the time, and I wasn’t overly focused about how long it was until my next meal.) I also found I no longer was prone to overeating. If I made cookies, I could have one, and that’s all I wanted. I could have candy on my desk at work and not touch it for days – I wouldn’t even think about it. That was completely contrary to my prior experiences. I learned that I didn’t have a “sugar addiction” before - I was just hungry. When my body was sufficiently fueled for long enough that it realized it was no longer going to be starving again soon, I stopped craving these things. It was a weight lifted from my shoulders that was more freeing than anything I’d experienced before.

I also tracked my body temperatures during this time, after reading Matt Stone’s work. I used to average a body temperature around 96 degrees F, which is sub-optimal. I used to always think that was normal, but I realized after a few months, my temperatures improved. They especially improved if I ate certain types of meals, such as oatmeal with a bit of sugar. (Coincidentally, this was a meal that also made me feel full of energy!) After about 5 months, I was averaging body temperatures near 98. My digestion was better than it’d ever been. I wasn’t bloated. I wasn’t constipated. In fact, I had gotten so I didn’t have to think about it (a.k.a. worry about it) more days than not. I had not experienced this in years. That’s when I got up the nerve to try to reintroduce dairy, and subsequently gluten.

Caveat: I don’t have celiac disease. I don’t even have the genes for celiac disease. So armed with that knowledge, along with some research done to show that there was not a correlation between increased gut permeability and gluten sensitivity (i.e. eating gluten wouldn’t cause harm to my digestive system that I couldn’t “feel”), I began my test.

Mind you, this test was entirely n=1. It was unscientific. I was merely starting with small amounts at first, waiting to see how I reacted, and I went from there. What happens to me might be different for others. But for me, a gradual reintroduction worked. At first, I found that small amounts of dairy didn’t cause any issues. I started with butter, then yogurts, hard cheeses, and finally softer cheeses and milk. I did the same with gluten. I started with mere crumbs, then sauces where I knew there was a small amount of gluten, to beer, and finally small amounts of gluten products – and not every day. I knew my body had to get used to digesting these things again (no different than a vegetarian who is reintroducing meat into their diet – often it takes the body a bit to build the enzymes needed). But long gone were any brain fog issues. No heartburn. No bloating. No constipation. I felt great.

Now, I can eat both of these things without restriction. In addition, I can even eat other items that caused me worse issues than gluten or dairy, such as beans. Beans give everyone gas at some level, sure, but for me, they used to cause excruciating pain. I’ve been able to reincorporate them into my diet (again, slowly) and I’m not in pain.

Does this mean I am eating a Standard American Diet (SAD)? Hardly. I might have some processed food here and there, but I still enjoy whole, fresh foods, and I cook from scratch. As you can see by the recipes posted here, many of those meals are still entirely gluten and dairy-free. I don’t ”need” these foods to thoroughly enjoy eating, but I’m elated to not have to restrict. Most importantly, I’m happy that I don’t feel fragile or sick.

Will the same work for you? I don’t know. I’m not a medical professional. If you’re on a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease, gluten is not your friend. Tasty Eats At Home is here to share ways to navigate through life as easily (and as deliciously) as possible while on a gluten-free diet. But if you don’t have celiac disease (if you think you do, please get tested!), then perhaps discussing your situation with your doctor is the way to go. Contrary to what so many (non-doctors) say, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity is not necessarily a permanent thing. Do your own research - and stick with tested, verifiable research studies for good information. (There is a lot of kooky stuff out there - believe me, I bought into my fair share of it.) And most importantly, listen to your body, and quiet the dietary dogma in your head. If your body vehemently tells you not to eat something, then don’t eat it. But ultimately, this is your journey, and you are the captain of your own ship. Sail it.

Why Gluten-Free? My Quest For Better Health

It was about 2004, and I started asking my doctor about some digestive issues I was having. I had an immediate family member that was diagnosed with celiac disease, so I asked for the celiac blood test. It came back negative, and my doctor sent me to a gastroenterologist. I was told I had IBS, given prescription medication, and sent on my way.

