Is Gluten-Free Healthier If I Don’t Have Celiac?

I’m asked this question regularly. I don’t seem to run into too many people who go gluten-free just for kicks, but they often know someone who’s trying it out. My answer is something along the lines of “sorta…..depending on how you go about doing it.” There are two basic ways to go gluten-free.

1- Eat everything you usually eat, but in the gluten-free version. Gluten-free cupcakes, pancakes, muffins, baked goods, and even most processed goods aren’t much “healthier.” In fact, you’re usually worse off. Gluten is the protein that binds bready things together. To make up for it, especially in processed goods, there’s a LOT more fat. Butter, oil, sour cream, etc.

For example, take these Udi’s Snicker Doodle cookies. Scroll down to the nutrition facts. Serving size: 2 cookies (and they’re by no means big). Fat content: 8 grams. Yep. The way to being constipated and overweight is before you.

Now — don’t get me wrong. Udi’s is something of a pioneer when it comes to pre-packaged food. I understand that people have lives and kids and lots of commitments, and not a lot of time to cook. They’ve painstakingly made some good gluten-free breads and hamburger buns and donuts and tortillas and granola, and the list goes on. They help people — especially newly-diagnosed Celiacs and gluten intolerant folks — feel like they’re normal. That in and of itself is worth the cost.

2- Eat the things that are naturally gluten-free. Vegetables. Fruits. Meat. Cheese. Grains. Fish. If going gluten-free (or “going gluten-free” if you’re not Celiac) means you essentially eliminate as many processed, pre-packaged food products as possible in favor of the above, well, that tends to be pretty good general nutrition advice and is likely to benefit you quite a lot.

That being said, some people who start being gluten-free because it’s “cool” end up feeling somewhat transformed. Like the way Celiacs feel when they finally are diagnosed and go gluten-free. Gluten intolerance is a real thing. However, just eliminating gluten for the “fun” of it isn’t inherently healthier, and it’s a lot harder to get enough fiber. It’s also a LOT more expensive — especially if you go with route #1. Would I be gluten-free if I wasn’t diagnosed with Celiac? I can explain in two words: H*** no.

Gastroparesis Strikes Back

The toughest part of my health issues is my gastroparesis. I haven’t talked about it a lot recently because…well…it hasn’t been much of a problem lately. I’ve been blessed for the last year and a half or two years to have a reprieve from my gastroparesis symptoms. My symptoms are much more mild than most, but it was still nice to have a break.

The hardest part about the symptoms returning is that I’ve done a little forgetting on the subject of listening to my body. It’s hard to pay attention. It’s hard to to do what I need to do. I don’t like carrying food with me everywhere, just in case. I don’t like it when I have to leave early from an event because my blood sugar’s dropping.

So it’s back to the grindstone. Figuring out how much fiber is enough, but not too much. Eating small meals frequently, but knowing about how much I need to feel full before I actually feel full. If I wait to stop eating until I feel full, I’ll be miserable. Always having snacks with me, just in case. Having some Throwback sodas with real sugar (instead of corn syrup in them, since I’m allergic to corn) around to help stabilize my blood sugar quickly while I figure out a meal.

Challenges come and go, and if it wasn’t this, it would be something else. Good luck with *your* challenges, and please let me know if I can help.

Identity Crisis, or “Real” Food vs. “Weird” Food

This last year has been crazy. I couldn’t have predicted this. At all.

February 2012: “My position was eliminated” after 3.5 years of hard work. We went up to Washington State for three weeks to see if being at sea level in a cloudy climate helps my husband’s migraines. Found out that it helps his head about 40%. It’s the largest difference we’ve found so far. We also put our house up on the market.

March 2012: Moved back to Utah to live with family. I thought this would last a few months, but we’re still here.

April 2012: I got a part-time job teaching English online to students (mostly children) in Spanish-speaking countries. I LOVE IT.

November 2012: My husband’s “position was eliminated.” We also got an offer on our house! We’re in the short sale process, so it’s taking a long time. It’s still going on. We’re hoping to close by the end of February 2013. My husband is looking hard for work, but nothing has worked out yet.

