Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Surprising Facts No One Tell You About Eating Gluten Free

I like to say that when celiac disease joined the family, I got several new birthdays as well. My date of diagnosis in May, which is, ironically enough, Celiac Awareness Month. And now National Gluten Free Day.

So no day seemed more fitting than today to share a post I've been contemplating for awhile: the secrets about eating gluten free that you don't realize until you're a few years in. 

casey the college celiac national gluten free day

Do you know everything about eating gluten free? Find out by learning 5 facts no one tells you about eating gluten free!

1. Your taste buds will change

Now, I'm not saying that after hating strawberries for 20 years, you'll go gluten free and suddenly crave pints of strawberry ice cream. However, I'm still amazed my how much my taste buds have adapted to gluten free products. 

For instance, a few weeks after I was diagnosed, my family had a craving for chocolate chip cookies so we decided to experiment with King Arthur's cookie mix. Our conclusion? They were OK...but definitely nothing to write home (or the blog) about. Flash forward two years and my mom ended up using the same cookie mix (without realizing at the time). Those treats disappeared within days, and we couldn't stop raving about how sweet and chewy they tasted - and how they didn't have the funky aftertaste gluten free baked goods are often known for. 

Basically, the old saying, "Out of sight, out of mind" gets a gluten free update of "Out of mouth, out of mind" to describe changing taste buds. After not tasting "normal" chocolate chip cookies for 2+ years, my mom and I could no longer compare these GF cookies to our precious gluten-filled favorites. And when gluten was out of the running, these GF cookies easily took the win

casey the college celiac national gluten free day
I also learned nice cream always makes cookies better!
What does that mean for you? Basically, eating gluten free gets better with time. Your taste buds will forget what gluten tastes like (though, full disclosure, you may still have gluten cravings from time to time) and you'll be able to discover how good gluten free can taste. 

2. Just because a food is gluten free doesn't mean it will agree with your stomach. 

As a celiac, I'm often hit with a variety of worried questions when my stomach throws me for a loop: Was it gluten? Or just an upset stomach? Or something else? Web MD has nothing on my brutal self analysis

However, if you don't feel 100% awesome even while following a strict, cross-contamination-free gluten free diet, you aren't crazy. One of the challenges of gluten free baking and cooking is that, without wheat, chefs need to experiment with different, unique ingredient substitutes. These can include products like xanthan gum, psyllium husk, flax seeds, and so much more.

While these ingredients are great in that they can keep your gluten free muffin from baking like a hockey puck, people can also experience intolerances to these ingredients - intolerances that often surprise them because they've been living for XYZ years and "never had a problem." However, they might have never eaten these ingredients (at all or on such a wide scale) before going gluten free! 

casey the college celiac national gluten free day
All the questions...
My biggest piece of advice? Follow your gut. The feeling that something was wrong may have been what led to your celiac diagnosis, and that feeling could help you feel healthier on a gluten free diet. People who eat gluten probably don't love every single gluten-containing product or meal. Gluten free eaters have the same right

3. Eating gluten free can be as simple or as complex as you want - and no celiac's diet is exactly the same

I still remember the mixed emotions when I got that phone call from my doctor: Yay! I'm not crazy and something really is wrong with me. But a gluten free diet? What even is gluten? 

The truth is, entirely transforming your diet is hard. While time has made following a strict GF diet easier, there are still moments where I hate how "complicated" my eating has to be. Really, though, eating gluten free can be as easy or as complex as you want/need. 

What am I talking about? Let's say that you don't know how to cook that much, you have a busy job and you have a large family to take care of. Food is the last thing on your mind. You can still eat the diet your body needs, though, by following KISS: keep it simple, stupid. Rely on naturally gluten free foods like brown rice, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy (while watching out for cross contamination). Use pre-made meals from companies like Udi's or processed products like Tinkyada rice pasta. Your diet doesn't have to be any more high-maintenance than that. 
On the other hand, maybe you're a foodie whose crushed at the thought of needing to follow a limited diet. All you have to do is avoid gluten - everything else is fair game! You can make anything from comfort foods like chicken pot pie to homemade granola to fancy sauces to unique twists on old favorite foods (like an enchilada-stuffed spaghetti squash). When people ask what you can eat on a GF diet, you can honestly answer: "Anything - as long as it's gluten free." 

