This post is a round up of what the past four weeks of eating gluten free have been like for me – and of the consequences of eating gluten when I have more or less been clean, as a means of seeing how my body reacts to it. It is a post where I describe the CONSEQUENCES I HAVE FELT when I have eaten wheat. It is explicit in detailing the aftermaths. All done to illustrate how I have felt by going gluten free. I also detail a bit about how my husband has fared with his experiments. We have had very different reactions. So – fair warning – if you are not interested in a “what I ate and how it made me feel” post then read no further.
If there is one thing that I have learned in the past four weeks, it is that everyone reacts in their own individual way to food. And if there is one thing that I respect now more than ever, it is that if someone you love tells you that they think they may have a food allergy – even if they also acknowledge that they are thinking they have other issues too, in the same conversation – don’t listen to only one part of the conversation. Take it ALL on board and help them to see if the food they eat is making them sick.
Going gluten free for us has been easy. Easier for DH than me, as he was convinced that he was feeling sick from wheat so he has had no desire to actually eat it.
For me, in many ways, eating gluten free is a reversion to how I ate growing up in Hawaii – lots of rice, and when not rice other sources of starch in my meals (yes – gasp – potatoes – I make no apologies for eating potatoes, and liking them!). I have had the occasional time when I have MISSED MY SANDWICHES. But in general, it has been easy, pain free, and a lot of fun as I have experimented in the kitchen. I’ve used “crazy things” that I never tried before – things like RICE FLOUR for baking cakes (the elderflower cake I made was just gorgeous). And I’ve made a cup for cup wheat flour substitute for baking (the recipe, from Ideas in Food, is reposted with their permission below) which opened my eyes to how the only adjustment that needs to happen is in planning and preparation, which with enough of both means that a gluten free eater never ever needs to feel deprived.
How I have felt
OK, I’ve got a confession. Actually a few. I am not 100% gluten free. Yesterday before I knew it I had helped myself to half a Krispy Kreme doughnut in our office kitchen, grabbed an espresso, and DEMOLISHED the thing before I could even remember “hey, this is made with WHEAT FLOUR.” Oops. Today I deliberately ate a sandwich for lunch – because I wanted to, but also because I wanted to see how I would react. So, I am not 100% gluten free. And I don’t think I will be (sorry Phil, I know you want me to stick with this as strictly as possible, but I’m not sure I NEED to…)
I have gone “off piste” mostly mindfully a handful of times in the past four plus weeks (yesterday being the sole mindless exception). I did two complete weeks of gluten free at home in London, and then on holiday in Florida I went “mostly” gluten free. My downfall was the breakfast buffet at our hotel. Everyone knows I like a good muffin. And our breakfast buffet offered me a daily temptation – the pineapple bran muffin. After about three days of a stare down, I caved in and had one. I decided that it was the day to experiment with how eating wheat would impact me. Oh pineapple bran muffin YOU WERE DELICIOUS.
And I had very little impact from going off piste – with both the bran muffin and also from the half a Krispy Kreme. In both cases, I had a slightly gurgling stomach for about an hour after eating (note – any gurgles I had previously experienced after eating were totally silent after a week of gluten free).
So the next morning after the bran muffin experiment I dared to go even more off piste. I had half an onion bagel, toasted, with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Decadence. And did I pay. About an hour after eating this I had what I can only describe as a stomach revolt. And, it was indeed REVOLTING. A consequence of the gluten content of the bagel, or coincidence? Who knows. But I backed off the wheat treats at the buffet.
Then, it was my husband’s birthday celebration in Florida – my date night treat for him. We went to a Daniel Boulud restaurant, and they had homemade pasta on the menu – I ordered chard ravioli. Oh yum. Pasta starters for dinner on the evening after doing a triathlon in the morning? Oh yes please. It was delicious. Coupled with a bottle of wine split between the two of us, the evening was a complete treat. And the result? Well let’s just say I was kind of gassy and leave it at that.
Then at his birthday celebrations in London this past weekend I had two pieces of delicious sourdough bread. Oh yeah, and a lot of wine, which I hadn’t had (in this quantity) in many many months. I am not sure if it was the jetlag, the wine, or the bread – but the day after I felt truly ill. Stomach cramps, and then some.
So, I have had some impact from eating gluten, some stomach rumbles, some upset tummies. None unbearable.
I did not go gluten free to lose weight and I do not view this way of eating as a diet – it is a choice I made with my husband to see how wheat was impacting our health. That said, as I wrote previously, going gluten free did lead to a drop of a few pounds for me, which I mostly attribute to less water and bloat in my body. After my initial drop of about 3 pounds (almost 1.5 kilos) in two weeks solely from going gluten free, I have maintained my weight.
Many people told me that I would “feel better” by going gluten free. I *have* felt less bloated and heavy around my stomach area. I was told that I would feel more energy and less fatigue. This I am not so sure about… It is hard for me to pinpoint improvements in energy levels when I have had travel in the mix. I was told that I may experience less inflammation in my joints as a result. Well, considering I was only strict for two weeks, I don’t think I can say for sure if this happened.
