Gluten free is not just a diet fad, but also a defense against Celiac disease.
“It’s a little trendy, kind of like the disease de jour,” said Sheila Cathey, clinical nutrition manager at West Florida Hospital. “You see people using gluten free for weight loss, but Celiac disease can also be a debilitating disease.”
Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine. Because of the damage, the intestines cannot absorb food properly, leaving those with gluten allergies to be malnourished as well as with a host of other symptoms.
“Symptoms include abdomen pain or bloating, unexpected anemia, unexpected weight loss, chronic diarrhea and bone or joint pain,” Cathey said. “Celiac disease can also cause seizures, which is related to dehydration.”
Gluten is the storage of proteins of wheat, rye and barley. Those with Celiac disease are advised to avoid the aforementioned grains as well as oats.
“It’s tough, especially if you’re a carb-lover,” Cathey said.
A Gluten Free Foodie
Maricarmen Josephs has been gluten-free for over seven years and couldn’t be happier or healthier. She was never officially diagnosed with Celiac disease, but once she eliminated gluten, her 14 years of digestive problems were gone.
“It took me about seven months to really commit to the diet—to think ‘I’m never going to eat regular pizza again,’” Josephs said. “I was 27, and I went to SpringFest and ate whatever I wanted and felt horrible. I decided I didn’t want to miss out my life anymore and made the decision to be gluten free and haven’t turned back.”
Her symptoms ceased in the matter of a day.
“It was a world of difference. Night and day,” Josephs said. “My energy levels are through the roof. It feels good to make more conscious decisions about what I eat and what I don’t eat.”
Working in the food industry for the past 10 years, she is the owner of Carmen’s Lunch Bar, Josephs began to get creative in the kitchen.
“I kind of became obsessed with it,” she admitted. “Now, there are so many great, gluten free items. Four or five years ago, people would’ve looked at you like you’re an alien at the mention of gluten.”
When she opened Carmen’s, she was inspired to create a menu for every kind of foodie.
“My idea was to have options for everyone,” she said. “Obviously, I wanted to be able to eat some dishes, but I’m not going to deprive anyone from a wonderful ciabatta roll.
Diagnosing the Diet
Celiac disease can be diagnosed through blood screening tests and a biopsy of the small intestine, which is the only definitive test for the disease. Some choose to be gluten free without diagnosis.
Beth Taylor was researching ways to naturally heal her psoriasis, while she was also suffering many symptoms of gluten intolerance.
“I had also been experiencing an insane pressure in my head for the past year, almost like a spasm that would hit in intervals of at least once an hour,” she recalled. “I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t feel bloated or crampy after eating a meal and my energy level was always fluctuating.”
Taylor tested the wheat-free diet and found a solution—although not for psoriasis.
“It was during that week that all of these weird symptoms I had been dealing with for so long were starting to go away,” she said. “I then began to research wheat-free diets and came across this whole new developed world of people with gluten intolerance.”
Now, seven months gluten free and Taylor is very happy with the outcome.
“It has made a world of difference,” she said. “My head spasms never came back, my digestive system is more normal than I can ever remember, and my energy level has increased. I even think more clearly, honestly. Even my joints feel better.”
Mallory Bardwell has been gluten free for eight years since a Natural Health Practitioner suggested she remove gluten from her diet.
“The difference was amazing,” she said. “I was swollen, tired and always had painful acne. It was all gone within a few months.”
Bardwell does not have a gluten allergy. Instead, it’s categorized as an intolerance, or gluten sensitivity. The difference between a gluten allergy and sensitivity is that the symptoms are minor compared to that of a gluten allergy. Those who suffer gluten allergies can experience symptoms just from touching a product with gluten in it unlike gluten intolerance or sensitivity.
“I have to stay away from gluten completely,” Bardwell said. “Though if I’m away from it for a long period of time I can handle a couple bits of gluten containing food so long as I have medicines that counteract the light symptoms of it.”
Living without Gluten
The transition to be bread-free is not an easy one.
“I was honestly a little bit devastated,” Taylor said of giving up bread. “I was the weird kid who would eat three slices of Bunny Bread for a snack after school. I was always the one eating others’ crust when they didn’t want it and would get too full on breadsticks before my meal came out at restaurants.”
“One thing I miss and cannot replace is Shredded Wheat cereal,” Bardwell said.
Giving up bread products is just a small part of the headache of ridding your pantry of gluten. Food products labeled gluten free truly have to be unlike misleading organic or all natural labels.
“Since this is an allergic condition and can still cause dire illness, labels have to have a higher accountability,” Cathey said. “For true sensitivities, you have to dig deep in the ingredients—even meat products can have starch fillers.”