As I’m sure you can imagine, having my life turned upside down means that I really have to re-evaluate who I am and what my values are. It’s been a long and arduous process, and it’s not over yet! This blog has undergone some changes, too! It initially started out as a way for my extended family to understand my Celiac and food allergies, became an attempt to have a gluten-free wedding planning business, then to product reviews, then to….jam.

As I’ve been figuring myself out and what I want to do with this blog, I’ve realized that I no longer let my life revolve around gluten. I am still 100% gluten-free. As I was trying to build a business, though, I just became overwhelmed by the hard-core gluten-free and allergy folks.

3 1/2 years after diagnosis, I really don’t spend a lot of brain power on gluten-free. Seriously. After the hours it took to go grocery shopping the first couple of times, I never thought eating gluten-free would be intuitive, and yet — here I am. It’s so intuitive that I occasionally FORGET to tell servers at restaurants that I have to eat gluten-free. Crazy, right?

Then I thought about what I could do with this blog that those hard-core folks out there can’t provide. They are recipe-creating masters! They have every bit of advice that a newly-diagnosed Celiac or gluten intolerant person could ever dream of needing. They’re activists, always fighting the good fight against gluten and allergy ignorance. They’re writers. I felt like there wasn’t anything I could contribute. I don’t have kids that need dinner 5 minutes ago. I’m not even working full-time. I don’t eat organic, well, pretty much anything.

Then I realized: I can promote real food. For me, real food is peace. It’s love. It’s life. It’s intertwined with life. It’s part of a balance. It doesn’t define me, just like I’m not defined by any single aspect of my life. It’s a big part of my identity, sure, but it’s not everything.

So — real food. Tonight, I made an almond bundt cake.

Almond bundt cake

Almond bundt cake

It consists of almond flour, brown rice flour, baking soda, salt, olive oil, water, agave nectar and (pure) maple syrup. That’s it. That’s all. Just this week, I’ve made turkey piccata, twice-baked sweet potatoes, pad thai, a “south american” pork dish involving quinoa, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, cloves, and a tomato-apricot chutney. (I’m missing a few ingredients because I’m listing them off the top of my head, but they’re all real ingredients, too.) Tonight was turkey chili with rice. Pumpkin cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Ginger wheels (softer than snaps). A pear spice cake made with teff (and to DIE for. I would have made that tonight instead of the almond bundt cake, but I didn’t have any fresh, ripe pears).

For me, real food is worth it. I don’t spend the extra money on organic stuff (unless that’s the only way it comes, like some of the flours). I just make real food with real ingredients. I haven’t been to cooking school, and I’m definitely not a photographer. I just like to cook, and document what I cook, and work it into my life. Even though I never could have anticipated that we’d be living with my parents at this point in life, I LOVE cooking for all of us.

I am grateful for having been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Yes. I AM GRATEFUL. Without the diagnosis, I never would have discovered quinoa. Or almond flour. Or coconut kefir. Or teff. Or how much FUN it is to make JAM! Or the best pumpkin cookies on earth that also happen to be gluten-free and vegan. Or that pancakes and waffles are not the only uses for maple syrup! Or agave nectar. Or tamari. YUM.

Are almond, teff, brown rice, sorghum, tapioca, garbanzo, rice, amaranth, etc. etc. etc. “weird” flours compared to just boring old flour? Yes. Are they nutritious? Most of them. :)  Are they healthy? Yes! Are they real? Absolutely. Run a Google search on teff flour. Run a Google search on quinoa. Try making a stir-fry, but instead of serving it with rice, serve it with quinoa. IT’S SO GOOD. Run a Google search on tamari. It has a darker, richer flavor than soy sauce, and I LOVE IT. Even if I could, I would never go back to regular ol’ soy sauce.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sticking with me, and if you need any help, please let me know! I’m only an e-mail away. I’m happy to help with shopping or cookbook recommendations or anything at all. cinderellaspear (at) gmail.com. If you’d like to join me on Facebook or Instagram, send me an e-mail. I’m not-so-inclined to add people I don’t know when anybody can read my blog.