In summary, I feel a bit better, but not remarkably. Gluten free is a choice – but probably not a necessary one – for me. But it is a choice that I think inevitably winds up with me eating a more nutrient rich diet. I mean, let’s face it – bread isn’t exactly packed with vitamins and minerals, is it?
How DH felt
In contrast to my experiences, DH has found gluten free eating to be a complete and total RELIEF. He feels more energetic (god save us all), is distinctly less bloated, and has significantly less problems with his stomach.
He has also done some non-gluten free experiments. He started with having a Corona. We researched via google the gluten content of beer and found that although made with wheat, Corona has such a low level of gluten proteins that it can possibly (depending on whose scale you read) be considered gluten free for a non-celiac. So he had one. A few evenings. Sadly, he got super bloated from the beer, and a bit windy. Guess having a beer will be a choice for him about immediate pleasures versus unpleasant stomach consequences.
For his birthday in Florida he also had a pasta starter (a seafood linguini). The consequence for him was far worse than me – he felt lethargic, bloated, had a bad stomach in the morning, and yes, he too was gassy. He woke up in the morning with stuffed sinuses and said to me that he felt kind of like he had hayfever. He said that the only way he could describe how he felt was by describing his reaction an allergic reaction.
After the pasta experiment DH said to me that he would not be eating wheat based pasta any more. Guess I’ve got to figure out a pasta flour substitute for our homemade pasta (since the cup for cup baking substitute is not supposed to be good for pasta)… And I’ll be thinking about what to do with the wheat based pastas in jars at our home…
Similar to me, DH had an initial drop of weight due to a loss of bloat. However, he has benefitted a lot more on the day-to-day way he feels – he says he has not felt this good in about three years.
Gluten free has now become his preferred way of eating because he feels SO MUCH BETTER.
Like I said, a huge lesson for me is never ever ignoring half the conversation when someone you love tells you that they think they may have an allergy. I focused on the “easier” piece of our conversation, and I was convinced that if DH just ate less (one bowl of pasta, not three!) he wouldn’t feel as bad. In reality, by not eating wheat at all, he feels SO MUCH BETTER. Too bad it took me so long to suggest that we do this experiment! (bad wife…)
It is not a sacrifice
As I said above, going gluten free has not involved sacrifice for us. Yes, it involves planning. Yes, if you do not think smart, and all that is offered at your morning meeting is pastry and you forgot your fruit and nut snacks on the kitchen counter, it will be tough. But in general – with a little planning and thinking – it is easy.
One thing I was really worried about was sacrificing baking. I love baking, making treats for family, friends and colleagues. I can be found in my kitchen whipping together cake or muffins with any extra fruit or vegetables in the house. It is what I do. But would I be able to do it when I started eating gluten free at home?
Enter the Ideas in Food team. Thanks to their brilliant experimenting and creating, as well as their great blog, I was introduced to their version of the Cup4Cup flour substitute that Thomas Keller’s team originally created in the kitchens at The French Laundry.
I must admit, I was a bit skeptical. It involved things like XANTHAM GUM. What the heck was that? (According to the font of all knowledge Wikipedia, xantham gum is a protein thickening substance derived from a bacteria. Oh. Yum.) It had a huge amount of corn starch. And non-fat milk protein. I have a friend who used to trade milk products, who told me about bulk milk protein. Oh. Yum. *makes queasy face*
I was not so enthused about making this – but I am willing to experiment, and to leave my doubts aside to see how things work and taste. I mean, I have eaten tons of weird stuff. Bacteria and milk solids would be NO BIG DEAL compared to fish sperm or squid aged in salt for five years. So I set to work.
This flour substitute recipe is made easy by the fact that I have a Vitamix dry container. I was able to do the milling and mixing of the flours with relative ease (although I wish I had a bigger container!). The total time to mill and mix was about 45 minutes, to get the mix done and done well.
I have so far trialled the mix by making an apple pie. My reactions were that the flour smelled kind of dairy like (must be the milk solids) and that the dough for the pie crust handled differently than wheat flour dough – it broke a lot easier, was less springy. I found the proportion of butter to need adjusting in the crust, probably due to the presence of milk fat in the flour mix. But the texture. And the taste. Just wow.
With a little bit of planning and sourcing of products, you can make What Iif Flour and use it as a direct flour substitute in your baking recipes (there are more recipe ideas on the C4C website). I have been told it is not suitable for bread or for pasta – but Ideas for Food also has a rice pasta recipe on their site, in case you want to make your own pasta.
With their permission, here is the What Iif Flour blend. Enjoy!
700 grams cornstarch
450 grams tapioca starch
450 grams white rice flour
200 grams brown rice flour
200 grams non-fat milk powder
20 grams xanthan gum
Put the cornstarch, tapioca starch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, milk powder and xanthan gum into a large bowl and whisk together. Put the blended powders into a blender in small batches and turn the blender on low and increase the speed to high. Use the blender to pulverize the powders and uniformly grind them. After each batch of powder is pulverized put it into a large bowl. This will take 6-8 times if using a large commercial blender. Once the powders are all finely ground stir them together one last time in the bowl and then put the “flour” into zip top bags for storage.
The flour mix can be used as an exact flour substitute, cup for cup, in any normal recipe (not bread, not pasta – I am wondering if it will work in pizza dough but will try it soon enough and let you know!).