I more or less just dealt with my issues for a while, unsure of what else I could do. In 2006 I attempted a short, 3-week gluten-free elimination diet, just to see if the blood test was incorrect. I saw no difference, and reintroduced gluten. I also had a different celiac/gluten intolerance test, as well as genetic testing performed and everything came back negative. Again, no difference, and no answers.

But starting in 2007, I finally turned a corner in how I was taking care of my body. I started learning to cook from scratch and eating a bit healthier. I started trying to exercise on a more frequent basis. By 2008, I started Tasty Eats At Home, embracing my love for cooking. I slowly incorporated more and more healthy, sustainable habits into my daily life.

But I wasn’t feeling better. The IBS still bothered me. I also was dealing with terrible acid reflux. I felt run down often, getting sick more frequently than I once did. I was talking with several family members who were also gluten-free, in June 2009, I went gluten-free.

I didn’t see immediate improvement. But over time, I did notice that my acid reflux was gone, and I wasn’t getting sick as often. When I reintroduced gluten, I had a lot of digestive issues and felt wiped out. So I cut it from my life completely. My IBS never went away, but it subsided a little. In 2010, I also eliminated dairy as well in an attempt to lessen digestive issues.

Over the next 4 years I tried many things to find the root cause of my digestive woes. I had allergy testing, I did more elimination diets. None of it worked. I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’d be dealing with these issues for the rest of my life.

But meanwhile, I was gaining momentum in my gluten-free lifestyle. I was determined to find ways to make delicious gluten-free food that wasn’t just good “for gluten-free” – I wanted it to be good, period. Over time, trial, and error, I found reliable gluten-free brands for prepared foods (like Udi’s bread, for instance), and I learned how to make cookies, cakes, and breads from scratch as well. I discovered that there are SO many more flours/grains out there in the world, many of which are gluten-free. I learned how to navigate a restaurant with good success, and even had tackled the whole gluten-free traveling conundrum. But overall, a gluten-free diet opened my eyes to a wider variety of foods, and gave me the motivation to become creative with the foods I could eat.

In the past 6 months, I’ve realized that my digestive system has gotten better. I explained a bit more about it here, but finally, for the first time forever, I can tolerate more foods without adverse reactions. I can handle dairy. I am even handling gluten. That being said, I still don’t eat gluten all that often. Cooking at home is gluten-free, and many times, even eating out is mostly gluten-free. There are many more gluten-free options today than ever before, and I love that. I don’t feel the need to eat gluten all day, every day. A varied diet in my mind is a healthy one, and 3 gluten-heavy meals a day isn’t all that varied. Besides – I still have many gluten-free family members that come over for holidays and other meals, and I want to be able to serve them tasty gluten-free foods the way I always have. My mission has always been that gluten-free food should taste GOOD, and so I’m always working to discover new gluten-free food adventures so I can share them!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

 

 

A Healing Process, and My Own Journey

 

Yes, those are Lego Hobbits. In a wheat field. Hopefully it’ll make sense in a moment.

Those who know me know that I’ve followed a gluten-free for over 4 years. I’ve been dairy-free for over three. I’ve also followed many other diets involving elimination of foods. (Paleo. Anti-candida diet. High-raw/plant-based. Low-FODMAPs. I even went through allergy testing and removed those “potential allergens” for a while.) I struggled with digestive issues before this time and during this time. It seemed I could not find relief, no matter how strict I was, no matter what I eliminated. Those who have similar stories can empathize, but needless to say, it was exhausting. There were many, many days I wanted to just throw my hands up and give up entirely.

What I didn’t know was, for me personally, this process of restriction caused more issues than it solved. Wanting to be healthy caused me to be anxious about everything I put into my mouth. I demonized foods. I ended up many times not eating enough to support my activity levels or allow my body to heal itself. I began to fall out of love with cooking, which was the whole reason for my starting this blog over 5 years ago.