Also, if there’s anything you’d like me to cover on the blog, let me know!

Thanks for reading,

Cristina

Jam (that’s gluten-free AND vegan)!

If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing in the interim, wonder no more. I’ve been making jam!

Two of my sisters-in-law live in Connecticut, have had a LOT of power outages in the last couple of years.

With Celiac and my food allergies, I’ve been thinking a lot about emergency preparedness, since it’s not like somebody can walk by and hand me a Nutrigrain bar or something, and if I have meat in the freezer without power for several days, then that food storage is ruined.

I started thinking about how I’d heard that meat could be canned, so I started doing some research and found out that canning meat and vegetables requires a pressure canner. That sounded intimidating, so I decided to start with the good old water bath variety. I figured that once I’d mastered that (and made sure that I liked canning), I could move on with pressure canning.

I LOVE CANNING. I love it SO much. I bought myself a small, flat kitchen scale (easy to clean), and the book Canning For a New Generation. (My mother-in-law gave me another copy that Christmas, which works out *perfectly* since my copy is…ahem…well-used.)

The jams are beautiful and delicious, and mostly only take a few hours. This really is for a new generation. This is NOT the book for you if you want to buy 10 boxes of fruit and do nothing but can for three days. These are small batches. They usually yield 6-7 half pints. A few hours, a little clean up, you’re done. I LOVE the stirring. I just go to my happy place and think. It’s marvelous.

Happy upside: non-spoiling food (as long as it seals properly and the jars don’t break) that I can eat in case of emergency and not get sick. I can tell you, though, that I’m essentially constantly jamming (especially this summer), because the jams do not last long around this house. Local gluten-free bread popped in the toaster with whatever jam I have open is a staple for me.

If you’re interested in learning how to can and want some advice on how to start, let me know!

 

Back from hiatus!

Hi everyone,

Many thanks if you’re still reading my blog! I took an unofficial hiatus, because I’ve been trying to figure out what direction I want to go with gluten-free stuff. I’m not doing a wedding consulting business anymore, but I’ve been doing a lot of canning, and I’m going to be doing more. I’m going to learn how to use a pressure cooker!

Thanks for bearing with me, thanks for your patience, and we’ll get going again!

Enjoy Life Foods: Plentils!!

I’d like to apologize for not having blogged…practically all summer. It’s been a busy one! Updates soon.

That said, I’d like to write about a wonderful product I tested at the beginning of the summer, and have been meaning to tell you about, and now I finally am!

Occasionally, I just really need some chips that are…well, cheesy. Being allergic to dairy, though, gone are the days of sour cream & onion chips, or any other dairy-flavored chip. So when I get this hankering, I just buckle down, and remind myself that feeling that awful just isn’t worth it.

Enjoy Life Plentils have solved that problem for me. They sent me a box of four (that’s right — FOUR) different flavors. The Margherita Pizza flavor is my favorite. It’s SO delicious, but there are no dairy products! You can see in the photo that they print right on the bag: Gluten free, & free of the 8 common allergens.

Not only that, but they also have lentil flour in them! They’re quite a bit healthier than your average chip. A win in all categories.

Go check them out! You won’t be sorry. http://www.plentils.com/index.php

Excuse me while I go buy some more of those Margherita Pizza chips…..mmm….

Gluten and Mormons (LDS) Part 1: Young Women Camp

This seems like as good a place to start as any, since LDS Young Women Camp (commonly called Girls’ Camp) is what spurred this series in the first place.

I feel like I should disclose something here: I don’t particularly care for Girls’ Camp. I haven’t liked camping since I was pretty small, and Girls’ Camp is no exception. In that rough first year of diagnosis, the silver lining that kept me going is that I would never have to go to Girls’ Camp again! Now that I have many other allergies on top of gluten, I would just decline going. I can’t imagine trying to deal with all of my food issues while camping. Other people, though, love camping, and love Girls’ Camp, and aren’t about to let a silly thing like Celiac keep them from going. More power to them, I say!

