It’s all over the place these days- the terms gluten intolerant and gluten allergy. What do these mean? People have eaten bread for thousands of years! Why are we just now discovering that it’s bad for us? So let’s just take a look at some of the technical terms and definitions of gluten and go from there, shall we?
What is Gluten?
According to Wikipedia, the definition of gluten is- a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye.
Why is Gluten Important?
Again according to Wikipedia this is the purpose of gluten -it gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Also according to the same article in Wikipedia, Buddhist monks discovered it in the 7th century while looking for a protein substitute to add to their vegetarian diets. Oddly, many processed vegetarian meat substitutes use wheat gluten as part of their protein source.
Ok, so we established what gluten is and why it is important to us. As a baker, I know the importance of gluten in cakes and breads. Without gluten, they don’t rise and the product is very brittle. When you make gluten free baked goods, you must add substitutes to help to get this texture, but I feel it is never perfectly replicated.
Why the Rise in Gluten Intolerance?
For some theories about why there is an increase to Gluten Intolerance I found this article by Craig Fear at Pioneer Valley Nutritional Therapy very insightful and helpful. The article also has great definitions for gluten allergy vs. intolerance.
How Do I Know If I am Gluten Intolerant?
So you’ve read the definitions and theories and know you aren’t allergic to gluten, but wonder if you are intolerant. Check out this great article by Julia de LaGarde at Real Fit Mama that lists actual symptoms of Gluten Intolerance. And for an even more in depth look at symptoms of gluten intolerance here is a more medical type article by Michelle Toole at Healthy Holistic Living.
I Think I am Gluten Intolerant, Now What?
Well, you’ve read the articles, you have the symptoms and you are pretty sure you are gluten intolerant. The first thing to do is cut out gluten! This seems very basic, I know. When I did my “test” I went gluten free for about 3-4 weeks. Personally, I even avoided the gluten free items. I know that sounds crazy, but they didn’t curb my craving for breads, pastas, and the like and left me feeling dissatisfied. Instead I focused on eating foods that didn’t require gluten substitutes. Fresh salads and stir fries were staple meals. I also indulged in rice and potatoes a couple of times per week. After about 2 weeks, if you are gluten intolerant, you will notice a difference in your mood and general health. After about 4 weeks, I introduced small amounts of gluten at a time. I don’t eat bread everyday. If I do, I have symptoms. I am have also started eating more sourdough breads that I prepare myself. For a great article on why we should eat sourdough breads even if we are gluten intolerant read this article by Cheeseslave. In the coming year I want to begin to start experimenting a lot with grinding and sprouting my own grains. Don’t have the time to prepare your grains? That’s not a problem. Visit the Marketplace for great sources of whole grain sprouted flours.
I think the biggest thing about living with a gluten intolerance is to not feel as it is a limitation. It is a door opening to a healthier life. Yes, there are many gluten free baked good substitutions out there. However, nothing satisfies my craving for a good sandwich like a good sandwich on traditional bread with all of it’s gluten goodness. Instead of having bread with every meal I eat it a few times a week. I prepare most of my own breads (I also have a weakness for good dark rye bread) and I use organic, non-GMO flours that I believe to be better for my health in general. So instead of having a sandwich everyday for lunch, I wait until I have a craving and I make a lovely sandwich that I can savor and enjoy without regrets. Instead of toast, biscuits, or waffles for breakfast every morning I stick with oatmeal or omelets and save the gluten foods for a special Sunday breakfast. I still enjoy my foods, but at a reasonable time and as an addition to my diet, not a staple. Gluten Intolerance is not a punishment and shouldn’t be seen as an affliction. You just need to restructure how you think about gluten containing foods. And for God’s sake give up the packaged foods! Most seemingly harmless ones contain additives that are gluten based. If you eat these foods and enjoy your sandwiches you will be a mess of reaction still. However, giving up the packaged goodies and making your own foods will allow you to enjoy more nourishing foods and will help you feel better. I think we all are searching for that in our lives. If you are gluten intolerant how do you manage? Please share in the comments below.