However, starting about 5 months ago, I began to turn a corner. I have been on a personal journey towards understanding that perhaps what I’d been doing wasn’t helping my healing process. In short, I’m now eating enough food to heal my body and my metabolism, and I’ve been incorporating a wider and more varied amount of foods. I’m also learning to chill out about my food choices. As I’ve gone through this process, my body has thanked me by rapidly improving my digestion and my general well-being. I have more energy and better digestion than I’ve had in many years.

But here’s where the (potentially) unpopular stance begins. A wider variety of foods in my diet means that I’ve incorporated grains. Sugar. Some beans. Occasional treats that I would have never ever allowed myself before, like a small piece of candy. In the past few months, I’ve reintroduced dairy into my diet. (Attempts to do this in my past have always failed.) And most recently, I’ve begun testing gluten as well.

Full disclosure: I do not have celiac disease. I don’t even carry the genes for celiac disease. I never received any positive diagnosis for gluten issues, in spite of varied tests I’ve had conducted over the years. Going gluten-free for me was a move that was spawned because of family members with celiac disease and gluten issues. I was hoping it would solve all my troubles. I seemed to get better in some ways, but in others, like my digestion, I didn’t.

However, for years now, getting even the smallest amount of gluten caused me to react. My reactions weren’t extreme – not to the level that my family members experienced, for instance – but I still noticed I had trouble with it. But now that I’ve had several straight months of improved digestion, my trials have been successful. I feel fine. No brain fog. No heartburn. No diarrhea or constipation. It would seem I have no real issue digesting it. (Mind you, I haven’t gone full-out and had a gluten feast. I don’t intend to, truthfully. I’m increasing amounts as I go through my trial, but as I mentioned before – I am someone who enjoys a varied, healthy diet, and a diet heavy in gluten, or any single thing, isn’t all that varied or healthy.)

So it may be that my future path is one where I am not 100% gluten-free or dairy-free. Where I don’t have to restrict any food in order for me to be healthy. What does this mean?

For me personally, it means I’m feeling healthier than ever. I’m less anxious about food (and in general), and my body is responding positively. I’m falling back in love with cooking and with food. I have more energy. I’ve researched, and I’ve listened to my body. I truly believe this is the best path for me at this moment in time.

As for this blog, it will remain gluten-free and dairy-free. After all, this is how I eat most of the time anyway. I eat a healthy diet based in whole foods. It’s how my body works best. And honestly, I don’t crave eating things with gluten in them, for the most part. It’s rare when I really want a sandwich, pizza, or pasta. (Most people I know think that’s strange.) I love that my gluten-free journey has taught me that there are dozens of different flours I can use for baking, many of which are gluten-free. Also, I love sharing delicious recipes, and I wholeheartedly believe that gluten-free living doesn’t mean you should sacrifice on taste. You will continue to see recipes for both healthy, gluten-free foods and gluten-free treats. And even healthy gluten-free treats.

I’ll still continue to fully support the gluten-free community. After all, I know many people suffer from celiac disease and gluten intolerance. It’s a shock to deal with the drastic changes associated with removing gluten from your diet. I know that support is one of the greatest gifts someone who is dealing with this transition or living the gluten-free lifestyle can receive. There needs to be increased awareness of celiac disease as well. I have always been a huge supporter and will continue to do what I can to be there for the gluten-free community.

And of course, I am not promoting that you or anyone else eat gluten or dairy, simply because I choose to do so. If you have celiac disease – there are many, many studies out there that state that even small amounts of gluten can cause continued damage. But even if you don’t have celiac disease, and gluten makes you feel ill, then by all means, don’t eat it. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, and I don’t wish to prescribe that any person do/not do something for their health. It’s not my place, and it’s not my goal.

My mission here is to support those that need support, with as much information as I can find. I’m also here to share my passion for tasty, nutritious food, and occasionally, cookies. ‘Cause everything is better with cookies.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Gluten-Free in 1, 2, 3: The Basics of Going Gluten-Free

Going gluten-free?