My friend Joy e-mailed me, asking about a girl who will be attending with her this year. For one of the meals, they’re planning to do a stir-fry, and Joy hasn’t had any luck finding a gluten-free teriyaki sauce.

My initial response was letting her know about the existence of San-J gluten-free tamari. I told her that I know of a very simple teriyaki sauce recipe (seriously awesome, by the way), and that she could make some in advance, and take it up to camp. I mentioned this to my mom, who vouched for Seal Sama brand gluten-free Teriyaki Sauce.

As I was thinking about it some more, I remembered that most of the cooking at Girls’ Camp was done in dutch ovens. Dutch ovens aren’t stuck in the dishwasher with soap. They’re cleaned with hot water and oil. After this, my brain just spun out into all the cross-contact dangers with camping.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley and rye. It’s in flour, bread, pancakes, and any other baked good that uses flour. Gluten can be very, very sneaky. Do a Google search for “hidden sources of gluten,” and you will find lots of good information for how to make sure none of the products you take have it. Gluten is even used as a thickener in sauces and dressings, so really be careful there!

How do I know whether she’ll be able to eat what we’re planning?

Talk with the girl and her mom before even solidifying the menu, and run all the meals by them. They will have some helpful tips, and may even have some spare ingredients you can take with you.

I’ve heard about cross-contamination or cross-contact. What is it, and is it a big deal?

Yes. It’s a big deal. Cross-contamination (or -contact, they’re used interchangeably) is when something that touches gluten touches something else that is supposed to be gluten-free.

For example: If you wash a dish that had pie crust in it, and use that same cloth or sponge to wash out the pan for cooking for the gluten-free girl, it will be contaminated, and there will be traces of gluten left in that pan the next time you use it to cook for her, and she could get sick.

Another example: If you drain regular pasta in a colander, and use that same colander to drain the gluten-free pasta, the gluten-free pasta will have traces of gluten from the pasta that just went through it, will be contaminated, and the girl will get sick.

A third example: If you have pots of stuff cooking on the same stove, and one of them is gluten-free and the rest aren’t and you use the same spoon to stir all of them, the gluten-free pot will be contaminated and the girl will get sick.

The last example: If you use a knife and cutting board to slice some bread for everyone, and then use the same cutting board and a different knife to cut some fruit up for the girl, the crumbs left on the cutting board (or the knife, if you use the same knife), will contaminate the fruit with traces of gluten, and the girl will get sick.

What can I do to avoid some of these pitfalls?

For Leaders:

If you can, work with the girl and her family so that everyone feels as comfortable as possible. Clear the menu with them first, and give them a chance to weigh in. They may even have some ingredients you can take with you.

Offer to put the set of pans and utensils and you will need for this girl in the dishwasher, and ONLY use them for her. Have a sponge or washing rag that is ONLY for these dishes. The safest way to handle this may be that the same leader (and only that leader) cooks and does the dishes for this person, for the whole week, so people don’t get confused. (Make sure this person and the girl in question have a good relationship!) If your circumstances allow, have a completely separate cooking area.

If your dutch oven has ever contained gluten, don’t use it for gluten-free anything. It’s too risky.

If your stake or ward has a rule about people not bringing their own snacks, please allow this girl to be an exception. This will significantly reduce your stress and their stress. It’s a win-win situation.

Make sure ALL the adult and youth leaders are aware of the situation, so everyone can keep an eye out.

Other than that, the biggest thing I can think of is “don’t make a big deal out of it.” It’s new to you, and it may be a lot more effort than you’re used to, but it’s not going to be a big deal to her, and she’ll just want to fit in and feel as normal as possible.

For Girls (and their parents):

Talk with the leaders in charge, and the leaders over food. Talk to everyone, so they know what’s going on. You may feel self-conscious (I almost always do), but it’s really not worth getting glutened. Be proactive. People mean well, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.

If you’re not comfortable with going, don’t go! Who wants to spend a week in the wilderness glutened, away from your family and doctors? Not me.

Take snacks, even if it’s “against the rules.” Always (always, always) make sure you have something you know you can safely eat, just in case.

Thank your leaders if they’re willing to attempt working on this with you. They’re going to be nervous about making you sick, so make sure you give them your appreciation for their work.

