going gluten-free? some hiccups you need to know about

Gluten’s got a grimy name just now. I’ve previously outlined my thoughts on going gluten-free (who should, why it’s not a “fad” etc). It’s worth a read if you’re a little unsure about the whole debate. If you’ve already made the move, or have contemplated it, then you might learn a lot from this rundown of the tricky things that might stump you in your tracks along the way.

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image via food delights

Steph Osfield is a great freelance writer who used to write for me at Cosmopolitan eons ago and she sung out recently to say she’d had all kinds of dramas going GF and offered to share her thoughts. She and her family went GF due to broad-based health issues, not due to celiacs per se.  I very much appreciate what she outlines here. It’s clear, concise and has helped me with my own dance around the pesky little protein:

I was prepared to become a Lego Grand Master and tadpole wrangler when I became a mother, but I didn’t count on becoming a medical expert too. My gorgeous kids (son 12 and twin girls aged 10), have been sick so often over their young lives that our doctor says they are working their way through the medical dictionary. Whole terms often pass with only a week where they are all at school.

Our household ailments read like a medical dictionary; anaphylaxis to peanut, vulvadynia (stinging, sore vulva), multiple food sensitivities, a virus called molloscum contagiosum (four years and counting) and the last two years – nocturnal epilepsy and a sleep issue called periodic limb movement disorder. But in their younger years it was the eczema, glue ear and diagnosis of asthma that led me to take the quantum diet leap to a gluten free diet. Out went the rye bread and porridge and wholemeal pasta and in came the big surprise – we didn’t then live happily every after. Several weeks into eating gluten-free, health issues like their eczema got worse. So I become a foodie super sleuth and here’s what I learned about going gluten-free:

1. It’s not just gluten…

Corn, corn, corn – when you’re swearing off gluten, corn-based options like polenta and tacos shells and corn tortillas are usually on high rotation. Bear in mind that people sensitive to gluten are often sensitive to corn as well. If you do have this issue then increasing your corn intake may ramp up your health symptoms, which will then counter any benefits you might be getting from eating gluten free. This was the case with my kids.

Tip: Make up your own mix of flours for baking with tapioca, brown rice and buckwheat flour to avoid corn.

Here’s some other foods. You may also have a problem with:

* Salicylates: This family of plant chemicals are found naturally in high levels in many fruit and vegetables. Food examples: pumpkin, broccoli, capsicum, watermelon, strawberries, honey, tea and coffee.

* Amines: These result when protein is broken down by fermentation. Food examples: Cheese, chocolate, wines, beer, yeast extracts, bananas, avocado, tomatoes.

2. And it might not be the gluten…

You may be sensitive to the yeast or bleaches used in bread or the toppings you often put on toast – particularly if those toppings are high in amines and salicylates (see above). Tip: Change to yeast-free and unbleached bread before you cut out gluten altogether.

3. Soy milk can be a hidden source of gluten

A number of soy milks contain grains like barley, which contain low levels of gluten.  This means you may be unknowingly sabotaging your gluten free efforts with your soy latte or yoghurt.

4. Gluten sensitivity may affect dairy tolerance

This is because of damage to the villi and microvilli in the small intestine, which then can’t do their job of breaking down lactose effectively.

Tip: Try eating dairy again if you’ve been off gluten and dairy for a while and you may find that going gluten free has improved your tolerance to milk and cheese.

5. Going gluten free may make you constipated

Bread and cereals contain important fibre, they are also high in B group vitamins so eating less of them may leave you more prone to a sluggish bowel, low energy and depressed mood. [I get around this with slippery elm powder and by eating a lot of vegetables…also check out this post I wrote on stomach fixes – Sarah.]

6. Gluten sensitivity may not show up in tests

I had several tests that showed nothing and then several tests which did show elevated gliadin, which can be a sign of gluten issues. But you can have an intolerance to gluten even though nothing has shown up in a blood test.

Tip: You should eat least four slices of gluten bread every day for six weeks before you have any test over gluten issues. Otherwise, if you’ve been on a low gluten diet already the results of any tests may be inconclusive. This is particularly important if you are being tested for celiac disease (where the body has an allergic autoimmune response to gluten). Though a blood test may show obvious signs of this you still need a small bowel biopsy to rule celiac disease out.

7. Find your threshold

If you are sensitive to gluten you may be able to tolerate lower levels eg rye or spelt bread rather than wholemeal. Tip: Once you’ve been gluten free for a while do a tolerance test with a little gluten from a source like pasta or a health bread. You may find you can tolerate a little every few days or once a week without side effects.

If you’ve got anything to add, please do! 

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