Whether you just learned that you should follow a gluten-free diet on the advice of your doctor or nutritionist, either from a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or have you simply made the decision to go gluten-free, suspecting gluten may be at the root of your health issues, I’m sure you are overwhelmed by the amount of information you need to learn.

I understand. I’ve been there. And yes, it’s okay to throw a little temper tantrum or pity party. Mourn the loss of your Grandma’s cake. It’s alright to grieve. It’s a life change, after all.

But it’s also good to get a game plan. Here are a few basics to help you get started on your gluten-free journey.

1. Simple, unprocessed food is best/easiest. Fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and plain rice can be excellent staples. The best part? No label-reading. Which brings us to our next step…

2. Learn to read labels. There are a lot of words that can mean “gluten” on a product. Of course, buying something labeled or certified “gluten-free” can help, but there are also many products out there that aren’t labeled as such that are still okay. Here is a good list of what to look for on your labels.

Go through your kitchen. Either toss (or place in a designated section of your refrigerator and pantry for the gluten-eaters) any items containing gluten. If you have any open condiments in jars, such as peanut butter, butter, jelly, mayonnaise, etc, either mark them for gluten eaters only or toss – if a knife has been in there with bread crumbs on it, it’s no longer safe.
Menu planning is your friend. If you even loosely plan out your meals, and make a grocery list from that plan, you can feel prepared and more in control of your meals, ensuring they are gluten-free (and keeping the 5pm what-will-we-eat-for-dinner panic to a minimum). Bonus points if you schedule in some food preparation in advance (think hard-boiled eggs, cut up veggies, fruit, slow cooker soup to freeze, etc.) for times when your schedule doesn’t allow for cooking.
Join a community. You aren’t on this journey alone. There are many gluten-free/celiac communities all over the United States. There are forums out there. Thankfully, there are a good many gluten-free bloggers out there too – we’re all here to help. Reach out and ask questions. Together, we’ll find the answers!

Want some more gluten-free living tips? Check out my Living Gluten and Dairy-Free page!

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

How to Go Dairy-Free: Making the Transition and Tasty Dairy-Free Substitutes

Dairy-Free Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream

So maybe you’ve been toying around with the idea of giving up dairy for a while. You know you need to give it up – it’s causing you or your family health issues (see why I gave up dairy). You have started to research how to go dairy-free, so you can learn what to look for on labels and how to navigate the grocery store. You can even plan meals with the best of them. What’s holding you back? It’s that emotional tie. Those dairy-full food favorites – ice cream, yogurt, milk, butter, and the most common – cheese.

What will you do without cheese?!

I’m here to tell you – you can live without cheese. Not only live, but you can thoroughly enjoy your meals, and not feel like you’re missing a thing.

Yes, really.

I received some great feedback from some of you last week on my How To Go Dairy-Free post. One commenter, Alisa, shared:

“The words of advice I always offer to newbies are: Focus on the foods you CAN eat. Stop worrying about what you are ‘missing out on.’ and focus on all that you can enjoy. Dairy is just one, single, component.”

Such excellent advice, and so true. Dairy is just one single component in a diet. There are so many other delicious foods available out there that you can work to incorporate into your diet, and your meals can be much more exciting and nutritious! This time of year, when so much excellent produce is in season, it’s even easier to make bright, flavorful dishes that are naturally dairy-free – but it can be done effortlessly anytime.

How? Rather than relying on butter, cheese and cream to flavor your dishes, think “outside the cow” and try some new spices. Some of my favorite go-to spices are smoked paprika, cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala, and chipotle chile powder. They’re different – not the usual salt and pepper variety – and they add some lovely depth and dimension to a lot of dishes. Make sure you buy fresh spices. Often natural foods groceries will have bulk bins that allow you to buy various quantities of spices at a fraction of the cost at the traditional grocery store, and they’re fresher too. I also love to buy spices at ethnic groceries – the Indian grocer near me always has cumin, and it’s unbelievably fragrant and fresh.