Be willing to help with your meals and the clean up. They’ll appreciate the help, and then you can keep an eye on things to make sure they stay gluten-free.

Enjoy Girls’ Camp!

If you’ve been to Girls’ Camp gluten-free, I’d love to hear your stories!

Enjoy Life Chocolate — Part 2 of 2: Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks

I consider myself to be very lucky in that I’m not allergic or intolerant to soy. Many people are, though, so chocolate is a problem. Go look on almost any package of chocolate you have nearby, and you’ll see the ingredient “soy lecithin.” Yes, even that small trace amount can negatively affect people who can’t tolerate soy.

That’s what I consider to be the GREAT news about Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks.* They’re soy-free! (I take for granted that they’re gluten-free and dairy-free, or else I wouldn’t be eating them. Anything else is gravy for me.)

I just had to bake them into chocolate chip cookies.

 

The cookies turned out really well, and I really like the mega chocolate chunks. They’re about twice as big as a regular chocolate chip.

I asked my dad (who, to my knowledge, doesn’t have any food issues) if he could taste a difference between these and the popular brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips he keeps in the freezer. He said he couldn’t, which I took to be a good thing.

Between my inability to eat gluten, dairy and corn, that cuts out the vast majority of processed and pre-packaged goods. When I see a product that only has three ingredients (Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Chocolate Liquor (Non-Alcoholic), Non-Dairy Cocoa Butter), I’m thrilled. In my book, the fewer ingredients, the better.

The cookies (and just the chunks themselves!) disappeared so quickly that I’ve already made a second batch of cookies with them (and had to supplement with regular chocolate chips)! They’re delicious…in or out of cookies.

If you’re local to Utah County, you can find them at Good Earth. You can also find them at Enjoy Life Foods Where To Buy.

 

* In the interest of full disclosure, Enjoy Life contacted me and asked me to review these two products. They are not paying me, and I’m writing what I actually think.

 

Introducing: A Series on Gluten and Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

A good friend of mine sent me a note on Facebook this morning, asking about how to deal with cooking at LDS Young Women Camp for a young woman in her stake who has Celiac. In answering her question, I decided, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), to write a series of blog posts about some common issues that arise with gluten and give suggestions for those who aren’t familiar with how to deal with them.

If there are any topics you’d like me to address, leave me a comment and let me know!

Enjoy Life Chocolate — Part 1 of 2: Double Chocolate Crunch

Okay, people. I’m here to tell you about two Enjoy Life products. Part 1 is about Double Chocolate Crunch Granola.*

It’s really good. I mean, REALLY good. My father, who does not eat gluten-free, loves this stuff. My husband very carefully tested it (chocolate sets off his migraine), and thinks it’s very, very tasty.

I could eat this every day, but there’s one problem for me, and it’s specific to me: I have a condition called gastroparesis. Mine is a (thankfully) mild case, and it’s doing really well right now, but there’s one troublesome ingredient: ground flax. For most people with Celiac or gluten intolerance, ground flax is a wonderful ingredient to have because it’s an excellent source of fiber. For me and my gastroparesis, too much fiber can set it off and cause some unpleasantness for me.

The ground flax in the Double Chocolate Crunch gives me just enough discomfort that I probably won’t be buying much of it in the future. On the other hand, that’s a very good thing, because otherwise I’d be eating FAR too much of it, and going bankrupt in the process. It’s very frustrating to have my mouth saying “more, please!!” and my stomach saying “I don’t think so.”

Good stuff, and free of all the main eight allergens: wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish.

It’s also certified gluten-free by Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO). According to their information packet they sent me, “all Enjoy Life products are tested down to 10 ppm to ensure they are gluten-free.”

Do yourself a favor, and go get some of this Double Chocolate Crunch. You won’t be sorry. To find out where you can buy it, go to: enjoylifefoods.com/where_to_buy

Next up in Part 2 of 2: Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks

* In the interest of full disclosure, Enjoy Life contacted me and asked me to review these two products. They are not paying me, and I’m writing what I actually think.