The choice of what your GF diet looks like is entirely in your control. My mom and I are both gluten free, but are daily meals look very different. I start the day off with a big smoothie; she prefers buckwheat flakes with a little banana and honey. She eats a sandwich every day; I rarely eat bread. Neither diet is "better" than the other - you just need to find the unique combination that works for you

4. You need to be more aware of nutritional risks, like vitamin deficiencies or arsenic poisoning. 

You've probably heard the old saying, "You are what you eat." When it comes to a gluten free diet, this phrase means you need to pay extra attention to what fills your plate every day. The truth is, gluten free definitely doesn't equate with "healthier" or "free of bad ingredients." In fact, gluten free foods often have more sugar, sodium and calories than their gluten-filled counterparts. Not only that, but many gluten free products aren't fortified with nutrients (like folic aid and iron), which means you may have to work harder to get all of the vitamins you need.

As crazy as it sounds, you also need to watch your arsenic levels. After all, when you scan the ingredients of your favorite gluten free cereal, bread or baked good, what word often pops up? Rice. And that rice can add up fast: a 2014 study found that men and women with celiac disease had arsenic levels almost ten times higher than the suggested amount.

casey the college celiac national gluten free day
See the main ingredient in both of those cereals?

Before you start analyzing everything you eat, though, remember that all of these risks are relative. Only you know how much rice-containing products you actually eat or whether you enjoy a balanced (and nutrition-packed) diet. Need some tips for success? Embrace naturally gluten free foods (like the ones I listed earlier), read your product labels to check for added vitamins, and be aware of how much rice you're eating - or how little vitamins you're getting. You're as healthy as you're willing to work for.

5. A gluten free diet can be just as delicious as a "normal" diet...once you find the right brands and products. 

Okay, maybe some kind soul did tell you this. Maybe it was the nutritionist who met with you at the hospital, or maybe it was your mother, comforting you as everyone else enjoyed Papa John's. However, it may take some time and experimentation for you to believe this piece of wisdom - but I can attest that it's true. 

In the three years since my celiac diagnosis, I've:
  • Eaten more pieces of bland, falling-apart, nasty-after-taste bread than I can count...but recently tasted the best GF roll in my life, thanks to Beyond the Breadbox
  • Cried over not having any GF tortillas in the house...but fallen in love with Food for Life's rice tortillas 
  • Missed out on enjoying countless birthday cakes or cookies handed out in class...but have gone steady with Pamela's Chocolate Cake mix
  • Cried a couple times in restaurants (most famously, at this Outback) when chefs said they understood "gluten free" yet obviously didn't...but have also enjoyed some of the best meals EVER when eating out (that also just happened to be gluten free) 
If I've learned one thing in the trial and error process of thriving with a gluten free diet, it's that trial and error is a necessary right of passage. You learn what products are definitely worth the money, and which to avoid. And that moment you bite into something and it tastes 1000X better than you ever expected? Honestly, it'll blow your mind
In my three years, I've found a handful of companies I consider my edible BFFs - and you can find the list here. However, I also know that every gluten free eater's taste buds is different...and that each person needs to discover some of their own favorite foods. 

When you're diagnosed with celiac disease, you may initially focus on everything you're losing. The freedom to eat anything you want. The gluten-filled foods you've grown up loving. Even being able to kiss a cute certain someone without giving him or her a toothbrush first

However, National Gluten Free Day is also the perfect time to celebrate everything you gain with a restricted diet, like: the motivation to learn how to cook or experiment in the kitchen; the chance to try out different products and companies; and, of course, the pride that emerges when you realize one day, "Wow! I'm actually kicking some gluten free butt!"

Everyone's gluten free journey is unique, but from one celiac to any other diet-restricted foodies, I hope knowing these five, little-known facts about eating GF will make your trip easier

casey the college celiac

And if it helps make you life tastier too? Well, that's just a bonus. 



Did you know that it's National Gluten Free Day? Are there any other GF "secrets" you learned down the road? I can't wait to hear them! 

3 comments:

  1. Had no clue on some of this stuff!!

    -Natalie
    itsnothouitsme.com

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  2. Love this!! I actually thought that going gluten-free would be a lot harder than it is. I don't eat out much so that isn't a big issues for me - the only time I have a hard time is with holiday parties or family get togethers! But even then I just bring my own foods. Everything is adaptable now!! :)

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  3. So spot on about gluten-free foods tasting better with time. I've gotten to the point in my diet where I honestly rarely notice gluten-free foods tasting "weird." I can still notice the texture a bit on some things, but you're spot on that finding the right brands can make a huge difference. Living in Colorado, I can get Outside the Breadbox too, and you're right. It's so good!
    I didn't realize about the risk of high arsenic levels for people who eat a lot of rice. Thanks for letting us know!

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