Also, try to incorporate fresh herbs into more of your dishes. Rosemary can really make a roasted chicken sing. Basil and mint make any salad or dressing taste bright and full of summer. Just about anything can benefit from a handful of chopped parsley, and cuisines from Thai to Mexican to Indian cuisine incorporate a lot of cilantro. But don’t stop there – dill, tarragon, oregano, and thyme are all also wonderful additions to many dishes. If you have even the tiniest of spaces, you can grow a few herbs in a pot, allowing you to snip off fresh herbs for any meal. They’re easy to grow, and will save you a ton of money compared to grocery store prices.

Other flavorful condiments and ingredients can elevate the flavor in any dish. I love adding sun-dried tomatoes to casseroles and sauces. Olives add a briny, salty component to dishes that used to benefit from a salty cheese. An easy dairy-free pesto can add a burst of flavor to pasta or chicken salad. And of course, guacamole and avocados add a creaminess and are welcome (in my opinion) just about anytime. Try spreading your favorite nut butter on your (gluten-free) toast or biscuit, or whip up some coconut butter. Add that nut butter to your baked sweet potato – I promise, it’s delicious! And you may find that using a touch of coconut oil on your green beans is your next new craving, and butter is only a distant memory.

When you first go dairy-free, don’t cheat. Many of us have dairy cravings, especially at first. (Did you know sometimes cravings can be a sign of an intolerance?) The first 30 days are the hardest. But rather than give in to your cravings, remind yourself why you are no longer eating dairy (you want to feel well, you want to have energy to work/run/play, etc) and instead seek out an exciting, enticing dairy-free alternative that you will look forward to eating. Those cravings will subside, and you’ll find that your tastebuds will adjust. You might even find your tastes are more receptive to the many flavors of various foods that were previously “covered up” in a layer of cream and cheese. Be sure to plan your meals, and stock up on your favorites, including snacks. Then you can feel satisfied, and even look forward to the next planned meal, rather than wishing you were able to eat something that makes you sick.

While there are many dairy-free products out there intended to substitute for dairy products, take your time introducing them into your diet. The dairy-free milk substitutes shouldn’t be an issue – there is an increasingly wide variety of “milks” made from soy, almond, hemp, rice, oat, coconut, and more, and many are very tasty. I personally love almond milk and coconut milk beverages – and sometimes even make my own almond milks. But as for some of the trickier “substitutes”, such as cheese, give yourself some time to allow your tastebuds to adjust to dairy-free eating. You’ll be more accepting of those substitutes, and will find them pretty tasty and satisfying, if you give it some time before you try them out.

Once you’re over that initial “hump” though, and are interested in trying out some substitutes, you’ll find that most substitutions are fairly easy, not just in simple cooking, but even in baking.

Dairy-Free Substitutions

Milk: Almond milk, Rice milk, Soy milk, Coconut milk, Coconut milk beverage, Hemp milk, Oat milk (be sure to check labels for gluten, if you are gluten-free as well)

Cream: Coconut milk (refrigerate can and scoop the hardened cream from the top, leaving the watery part behind), MimicCreme

Butter: Earth Balance buttery sticks or buttery spread, coconut oil, olive oil, ghee (not dairy-free, but it is casein, whey and lactose-free)

Buttermilk: non-dairy milk + vinegar or lemon juice (1 cup of non-dairy milk and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, let sit for 5 minutes)

Sour cream: Coconut cream + vinegar or lemon juice (1 cup of coconut cream and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, let sit for 5 minutes) or Tofutti sour cream

Cream cheese: Tofutti cream cheese or cashew cream cheese

Cheese: Daiya, alternative cheeses, nutritional yeast flakes, almond flour, cashew cheese

Ice cream: coconut milk ice cream, soy milk ice cream

Whipped cream: Soy whip, whipped coconut cream

In case you can’t deduct from this list, I regularly stock a lot of cashews and cans of coconut milk in my kitchen, just in case I need to whip up any of these ingredients. Honestly, though, on a day-to-day basis, dairy-free alternatives aren’t even used. It’s easiest to simply eat naturally dairy-free. Good to know, however, that these things can still be part of your new and improved, dairy-free diet!