If uncertain, Cathey suggests calling the food companies.
And gluten free products are not cheap.
“It’s getting easier with time, but not on my wallet,” Taylor said of transitioning. “All gluten free foods are pretty expensive and limited.”
It can also be time consuming—some with gluten allergies take to baking their own bread.
“How many of us bake our own bread?” Cathey said.
With food allergies come the awkward moments when you have to be a picky eater, no matter the situation. Homeless people, for instance, can’t afford to be picky about the soup kitchen menus. Cathey mentions that communion wafers at church generally have gluten in them.
“It’s a struggle, especially when someone tries taking you to a surprise dinner you can’t eat at,” Bardwell said.
But it does get better. Gluten free products can be found at major grocery chains as well as Ever’man.
“You see some mainstream companies advertising gluten-free items like Boar’s Head or Hormel,” Josephs said.
Josephs points out local restaurants such as Jackson’s Steakhouse, The Grand Marlin and Cactus Flower as having gluten free options.
“There’s a lot of chains too like Carrabba’s, Bonefish and Outback,” she said. “Traveling isn’t a problem either. I’ve been to Spain, Italy and Mexico and haven’t had much difficulty.”
While you give up the gluten, you might be giving up important vitamins. Most B vitamins—which help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you consume—are found in starches.
“Our mantra is a balanced diet,” Cathey said. “You may be missing B vitamins and iron, so you’ll want to get a multivitamin with iron added.”
You don’t have to be on a diet or have Celiac disease to think about cutting back on gluten. It might be more beneficial than you think.
“It keeps you on a healthy diet aside from just keeping away from gluten,” Bardwell said. “You have to completely change your thinking on what makes a good, filling meal and what to have around as snacks.”
SHEILA CATHEY, WEST FLORIDA HOSPITAL
WHERE: 8383 N. Davis Hwy.
DETAILS: 494-4000 or westfloridahospital.com
CARMEN’S LUNCH BAR
WHERE: 407-B South Palafox
DETAILS: 542-4334 or carmenslunchbar.com
Gluten Free Recipes
Finding it hard to imagine life without gluten? Whether you have an allergy or are preparing dinner for a gluten-free friend, here’s some inspiration.
Gluten Free Buttermilk Biscuits
Without hesitation, Josephs recommended this recipe saying “They’re so good!”
1/2 cup potato starch
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 3/4 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet (preferably a baking stone) with cooking spray.
• Place the starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process with six 1-second pulses.
• Sprinkle the butter cubes evenly over the flour mixture, cover, and process with 12 1-second pulses. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs.
• Pour the buttermilk evenly over the mixture. Process for 8 1-second pulses, or until the dough gathers into a moist clump.
• Using your bare hands, quickly gather a clump of dough, lightly form it into a biscuit shape, and drop it onto the cookie sheet. Repeat this for all the remaining dough, trying to handle the dough as little as possible (it’s sticky).
• Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Yields: six to eight biscuits
Gluten Free, Dairy Free Pizza
Taylor recommended this site for recipes. “Udi’s has saved my life,” she said. “They have the best breadsticks.” Here’s a dish that pleases gluten-free vegans.
1 Udi’s Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 Cup Delallo Pizza Sauce
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
2 Tablespoons green peppers
1/2 Cup fresh mushrooms
1/3 Cup fresh tomatoes
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds
1. Spread olive oil on the pizza crust.
2. Add pizza sauce in the center of the crust and spread it in circular motions leaving 1/2 inch of the border without sauce.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients in the order they appear, spreading them evenly.
4. Bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Ready to eat!
Eat This, Not That
Thinking of trying a gluten-free diet? Here’s a breakdown of what you can and can’t eat. Information courtesy of Sheila Cathey, clinical nutrition manager of West Florida Hospital.
Gluten-containing foods to avoid:
Barley Cereal binding
Wheat bran Breading
Cracked Wheat-Farro Malt syrup
Graham flour Malt vinegar
Kamut Oat bran
Malt Oat syrup
Malt extract Spelt
Malt flavoring Triticale
Matzo Matzo Meal
Flour Wheat germ
* Really the only type of vinegar that contains gluten is malt vinegar. All other types do not contain gluten (unless a specialty kind that has something added after it has been distilled; check the label if you aren’t sure). Gluten-free Starches:
Corn (corn bran, corn grits, hominy)
Potato (potato starch & potato flour)
*Be cautious of commercial buckwheat flours, cereals and pancake mix: may have cross-contamination with gluten-containing flours during processing, or may have wheat flour added.