If you are already dairy-free, what dairy-free substitutes do you enjoy? If you’re looking to go dairy-free or are newly dairy-free, but looking for a replacement for your favorite dairy-full food, share! We can all learn from one another as we take this journey towards healthier living together!

 

 

How to Go Dairy-Free

photo credit: Flickr Adam Chamness

Have you been told you or your child has an allergy to dairy? Have you simply long suspected that dairy is causing your chronic heartburn, nasal congestion, IBS symptoms, etc? Last week, I explained why I went dairy-free. Now, let’s talk about how do to such a thing.

First of all, what is dairy?

Dairy is any food derived from the milk of a mammal – most often cow’s milk. This means butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, buttermilk, and the like. Eggs are not dairy, even though they are frequently found in the dairy case. These are the obvious sources, but foods with dairy-derived ingredients also need to be avoided. Ingredients that can mean dairy is an ingredient include:

- butterfat, butter oil, butter solids

- casein, ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, casein hydrolysate, iron caseinate, magnesium caseinate, paracasein, potassium caseinate, rennet casein, sodium caseinate, and zinc caseinate

- lactose

- whey, whey protein, whey protein isolate

- lactalbumin

- lactoglobulin

- recaldent

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough too-hard-to-pronounce words for me! Makes my head spin. The good thing is that in the United States, manufacturers are required to list allergens in their products. If you read the label, you can see whether something says “Contains Milk” or “May Contain Milk”. In addition, some manufacturers have even gone so far as to label if a product has been processed in the same facility or on the same lines as milk-containing products, allowing you to make an informed decision about whether you want to risk consuming those products.

However, many foods are naturally dairy-free. All fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, seafood, plain rice, beans, and many other staples are dairy-free. Think of a dinner of baked salmon with dill and lemon, a wild rice pilaf, with a side of broccoli – this can be made healthy and completely dairy-free. What about a fajita dinner? Without the cheese or sour cream, you can still enjoy corn tortillas, fajita meat (watch for marinades), peppers and onions, salsa, and guacamole  as part of a dairy-free meal. Many salads are dairy-free – just steer clear of cheese and opt for homemade dressings or oil and vinegar. A great many Asian meals are dairy-free as well - think fried rice, stir-fries, miso soup, sushi, and more! Stuffed mushrooms, peppers, and other veggies are easily still an option when dairy-free. So breathe in, breathe out, and realize that you.will.not.starve. Your food will not be boring. Dairy-free living is still full of amazing flavor and variety!

Now depending on your level of sensitivity, you may need to go through your home and assess where dairy cross-contamination can occur. For example, make sure that if smoothies are made with dairy, that the blender and everything is very well-cleaned before any dairy-free smoothies are created. Personally, I find dishes with baked-on cheese to be the hardest to clean – I only use glass bakeware for items that require cheese to be baked (for the rest of the family) so I can remove it completely. I also have a separate sponge/scrubbie for this (my “gluten/dairy” sponge), as cheese tends to “stick” on things and I worry that it would remain on a dish scrubber for my gluten and dairy-free dishes.

Still unsure on what you will eat when you can no longer grab a gluten-free, cheese-full pizza for dinner, or a yogurt for breakfast? Make a meal plan for a week. Eggs are great for breakfast – hard-boil some for when you’re on the go. Fresh fruit is also wonderful for breakfast, as are smoothies. LARA Bars and KIND Bars are often dairy-free and also great for on-the-go breakfasts. Salads, simple stir-fries, gluten-free pasta dishes sans cheese or cream sauces, and easy meals consisting of a protein+2 sides are a good way to start. Once you have a plan, write down the groceries you’ll need and go shopping. This way, you can relax, since you’ll know what you’ll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week.

You’ll get through this transition, I promise! Allow yourself time to adjust, and realize there might be a bit of time for “mourning”. I know I had to overcome the loss of cheese, as I was a lover of all kinds of cheeses. However, the improvement in my health and quality of life was worth more than cheese. Over time, I learned to substitute with non-dairy cheeses, and even have made my own. There are quite a few ways you can substitute for dairy in cooking and baking, and it can be delicious! For example, I actually prefer ice cream made with coconut milk – it’s easier and it’s deliciously creamy. More next week on those substitution ideas for your favorite dairy foods.

Of course, there is so much more we can learn from one another. For those of you that are a bit more experienced in the dairy-free lifestyle, what tips can you offer? If you could go back and tell your newly dairy-free self something that would make his/her life easier during this transition time, what would it be?

 

Why Dairy-Free?

photo credit: Flickr Blogography

May was Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and during that time, I shared with you many of my reasons for why I went gluten-free, how to go gluten-free, avoiding cross-contamination at home, and how to eat out successfully on a gluten-free diet. However, I avoid more than just gluten for my health. I also avoid dairy. While there’s no “Dairy-Free Awareness Month” (that I know of – if such a thing exists, someone fill me in!), I did want to share with you some of the same types of information about why I decided to remove dairy from my diet, where dairy can be found and how to go dairy-free, and ultimately, share some tips on “replacements” for those coveted dairy-full foods (like cheese!). Today, let’s talk about why anyone would want to go dairy-free.

Why dairy-free?

As I mentioned in my post about going gluten-free, going gluten-free eliminated many of my symptoms. It was like going gluten-free got me 85% of the way there. But I still was having some digestion issues. After a year of adjusting to the gluten-free diet (and learning many of those “there’s gluten in this?” mistakes the hard way!) and feeling like I had the routine down pretty well, I started to try to understand why I was still suffering from intermittent bouts of acid reflux and indigestion. I didn’t want to believe it might be dairy-related. I love cheese too much, I’d tell myself. But I finally buckled down and did an elimination diet where I removed dairy completely for a few weeks. I didn’t notice an immediate difference, like I did with gluten, but when I reintroduced it into my diet, I felt ill. I was nauseous shortly after eating it, and it was downhill from there. (We’re talking acid reflux, bloating, and ”things” slowed WAY down.) My sinuses also became very congested. It was strange – even as a child, I remember always getting congested after consuming a large amount of dairy (like ice cream, for instance) and always thought it was normal, until I eliminated it from my diet. It took me a few days to really admit that it was a problem, but it was. I was intolerant to dairy. So in July 2010, I eliminated dairy from my diet. Now, if I accidentally ingest dairy, my reaction is about as severe as it is to gluten.

Dairy can cause a lot of issues for people. Sometimes, with people that are gluten intolerant, the body believes that the protein in milk, casein, is an invader (the structure of the protein is similar to gluten) as well, and the body reacts in an immunological manner much the way it reacts to gluten. I recently read an article referencing an intestinal wash study that showed that 50% of people reacting to gluten in the intestinal tract had an almost identical inflammatory cytokine release on exposure to dairy antigens. That’s a lot of people! Others have true milk allergies, some have lactose intolerance, and some have issues with casein, whey, or both. Symptoms can vary widely and can include:

- hives or rash

- trouble breathing

- anaphylaxis

- nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing

- nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation or IBS-like symptoms

- heartburn

…and many more. If you think dairy might cause issues for you, you can obtain lactose intolerance tests and milk allergy tests through your doctor. (I actually came back positive for a milk allergy on a test, which helped to confirm what my body was already telling me – I needed to go on a dairy-free diet.) Or just see if you feel better without it by eliminating it from your diet. Alisa at Go Dairy Free is a wealth of information about all things dairy-free, and her book is a life-saver.

In short, we all are unique. What might be benign for one person’s body is poison for another. If you suffer from some of these symptoms and haven’t found relief, it might be worth looking into other food intolerances such as dairy. While there may be a period of transition as you remove offending foods from your diet, the long-term benefit will be well worth it!

Interested in chatting more about other food sensitivities and allergy testing? Join us Monday, July 30, at 8PM ET at Udi’s Gluten-Free Living Community in a free Live Chat to discuss!